Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Headlines from Pinot Days 2008

I attended the 2008 Pinot Days in San Francisco again this year, and what follows are some impressions and musings on what I heard, saw, and tasted. Just so you know, I make no attempt at any trade tasting to drink everything in the room. Instead, I have a plan of who I want to talk to and what I want to taste. So there may be other people who attended and drank different wines that will disagree with me--but that's part of what makes wine fun, yes?

Reply Heard Most Often After Saying "Hi": "We don't have anything under $20."

Only in California moment: The massage station, where they were giving out back rubs.

Wildest Thing Seen at Pinot Days: The WinePod, a home wine-making machine pictured to the left with full video-support beamed in over the internet. It's the R2D2 for wine lovers. If you and your loved ones have $4400 to spare, you can have one of your very own.

Naughtiest T-shirt: "I want to put my Pinot in your mouth." (name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent)

The 2006 Vintage: it's all about the spice, based on the wines that I tasted. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg--a spice box full of rich flavors greeted you in most glasses of wine. Accompanied by a firm core of acidity, I think this is a vintage that will (on the whole) age well, and in time some of those intensely spicy notes may soften. If you like Pinots that are approachable and easy to drink when young, with buckets of raspberry and earthy flavors, this may not be the vintage for you--I'd buy carefully. If spice is your thing, the standouts for me were the 2006 Londer Estate Grown Anderson Valley ($16-$40) with it distinctive flavors of clove, allspice, mushroom, and cherry; the 2006 Copain Kiser En Bas which ($56) was a bit tight now but had terrific spiciness and a slightly caramel aftertaste that worked very nicely with the black cherry fruit; and the 2006 Alma Rosa La Encantada ($49) with lots of cherry and baking spices and a clove finish, along with touches of rose petal.

What was missing: perfume. A lot of the wines were closed down and tight, and when I finally swirled a glass and got that floral and fruity smell I associate with the wine, accompanied by mushroom, forest, and earth aromas, it hit me right between the eyes. Melville's Pinot Noirs were a treat in the aroma and flavor departments, as were the wines from Londer Vineyards, Row Eleven, Sarah's Vineyards from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Anglim, and Eric Kent. The most stunning aromas came from the 2005 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($35-$50), which had gardens of flowers, herbs, and cherry blossoms accompanied by touches of cedar and a core of raspberry and cherry fruit--and that was before you sipped any of it.

Favorite producers who continued to please: My favorite Pinot Noirs these days continue to be made by Fort Ross and Eric Kent. Fort Ross just released its 2005 Pinot Noirs, while Eric Kent brought along bottles of the 2006s and barrel samples of the 2007s.

Fort Ross's 2005 Sonoma Coast bottling had arresting aromas and velvety flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and earth. This is one elegant, refined, and captivating wine. The 2005 Reserve is still wound tight, and has more spicy notes with the berry fruit. This one will take some time to really settle down and show its full potential.

The 2006 Eric Kent Pinot Noirs I tasted last year in barrel samples lived up to their early promise. The 2006 Eric Kent Stiling Vineyard ($37-$53) had beautiful cherry blossom aromas, bright cherry fruit, and a lavender and herbal lift just when you least expect it. The 2006 Eric Kent Windsor Oaks ($37-$47) had soft, seductive red fruits and a black tea note in the aftertaste that made the wine deepen and darken. And there's more great wine to come with the 2007 vintage, with the Windsor Oaks barrel sample showing bright strawberry and cherry fruit with a caramelized edge to them. The 2007 Stiling Vineyard barrel sample was just exploding with raspberry fruit, and had more acidity than the Windsor Oaks and notes of earth and bitter chocolate. Eric Kent has a new Pinot Noir for 2007 from the Cleary Vineyards, which will please traditionalists with the earth, mushroom, and Asian spice flavors and cherry fruit and a bit of licorice for good measure. The 2007s will be spending another 6 months in the barrel before bottling, so it will be fascinating to track how they continue to evolve.

Impressive newer producers: I found three producers at this years tasting that I will be buying from in the upcoming months. They all have relatively small production, so if you are interested in their wine, I'd contact them directly.

The first is Scenic Root Winegrowers, headed up by Susan and Jonathan Pey who have made a variety of wines from different appellations under seemingly distinct labels since 1999. Their 2006 Pinot Noirs were quite impressive. The 2006 Pey-Marin "Trois Filles" ($42) was made with organic grapes and had aromas and flavors of chocolate, raspberry, and white flowers. The wine had a beautiful satiny mouthfeel, and was very elegant. The 2006 Pey-Lucia "Frisquet" ($39) had sweet raspberry top-notes in the aromas and flavors, which got darker and richer as you held it in your mouth. This wine had great acidity, too, and I suspect it will only get better with time.

Lutea Wine Cellars, headed up by winemaker Suzanne Hagins, are made with organic and/or biodynamic fruit and a restrained use of oak. Her wines are fascinating and well-made Pinots that can be enjoyed by all your senses--including your brain. I loved the stone and mineral notes and the bright raspberry fruit in the 2006 Pinot Noir Carneros ($35), and the satiny blackberry fruit in the 2006 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($35) had a charming lift of lavender and mint. How good are they? I've already signed up for their wine club.

Paul Mathew Vineyards makes wines under the leadership of Mat Gustafson. I was leaving the event when I met up with some of the folks from Vinquire, and they said their new favorites at the tasting were Lutea (see above) and Paul Mathew. Thanks for the tip! You are going to be hearing a lot about their wines in the upcoming months, I am sure, because they are well-priced and very flavorful. The 2006 Paul Mathew Sonoma Coast ($30) had high-toned cherry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavors. The 2006 Paul Mathew Russian River Valley ($32) had shyer strawberry aromas and flavors, and nice earthy and mushroom notes. The 2006 Paul Mathew Ruxton Vineyard ($35) had interesting spicebox and raspberry aromas and a light and lean flavor profile of cherry fruit with a spicy aftertaste. The 2006 TnT Vineyard ($35) had explosive aromas and flavors of cherries, spice, clove, and herbs.

Good Pinot under $20: there aren't that many of them, but I'd look for the 2006 Londer Anderson Valley described above, or the 2006 Row Eleven Vinas 3 ($18-$20) which has a sweet, juicy cherry aroma and a bit of earthiness added to the cherries in the flavors. This is not as complicated as many of the higher-priced wines, but it is a terrific, well-made, everyday Pinot Noir.

I'll be returning in more detail to these (and more) Pinot Noirs in upcoming posts, but I wanted to get out the highlights straight away so you can start placing orders, signing up for mailing lists, and doing what you need to do to keep yourself in good red wine for next year.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great tasting...I share the pain regarding the sub-$20 Pinots. They're virtually non-existent and boy do I wish I could find one to sell (I like the Row Eleven Vinas 3 a lot, but for some reason can't get myself to pull the trigger on it).

Curious if a producer B. Kosuge was there. I tried his wines earlier this year and thought they were really great. I think that given your admiration for Fort Ross and Eric Kent, these wines could be of interest (but he's fairly small production so perhaps he wasn't there...).

I'll look out for your other highlights and wineries to watch.

Anonymous said...

What was missing: perfume. A lot of the wines were closed down and tight Well, of course, as most of the wineries were pouring there newest releases; and who enjoys tasting super young pinot noir?

My favorite wines of the day were the more mature wines. I especially liked the 1997 Calera Reed Vyd and the 2002 Calera Mills Vyd.

Lutea? I've been drinking their pinots since their first vintage, 2004:
I think my favorites are the 04 and 05 RRV. I occasionally order the 06 at Rosso in Santa Rosa.

The Copain wines didn't do it for this time, but a year I really liked them.

The $100 Aussie pinot didn't do it for me either...$35 would have been the right price. Did you try it?

Anonymous said...

Pinot has become something of a luxury sport after the Sideways phenomenon. It's very very difficult to find a great (ok well GOOD) pinot ~$20 which is really a pity, because anything under that price point tends to lose complexity and personality, while things over $35 start to pick up interest.

Glad you enjoyed the Lutea and Paul Mathew - they were two new discoveries that I was excited with. The other one that I think will do well with the 07 release is Fulcrum, but I am partial to RRV and AV pinots (and not so much Santa Lucia, etc)

I agree about the 2006 vintage - There was very little perfume going on, and I wonder how much they will easy up in the coming months. They certainly don't compare to the 2005s which are really showing nicely.

I missed that $100 Aussie, but I think I'm glad I saved my taste buds Jack! Seems steep for a so so offering, but again, it's that luxury sport thing.

Thanks for the great review!

Anonymous said...

I just don't think the math is there to make really good pinot in the under $20 slot. Too expensive to make with the low yields required to make really fine pinot.

I always say if you have $20 to spend and want to drink something that tastes like good pinot you should drink domaine bottled Cru Beaujolais.

Dave said...

Did you try the ones from Tasmania? There were three of them being poured by the Jug Shop, all under $25. Two of the three I would certainly consider buying, including one at $17.

The 2006 Carmel Road from Monterey at $16.50 was certainly the best wine under $20 that I tried.

The next best value for me came from Thomas Fogarty - their 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains is $25 at the winery, may be available for less elsewhere.

Michael said...

Great recap of the event for those of us who missed it. It is too bad that good to great Pinot can rarely be found under $20. I think this could change with areas such as Chile and Argentina starting to produce some pretty decent stuff around or under $20. I second Craig's suggestion that good value "Pinot-esque" wines can be found with Cru Beaujolais.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could find Londer for $16, Is that a split/half bottle?
I know the 750ml goes for $50 on thier site.
I was very suprised about the quality of a new Anderson Valley producer Foursight. They just got 91 for thier Pinot in Spectator and tied Londer Paraboll. They also had a awesome Savi B that they were pouring if you asked that goes for $20, likely the best wine for $20 or less there, though not Pinot.
Love the site keep up the good work

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the great feedback, especially from others who were there because it always helps to get a different perspective on what's poured and tasted. I did not taste the $100 Aussie pinot, Jack, nor many of the others folks mentioned as their favorites but I will put them on my list for next year. I agree with Thea that last year the 2005s were showing much better than these 2006s. It may be that these will age better, it may be that these are just spicier and whether you like them comes down to personal preference. I'm always a fan of Cru Beaujolais--Craig and Michael's excellent suggestion--as an affordable Pinot substitute. And Dave, I preferred the Fogarty Michaud to the one that you mention here--but it's very small production and expensive. Mike, you are right and that Londer was a 375 split (still a pretty good deal). Sorry to have misread the fine print on the site. But it does look as though you can get it for $40 at some retailers. Sorry about that folks!