Where’s the Prime Pinot?

Only a tiny percentage of U.S. beef earns a prime rating and it was no different with the wines I liked at Pinot Days.

There were about 200 wineries pouring multiple wines apiece at the event last weekend.

From a personal tasting of 104 wines, I found three that were superlative. But, a lot of others left me wanting more.

Where’s the Rank?

Why can’t buying wine be more like shopping for a good steak? I know what I’m getting when I pick out a juicy rib eye steak, based on a USDA inspection and rating.

There are eight levels of beef quality based on marbling, color and maturity.

Only the top three grades — prime, choice and select — usually make it to retail butcher shops and supermarkets.

The government doesn’t get involved with wine like that.

Who, What Where

Wine labels must adhere to industry standards regarding the type of grapes inside the bottle, the place of origin and the name of the seller and/or producer.

There can be lots of other details. Like, vineyard name, geographic location, AVA (American Viticultural Area), sub-appellation plus any organic or bio-dynamic explanations.

As far as wine taste and quality go, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is no higher standard.

The name on the label is important, but it’s only one indicator. Bigger impacts come from weather and the myriad man-made decisions affecting the growth, harvest and production cycles.

All of those impacts shone favorably on the wines below, which I ranked highest in the Pinot Days tasting last Saturday (June 17) at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards started production in Forestville in 1968. The name has long been associated with ground-breaking pinot noir and one of their pinots was my top pick at Pinot Days.

I liked the Swan 2008 Trenton Estate Vineyard ($52) from Russian River Valley for its complexity and brilliance, like a star you notice in a sky full of stars.

Everything seemed to rise up another notch with this wine, including the deeper color and lovely finish. I tasted sophisticated dark cherry with baking spices and smelled a pleasant forest scent. The red fruit lingered for a beat longer than I expected. It was wonderful.

Clos Pepe

Wes Hagen, winemaker and vineyard manager, showed an artist’s touch with an alluring 2008 from the Clos Pepe estate vineyard in Santa Barbara.

This is  lighter, and a bit more feminine style than the Swan.

“A delicate little creature, for sure,” Hagen told me after pouring me a taste of his $54 wine. The color is like reflected light through a garnet gemstone.

The taste is light cherry with some spicy aromatics and a trace of minerality.


It’s a completely different ballgame with the 2009 Roadhouse pinot noir.

This is a bolder mouthful with decadence dripping off of every drop of Russian River Valley juice.

The color is deeper, the flavors are bolder. There’s a swagger to this wine that’s engaging. Even the black-and-white label makes an impact.

Only 120 cases made. Wine club only, but maybe you can pick up a bottle ($54) at the winery/tasting room/pool hall in Healdsburg.


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One Response to “Where’s the Prime Pinot?”

  1. Eric Hall Says:

    Gee Thanks! Come visit us in Downtown Healdsburg on the Square!

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