Archive for June, 2012

Pinot Dazed & Amazed

June 21, 2012

I’m a fan of American Pinot Noir, whether it strives for a New World vibrancy or tries to emulate the leaner Burgundian model.

I recently got a chance to taste some of the best Pinot Noirs made in this country at the 8th annual Pinot Days event in San Francisco. Click here for an event preview.

Fast and Furious

There were 134 wineries listed in the Pinot Days 2012 tasting guide and festival officials promised at least 500 different wines would be poured.

From that massive list, I tasted 84 wines last Saturday afternoon at Fort Mason. I think it was a pretty good sample.

Quality overall was good, with a high middle ground between my top picks and the least favorite from the tasting.

Most of the wine was from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages and most of the wines were Californian. There were a few entries from Oregon plus a handful of French and German wines.

The majority of wines come from small-volume operations.

The Road to Good Pinot Noir

Roadhouse Winery, a small outfit based in Healdsburg, poured two of my favorite wines from the tasting — the 2009 Russian River ($44) and the 2010 Sonoma Mountain ($48).

The Russian River bottling boasted sweet red cherry fruit and a fuller, rounder profile than its sibling, which comes from the hotter Bennett Valley.

The Sonoma Mountain featured strawberry/rhubarb flavors and was made in a leaner style than the Sonoma Mountain.

Look for amiable winery owner Eric Hall if you visit the Roadhouse tasting room, which is open daily just off the Healdsburg Square.

I’ve enjoyed other bottles from Roadhouse, which started up in 2010. Here’s a link to a previous Pinot Days review.

Another Familiar Favorite

I’ve enjoyed Martinelli Pinot Noir since tasting their wines at another pinot event a few years ago. Here’s a link to my blog about a visit to Martinelli in 2010.

The 2010 Zio Tony Ranch “Grace Nicole” Pinot Noir was a great example of well-rounded Russian River wine featuring fine cherry fruit balanced by enough acids to keep the sweetness in check.

It was the fifth vintage in a row for the Zio Tony Ranch wine — one of nine different Martinelli Pinor Noirs currently in distribution — to win a 90+ rating from Wine Spectator.

Good Wines Galore

There were several really good wines that just missed the top three spots on my list and there was one great buy — a $20 wine that comes from the 2011 vintage.

Here are some great suggestions for near-term enjoyment:

Black Kite Cellars “Stony Terrace” 2009 ($52) is  another example of pure red fruit that lingered for quite a while on the tongue. It really worked well with a bite of Dubliner cheese.

No 7 JCB  by Jean Claude Boisset, is a 2010 Sonoma Coast bottling from a French winemaker who showed a deft hand with this very dark red wine. This fruit forward $50 wine tasted of sweet red cherries with a hit of cranberry and some nice spicy notes.

Meomi Winery’s $20 2011 blend — made from grapes grown in Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Monterey counties — is an instant favorite at a great price! Tasty from the first sip, with a touch of mulberry against the nice cherry core, I found it amazingly approachable for such a young wine.

The  2010 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard bottling — one of the last wines I tasted — proved to be a well-balanced mouthful of moderate red fruit from the Sonoma Coast with a hint of mint that lingered pleasantly in my mouth as I headed for the exit. Full retail is about $40+.

It’s Pinot Time Again

June 9, 2012

If you scratched Lisa Rigisich, she’d probably bleed Pinot Noir.

With her husband, Steven, Rigisich is the co-founder of Pinot Days, the annual celebration of the pinot noir grape that culminates with a grand tasting from 2-5 p.m. next Saturday (June 16, ) at Fort Mason.

Rigisich is not a professional event producer. She’s a college professor. Her husband is a software professional.

The pair developed a personal interest in wine and began hosting tastings for friends at their home on the East Coast.

Then, they moved to California and took the pinot plunge in a big way. They loved the grape and wanted to get more people involved.

Pinot-Centric Purpose

The couple found that there were already big Zinfandel-specific events (ZAP) and tastings for Rhone-style wines (Rhone Rangers), but nothing in the area specifically aimed at pinot noir patrons.

Thanks to their efforts, winemakers from more than 170 wineries from California and Oregon will be pouring 500 different wines for Pinot Days attendees.

Tickets are $50. VIP tickets, which include an extra hour of tasting, are $100.

Pinot Expansion

Pinot Days kicked off eight years ago in San Francisco. Since then, additional tastings have been added in Chicago and Southern California.

There are several lead-in events in the coming week, including a dinner on Thursday (June 14) featuring 14 winemakers pouring their best bottles.

The wines will be paired with food at the new Dixie restaurant in the Presidio where chef Joseph Humphrey — an alumnus of the Restaurant at Meadowood and Murray Circle at Cavallo Point — will be behind the stove.

For a full list of Pinot Days events, click here.

Viva La Difference

West Coast pinots come in a variety of styles, depending on the geography and climate of the vineyard and the inclination of the winemaker.

“Domestic Pinot Noir seems to improve with every vintage,” Rigisich said. “It’s so good now.”

Lisa Rigisich, Pinot Days Co-Founder

“You don’t go from one table to another (at the tasting) and find clunkers,” she said. “In California and Oregon, we are getting our arms around this and doing it right.”

Rigisich disagrees with some enthusiasts who cling to the Burgundy model and consider some bolder examples of Pinot Nor to be out of character.

“There is a diversity of style that Pinot Noir can assume and that is one of its greatest assets,” she said.

“More and more, we are getting away from the thought that there is only one legitimate way to make Pinot Noir and that it has to be Burgundian.”

Rigisich points to Adam Lee (Siduri Wines) and Brian Loring (Loring Wine Company) as two well-regarded winemakers who have garnered critical praise with their New World bottlings.

“The notion that it has to be Burgundian, that it has to below a certain level of alcohol, that’s baloney,” she said.

“I will reach for one wine with certain foods and reach for another, more delicate, leaner wine with other foods. It’s a great wine that can be made in different ways, depending on where it is made and grown.”