Posts Tagged ‘pinot days’

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.”

Where’s the Prime Pinot?

June 25, 2011

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.

Road Trip!

June 3, 2011

We live in an area where so many great things are within easy reach, including world-class wine-tasting destinations both famous and not-so-famous.

Summer is ripe with possibilities.

Familiar & Famous

If you’ve got a pocketful of disposable income, and nothing special on tap this weekend, you might try to snag a paddle at the Auction Napa live auction at Meadowood on Saturday (June 4).

Bidders in Action at Auction Napa 2010

The ne plus ultra charity fund-raiser is always a sellout.

The draw for globe-trotting tasters is  the valley’s most hard-to-get wines alongside world-class food. Auction lots range from cases of rare and expensive wine to personalized wine travel, dining and adventure packages.

Auction proceeds are funneled back to local charities, which have received more than $97 million in contributions over the years. Check the Napa Valley Vintners website for more information or call 707.963.3388. Good luck!

Two Events, One Parking Lot

Next weekend, there’s a pair of wine-tasting events in Santa Rosa featuring a range of tastes, styles and winemakers.

Vinify, a custom-crush facility, will host 18 small producers pouring more than 40 wines next Saturday (June 11) . The event runs from 1-4 p.m . Tickets are $25.

Don’t expect a lush landscape with picturesque vineyards and a veranda. Vinify is located in the Pinecreek Business Park, an industrial/warehouse setting a few miles off Highway 101. This is a fun event, which I attended last year and really enjoyed. Here’s a link.

Just across the parking lot from Vinify, Inspiration Vineyards is  hosting its own open house. Jon Phillips, winemaker, and his wife Barbara will be pouring from a lineup of at least eight Sonoma County wines, , including zinfandel, cabernet, pinot noir, and chardonnay.

Bottle Your Own

Get your hands (and tongue) wet on Saturday, June 11, at La Nebbia Winery near Half Moon Bay where they will be having a “bottle your own wine” event. For $4.95/bottle, you can fill up your own bottle with vintage 2010 sangiovese wine from Paso Robles. Add $1.50 to the tab if you need to buy a 750-ml bottle from the winery.

Pinot Days

The 7th annual Pinot Days celebration culminates with a mass tasting of 100s of wines at Fort Mason on Sunday, June 18.

There’s a heavy emphasis on California pinot at this event, but there will also be offerings from Oregon and France in the mix with more than 200 wineries participating.

Tickets for the main event are $50.

Several additional tastings, including a spotlight on California pinot noir specialist Williams-Selyem and a Best of Oregon retrospective, are also being held prior to the main event. Check out last year’s coverage for more background.

Mendocino in Motion

You won’t have to make the drive up to Mendocino to sample some of the North Coast’s best wines later this month. They’re coming to you!

More than 60 Mendocino wineries will pour current releases in San Francisco at Fort Mason on Monday, June 30 from 5-8 p.m. Regional foods and craft beers will also be available at the Taste of Mendocino event. Tickets are $35 in advance.


June 26, 2010

This is a great time to be a fan of pinot noir in the Bay Area which is ground zero for Pinot Days — the biggest winetasting event in the country featuring a single varietal.

A series of smaller events have been held over the past two weeks leading up to the Pinot Days Grand Tasting on Sunday (June 27) at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Tickets are available online for $60 each. Walk-up tickets will also be for sale at the venue, where more than 200 wineries will be pouring their best bottles from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The list of wineries — starting alphbetically with organic producer Adastra from the Carneros region and running to Santa Rosa-based Zepaltas — is heavy on California entries. There’s also a contingent from Oregon, including Archery Summit and Domaine Serene, both leading pinot noir producers in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve attended a few pre-event tastings, including a special media-only preview of some of the top producers.

With more than 1000 different wines to choose from at the main event, there’s no way to taste everything in sight. I look for new faces in the crowd and also hope to find values coming from anywhere, especially some of the smaller wineries currently flying under the radar.

Hanzell Shines

Of course, no big tasting would be complete without a chance to sample the newest offerings from award-winning producers.

Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma

My top pick from all of the wines poured at Pinot Days is Hanzell Vineyards 2006. Most wineries are pouring 2007s and 2008s, but this four-year-old bottle of $70 juice shines like a beacon with brilliant red fruit and a nose that is intoxicating. It needs decanting, at least a couple of hours, to really hit it’s stride, but it’s well worth the wait!

The fruit comes from a mountainside vineyard about a mile north of Sonoma, first planted to pinot noir in 1953. The estate now contains more than 42 acres of vines, with one-fourth planted to pinot noir and the rest chardonnay.

An old favorite of mine, Scherrer Winery in Sebastapol, is showing well with its 2007 Platt Vineyard pinor noir. The wine is immediately approachable, open and luscious with red cherry fruit and a whiff of sassafras. Winemaker Fred Scherrer sources the grapes for this wine  from a 15-acre parcel that sits at 400-800 feet above sea level, about five miles from the Pacific Ocean near the town of Bodega.

Moving north, to Mendocino, we find the home of Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard pinot noir. The 2007 vintage, released just this week, is a marvelous effort. It’s a darker pinot, thanks to some Pommard clone in the mix, with a nice spicy mint element to the nose and on the tongue.

Winemaker John Pepe and Laree Mancour at Pinot Days

John Pepe and Laree Mancour at Pinot Days

Oppenlander winemaker John Pepe points to the wild Mexican sage growing near the vineyard as one reason for the spiciness.There are about 20 acres of vines on the Surprise Valley Ranch property, which also operates as a timber and cattle ranch and is the source of award-winning blackberry jam.

From Z to A

I first heard about winemaker Ryan Zepaltas while tasting wines from Suacci Carciere Winery. He’s the winemaker for this boutique winery and consults with other small wineries.

I liked both versions of this wine from the 2008 vintage. The first, labeled Russian River, is a bit darker and heavier due to addition of about 20 percent whole clusters (stems and all) during fermentation of the juice harvested from the 6.5-acre vineyard. It has great raspberry fruit and a delightful spice-tinted nose.

No whole clusters were used in the 2008 Suacci Vineyard wine, which is lighter in appearance and taste. I sense cherry blossoms on the nose and a nice tartness on the approach to balance the pomengrante and cherry flavors.

Winemaker Ryan Zepaltas

Ryan Zepaltas

Zepaltas makes interesting pinot noir under his own label, too.

His own 2008 pinot noir ($44) from the W.E. Bottoms Vineyard in the Russian River region is outstanding. It’s a dark red wine with strong concentrations of cherry fruit to go with an earthy feel and flavor. It’s ready to go now (please decant this wine and let it sit for an hour to unleash its potential!) but the winemaker also believes it will get better with a few more years of age.

Making Marvelous Wine at Martinelli

I also liked a trio of amazing wines from Martinelli Winery, a six-generation family winemaking operation whose pinot noir and zinfandel programs are world class.

The 2007 Three Sisters pinot noir ($60) exhibits great spiciness with a long, firm finish that shows off great cherry/berry fruit. The 2007 Moonshine Ranch ($70) takes that great taste a step higher and the 2008 Zio Tony Ranch ($60) is just amazingly good with cola/tea flavors against a strong cherry component with a finish that just lingers in the mouth for minutes.

Looking to the Stars

While Martinelli controls hundreds of acres and has been a fixture in wine country for more than a century, Adastra has a much shorter time and space impact on the wine world.

Adastra (which means “to the stars” in Latin) has just 20 acres of vineyards in the Carneros region, where the operation is strictly organic. Owners Chris and Naomi Thorpe bought the property in 1984, thinking it would be a good site for cattle ranching. By 1989, they dropped the cows and began planting vines.

Today, Adastra grows chardonnay, merlot and six acres of pinot noir. The 2007 pinot noir is a very good wine ($40) but a bottle of the 2006 reserve pinot noir (Proximus, $56) is outstanding. Made from a mix of Pommard and Dijon clones, this big wine features a hint of spice against a long, dark elegant flavor that is hard to resist.

Father’s Day Wine Reflections

June 10, 2010

My father was good at many things, but wine wasn’t really a passion for him.

Lancer's Wine

Art Thorsberg was a traveling salesman who sold rakes, shovels, hoes and other garden tools to hardware stores. On the weekends, he and my mother, Ruth, would enjoy an occasional glass of wine. I clearly remember bottles of Lancer’s and Mateus rose — both pink wines from Portugal — sometimes showing up in our refrigerator.

My dad was a bargain shopper, whether it was food, clothes or wine.

When he made business trips to Arkansas, the closest wine-producing state to our family home in West Tennessee, he would bring back bottles with names like pink catawba, alpine rose and niagra. They were inexpensive, medium sweet wines from Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, which is the oldest and largest winery in middle America.

I got my first sips of these wines at home and became intrigued. On my own, I developed a taste for drier styled table wines. I grew up and tasted new bottles of reds and whites from France, Italy and California. I started reading about wine and went to a few organized wine tastings.

Clos du Bois cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley — still a very nice wine — was one of my early California favorites.

I wanted to share my growing enthusiasm for fine wines with my parents, but my efforts fell woefully short of success.

On a family trip to Florida to watch spring training baseball, my wife and I took my parents to a fancy steakhouse with the most extensive wine list I’d ever encountered. Bern’s Steak House is still serving up sizzling steaks and fantastic wines in Tampa from a list that includes 6,800 entries from all over the world.

When we dined at Bern’s, the wine list was an actual book that was several inches thick. To keep patrons from stealing it, the book was chained to the table!

The list featured killer bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy, treasures from Italy and Spain along with some of the most famous labels in the American wine industry. I pored over page after page of exciting possibilities, licking my lips at the liquid pleasure to come and  practically giddy with anticipation.

Trying to be nonchalant, I told my parents to order any bottle they wanted. No restrictions. It was on me.

My mom and dad, both products of the Great Depression, looked back in horror. They had no idea what to choose from such an enormous list and the prices, even though they weren’t paying, were daunting.

I offered multiple suggestions, but nothing struck a harmonious chord at the table.

This was frustrating. Here I was, ready to write a blank check for the wine dinner of a lifetime, and my parents hung back.

There was nothing on the list they were really curious about.

It was, however, a great list. And, it did have something for everyone. Even my parents.

Instead of a First Growth from Bordeaux, a beautiful pinot noir from the Cote-d’Or, an older Italian barolo or a stunning California chardonnay, they got something they really liked.

Mateus Wine

My mom and dad were treated to the most expensive bottle of Mateus rose’ they had ever had. It was the biggest bargain on the list.

I had wanted to impress my mom and dad with my knowledge of wine and my bankroll. I had also wanted to an exotic food and wine experience with my family.

What I got instead was a lesson in taste and maturity and it’s stuck with me through the years. I understand now that just because I think something is good, doesn’t mean everyone will agree. And that’s alright. If cost doesn’t matter, your taste still does.

Although it’s not to my taste, I think I’ll find a bottle of Arkansas wine and pour a glass in honor of my dad on Father’s Day.

Is Your Dad a Pinot Noir Lover?

If your dad is a fan of pinot noir, the world’s biggest gathering of pinot noir producers will be held in San Francisco later this month. The Pinot Days main event — a tasting of wines from more than 500 producers — is scheduled for June 26 at Fort Mason. Tickets for the grand tasting are $60 in advance. Several smaller events — winemaker discussions, food/wine pairings and special “mini-tastings” at various Bay Area wine shops and restaurants — are also part of the week-long celebration of all things pinot noir.

Share Your Experiences

Do you have any family wine experiences you’d like to share? Drop me a note. I’d love to hear about them.