Category Archives: Blanc de Noir

Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown

No more interminable digressions! No more anecdotes from my checkered past! From hereon until the New Year, I have vowed to keep my Sostevinobile blog tight, sparse, and directly to the point. Call it what you will, but Your West Coast Oenophile is commencing his annual post-Thanksgiving ritual.
To be honest, this isn’t a response to my overconsumption. Rather, it’s the realization I must devote December to the unenviable task of raising the capital Sostevinobile needs to launch in 2010. After months of laying the groundwork, it’s time for a full-fledged assault, casting aside my “arduous” schedule of four-five wine tastings a week.
Before Thanksgiving, I was able to sandwich in a pair of tastings, however: PinotFest in San Francisco and Holiday in Carneros. Many fans of this blog will surely be clamoring for me to include my next installment of Waiting for Pinot before launching into my findings at Farallon’s 11th annual “Public Tasting of a Sexy Wine,” but, like Vigneron and Donatello, they will simply have to bide their time. I will preface my remarks, however, by commending Peter Palmer and his staff for always staging an impressive event (even though the tray of Ahi tuna medallions on fried wontons made its way by me only once). The private rooms in the Kensington Park Hotel where Farallon holdings its periodic industry tastings are warm and capacious, with presenter tables spaced amply apart. The catering is splendid (as one might expect from Farallon); the servers, more than accommodating; the crowd, knowledgeable and professional. In short, all the right elements for a splendid wine tasting.
The best part of this event, besides unexpectedly running into Yvonne Cheung, was the chance to meet with so many wineries from Oregon. The A-List of Oregon Pinot producers starts with Argyle and Adelsheim, a pair of wineries whose high profile sometimes tends to belie just how spectacular their wines can be. Argyle has, of course, gained as much of its reputation of late from its line of sparkling wines as it has for its Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Argyle Brut Rosé, blended from both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier deftly showcased their prowess in this area. Their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was as strong a vintage of this particular bottling as I can remember. Likewise, Michael Adelsheim demonstrated his family’s winemaking and artistic prowess with their popular 2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and their single-vineyard 2007 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Veering slightly off-course, he also poured the 2007 Auxerrois Willamette Valley, a fairly obscure white varietal resulting from cross between Pinot Noir and an ignoble (!) varietal known as Gouais Blanc.
Tony Soter gained considerable acclaim for his wines at Étude, before pulling up stakes and establishing his eponymous winery in Carlton, Oregon to make Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Soter obviously studied well in Carneros, judging by the pair of Oregon Pinots he poured: the 2007 Pinot Noir North Valley and a dazzling 2006 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs. Also staking its claim to “Oregonically grown” royalty was the aptly named Rex Hill, with noteworthy selections in their 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley and the 2006 Pinot Noir Jacob-Hart
Domaine Drouhin sounds like a name that might have been lifted from Le Morte d’Arthur or Chaucer (coincidence I subsequently discovered from their Website—their Chardonnay is called Arthur); this Oregon branch of a 13th Century Burgundian house having not previously come to my attention, I was especially pleased to sample their flagship Pinot, the 2006 Laurène and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. Chehalem, on the other hand, is a name that could only come from Oregon; their trio on hand from the numerous Pinots they produce included the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2007 Corral Creek Pinot Noir, and a distinctive 2007 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Despite my exhortations,
I could not convince owners of Ponzi Vineyards that they ought to produce a wine called Madoff. In contrast, Dick Ponzi produces wines that are incredibly straightforward and honest, “neither fined nor filtered…crafted to be delicious upon release,” as ably exemplified by the 2008 Tavola Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley that he poured. Though the Wine Spectator declares that “all Oregon Pinot Noirs are measured by the Ponzi yardstick,” I suspect Domaine Serene may feel their wines warrant similar accolade. The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker may differ over whether they prefer the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir to the 2006 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir, but it will require a bottle of their 2005 Monogram to get me to reveal my choice!
Bridging the divide between Oregon and California stands, Siduri/Novy, Adam Lee’s sister labels. My fondness for his Siduri Pinots has been noted several time in this blog, but I was extremely please to see that he had brought along the 2008 Novy Blanc de Noir, an exceptional white wine crafted by gingerly pressing the Pinot Noir grape to extract its juice without skin contact. Descending latitudinally, I made the acquaintance of Greenwood Ridge, an organic winery in Mendocino. If only it were possible to describe their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge better than Wine & Spirits’ citation as “a meaty Pinot Noir for Coq au Vin with Morels!” Still, my appreciation for this wine pales in comparison with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Meyer Vineyard (a wine I discovered subsequently at the Green Wine Summit)—perhaps the best expression of this varietal I can recall enjoying.
I managed to taste Kosta Browne’s 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard for the second time each in as many months and found my appreciation for these wines still enormously favorable. The treat this afternoon, however, was sampling the private efforts of associate winemaker Shane Finley and his much-storied Spell label; his 2008 Spell Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard shows how well he has taken Michael Browne’s tutelage to heart. His utterly splendid 2007 Shane Syrah Mendocino, however, shows an artistry all his own.
Like Kosta Browne, Littorai was a winery whom I had sampled at Pinot on the River; their 2007 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard was a superb discovery this time around. Pey has poured their fare at several tastings I attended this past year, but I still relished my first sampling of their 2007 Pey-Marin Pinot Noir Trois Filles Marin County and the equally spectacular 2007 Pey-Lucia Frisquet Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. The real treat, however, was the 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling, Marin County that Jonathan Pey managed to smuggle in.
Another familiar presence, though one I do not usually associate with Pinot, was Thomas Fogarty. The debate over the efficacy of angioplasty may be somewhat nascent, but his efforts with this varietal proved undeniable. Besides, I would far prefer to unclog my arteries with his 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz or the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Rapley Trail and most certainly via the catharsis of his extraordinary 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Windy Hills. I have no idea whether Costa de Oro has any medical affiliations, but their Pinots were beyond therapeutic. Apart from their soothing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Gold Coast Vineyard and especially the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Riserva Oro Rojo would provide extraordinary palliative therapy for almost any condition.
Some names in the Pinot world need no introduction, but an opportunity to taste their wine can never be overlooked. Robert Sinskey’s renowned organic winery in Napa falls into this category and came through with flying colors on their 2005 Pinot Noir Vandal Vineyard. Similarly, the highly-touted Williams Selyem from the Russian River Valley showed why 2007 has proven such a banner year for Pinot, with their 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir and their triumphant 2007 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir (having missed out on my WS List member allotment this fall, I was doubly pleased to enjoy this sample).
Sometimes you are predisposed to like a band even before you hear their music, simply because they have such an appealing or quirky name, like Foo Fighters or Death Cab for Cutie. I was similarly drawn to Radio Coteau and, ultimately, far from disappointed. Of the four Pinot Noirs I tasted, the 2007 Terra Neuma stood out, followed closely by the 2007 Savoy. The 2006 Savoy presented a classic contrast between these two vintage years, while the 2007 La Nebalina lagged a tad behind its 2007 counterparts. While Lynmar Estate is not a particularly esoteric name for a winery, its 2007 Terra di Promissio lures one in automatically to this splendid Pinot, a worthy Sonoma Coast variant to Lynmar’s home-based 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
The Napa Valley usually is not considered a stronghold for Pinot, so sampling El Molino’s efforts with this varietal was most illuminating. As in Sonoma and on the Central Coast, the comparison between vintages was quite stark, with the 2007 Rutherford Pinot Noir clearly preferable to its nonetheless admirable 2006 Rutherford Pinot Noir. Moving forward, I tasted was the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley from Foxen Vineyard, who also furnished their highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Block 8. Ah, if they had only brought along their selection of Sea Smoke bottlings!
A number of Central Coast wineries made strong impressions with this tasting, starting with Barbara Banke’s hands-on project for her Jackson Family Wines, Cambria Winery, offered its own highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Clone 2A. Michael Michaud’s eponymous winery bottles its wines with varied, alluring pastel labels that most certainly do not belie the quality of his Chalone appellation wines, notably the 2004 Pinot Noir he sampled. Even more enticing was the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley from Talley Vineyards, producers of the trendy Bishop’s Peak label.
In my quest to find California producers of Lagrein, I had recently uncovered Santa Barbara’s Whitcraft Winery, but was dismayed to learn from founder Jonathan Whitman they had discontinued the varietal. I nonetheless allowed myself to be consoled with a quartet of his Pinots, starting with the 2006 Melville Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, then moving onto the 2007 Aubaine Pinot Noir from Nipomo. The 2006 Morning Dew Ranch from Anderson Valley represented Whitcraft’s “northern” excursion, the 2006 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir N Block his pinnacle. My palate reached its threshold with Cobb, a Pinot specialist from the Sonoma Coast. Their wines proved that their considerable advance accolades were no hype, as I greatly relished both the 2007 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Coastland Vineyard. One can only wonder whether their 2007 Pinot Noir Joy Road Vineyard would have completed a trifecta.
I promised Yvonne I would see her in Carneros the next day, and as my next installment will attest, I was true to my word. Fortunately, I had not promised a similar timeline for completing this entry. My overwhelming schedule for Sostevinobile these past few weeks has set me woefully way behind.