Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Drinking with SHIRAZ on Saturday – Pinot Noir Feb 7 2009

For many Pinot Noir is the wine from the movie Sideways. To others it is the grape of red Burgundy and it even finds its way into Champagne. As a grape variety Pinot Noir is apparently quite old and also prone to mutate, hence there are numerous clones of Pinot Noir. If you are a maker of Pinot Noir wines, especially in the New World, then one difficulty you face is selecting the clones or clones of Pinot Noir that best suit your location and wine making practices. If you are a true aficionado of Pinot Noir then your focus is on Burgundy, whose wines serve as a benchmark when you taste, should you so condescend, Pinot Noir from the rest of the world.

If you are me you don’t really worry greatly about the snob appeal or otherwise of an individual Pinot Noir wine, you just hope it tastes of the grape itself. In other words for me a Pinot Noir wine has to have varietal character. What is the varietal character of Pinot Noir? The wine must be light in color, much lighter than a Shiraz for example. The aromas should be of cherry and strawberry, and perhaps the forest floor and/or truffles. There may be violets, but there should not be stewed plum or any other flavor associated with overripe grapes. Why? Because a Pinot Noir wine should express a degree of delicacy; it is after all a delicate grape. The mouthfeel of the wine should be medium weight with vibrant acidity and fine tannins. Silky, velvety are descriptors that are often used for the fineness of the tannins. Pinot Noir is a very sensitive wine and its not uncommon to uncork a young wine and find that the edge has begun to turn orange/brown; I don’t trust such a wine to live for very long. Alternatively you can pull the cork on a 10-20 year old Pinot and it will look (and taste) almost as though it were bottled last week. Did I say its a pernickety grape!

The tasting of Pinot Noir at Vintage Wines of Feb 7th could have been of wines from anywhere except Burgundy (that tasting was on Feb 21). As it turned out all the wines were from the US.

First Wine
Cherry red with a pink edge. Sweetly flavored with notes of strawberry, cherry and bubblegum. There is even a Cola note lurking with some smoke. Medium bodied with adequate flavor carry and fine tannins that become more compact on the finish. It has a pleasant and uncomplicated, if not charismatic, appeal.
Score: 2, 2, 3.4, 9.3=16.7/20, 84/100
Drink: Now to 2012
Wine: 2006 Saintsbury Vineyard, Carneros, California, USA; Clones: Pommard, Swan, 115, 667 and 777; 20% Lee Vineyards, 16% Toyon Farm, 6% Saintsbury Home, 15% Stanly Ranch, 7% RMS, 8% Brown Ranch, 5% Cerise, 6% Rodgers Creek. 17% misc.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $23.99USD

Second Wine
Cherry red in color with an attractive pink edge. More earthy with brambly fruit and a hint of musk and strawberry. Medium weight with acidity that catches the focus of the palate. Fine, ripe tannins carry an excellent finish, but again a rather simple, uncomplicated wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.5=17.4/20, 87/100
Drink: Drink now to 2015
Wine: 2007 Fritz Winery, Russian River Valley, California, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: $17.99USD

Third Wine
Cherry red with pink edge. A little closed with musk over a citrus note, some cherry and forest floor. A well balanced wine of medium weight with excellent flavor carry. Opens with some air to reveal more Pinot Noir character on its lengthy finish. A well made wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.8, 10.1=17.9/20. 89/100
Drink: Now to 2017
Wine: 2006 Soter Winery, North Valley, Oregon, USA; North end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Price: $31.99

Fourth Wine
Cherry red with pink edge. More Pinot Noir in character than the previous wines with forest floor and cherry over a toasted oak note and perhaps a touch of sulphur. Its fresh and lively in the mouth with nice flavors but the a slight sweetness detracts from the appeal. The tannins are soft, the acidity adequate and the finish has good length but its another uncomplicated wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 9.6=17.5/20, 87/100
Drink: Now to 2015
Wine: 2006 De Ponte “Clay Hill”, Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.2%
Price: $33.99USD

Fifth Wine
Deeper cherry red with a pink/red edge; deepest colored wine of the flight. A richer, riper style with plum, ripe cherry, a hint of Cola, varnish and dusty oak. Fuller on the palate the flavors carry extremely well and are supported by firm tannins and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. There is definite appeal here but its difficult to see any Pinot Noir character.
Score: 2, 2, 3.6, 9.6=17.2/20, 86/100
Drink: 2010 to who knows? The acidity and tannins could hold it for some time but its not likely to look like Pinot Noir.
Wine: 2005 Ampelos Cellars, “Lambda”, Santa Rita Hills, California, USA; the clonal composition is 61% clone 115, 5% 667 and 777, 3% 828 and 31% pommard.
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Price: $24.99USD

Sixth Wine
Cherry red tinged with orange brown and a orange brown edge; either older or oxidized. Another shy wine. There is richness lurking there but with a bottom note of ketchup mixed with spices and a touch of caramel (Oxidation?). In the mouth this is an extremely appealing wine with softness and suppleness lacking in the other wines. What flavors there are carry beautifully across the palate to a lengthy finish. A very nice wine.
Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.3=18.3/20, 92/100
Drink: Its hard to tell how long this wine will live if it has premature oxidation. I’d like to taste it again to see if there is any bottle variation. If sound it could live a good ten years or more.
Wine: 2006 Alcina Cellars, Raimondo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California, USA;
Closure: Cork
Alcohol: 14.7%
Price: $27.99USD

The one thing I was hoping to see with these wines was one or two of the rich over-ripe Pinot Noir that populate wine shop shelves in the USA. Some of them can be quite extraordinary because of the palette of flavors they present even though they sacrifice varietal character. The 2005 Ampelos Cellars “Lambda” fits into the mold. I’m not a big fan of the style but there is no doubt that it has its advocates. What I would have liked to have seen in this tasting was a Mount Eden Pinot Noir. Even though the current vintages are made in a different style to those of past decades the Mount Eden, to me, represents excellent value for money in American Pinot Noir and those past vintages have aged wonderfully. From the wines tasted the Soter has to take the gong as the wine with the most potential to age and its consistently good as a previous tasting shows.

2006 Soter Pinot Noir, North Valley, Oregon, USA. $31.99USDCherry red with pink edge. Aromas in the bramble/earthy spectrum over a mélange of strawberry and cherry. Its attractive, and even has varietal character. Light-medium in weight with expressive and yet delicate flavors on the palate and an excellent, supple mouthfeel. A nice little wine, still young, might grow into something you would want to spend some time with. Score: 2, 2, 3.9, 10.2=18.1/20, 90/100. Tasted Jan 17, 2009

Image © norme

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