Monday, January 23, 2006

Power of Pinot

For some people pinot noir is chic and trendy. For others of us, it represents a decade or more of infatuation with a bewitching but elusive prize (I've been haunted by the intoxicating perfume of several vineyard-designated pinots and woefully let down by other thin, tart versions). In any case, a Sun Wine Fest seminar devoted to the "holy grail" of wines was just what the doctor ordered this past weekend.

The seminar was led by Fred Dame, one of just 73 Americans to earn the title of master sommelier and the first to pass all three parts of the exam in just one year. Fred is a witty, personable guy whose enthusiasm for the grape is absolutely infectious. His seminar covered a lot of the basics, e.g., briefly covering the history of Burgundy and pinot's notorious quirks, which have driven many a winemaker absolutely crazy.

Fred's basic approach was to examine eight different pinot noirs representing eight different microclimates and compare the differences. As I said, it was a great deal of fun and the pinot refresher was good. But bad pacing left little time to give each of the eight wines their due. And, while we did talk a little about the distinctive characteristics of some of the wines, I was a little disappointed we did not really get at the distinguishing characteristics in more detail. I was also slightly disappointed that some of the hottest appellations, such as Russian River, were not represented.

I did learn a few lessons. For example, of the two burgundies we tried I preferred the Cote de Beaune, much better known for white burgundies, over the Cote de Nuits. It was more elegant and perfumed. I also loved a pinot from New Zealand. While it's still very early in the pinot game for the kiwis, Fred said he thinks they will be a force to reckoned with. Almost all of New Zealand's pinot plantings are no more than 6 or 7 years old. Look out when they really reach maturity, Fred predicted.

Here's a rundown of what we tasted by region:

Cote de Nuits, Rene Lequin-Colin: Nuits-St-George "Les Brulees," 2003. Tart red cherry with an earthy undercurrent. A bit tight.
Cote de Beaune, Joseph Drouhin: Chorey les Beaune, 2003. Floral bouquet of rose petals and violets in an elegant style. It may not hold up as long as Les Brulees, but it is sweet right now.
Oregon, King Estate, 2003. Nice black cherry fruit with a brown spice aroma and a long finish.
New Zealand, Brancott, "Terraces Estate," 2003. Spicy black cherry with a sweet vanilla finish. Red candy.
Sonoma County, Clos du Bois, 2004. An enjoyable red raspberry nose that also included a bit of cinnamon and other brown spices.
Napa Caneros, Etude: Caneros, 2003. Lush, red cherry and raspberry flavors in a smooth, silky style. It was the favorite of most and I certainly enjoyed it, but dare I say it's short on complexity for the price?
Sonoma Caneros, Buena Vista: Caneros, 2004. Definitely more black fruit and some smoked meat aromas.
Central Coast, Wild Horse, 2003. I've had this before and it surprised me because I don't remember it being this enjoyable. Very nice, simple red fruit package.


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