Friday, July 3, 2009
Follow the Yarrow Brix Road!
There are any number of ways one can judge wines inaccurately. You can try tasting more than a hundred wines in a day, for example. Sure, there will be some pathetic, nitpicking nigglers who will say your judgments are clouded by palate fatigue, but that's foolish. It's easy to combat palate fatigue. Professional tasters use Tongue Screen. Coppertone makes a very effective Tongue Screen that has 60 SPF (Suspends Palate Fatigue). And, as a bonus, if applied correctly, it leaves your tongue with a very attractive G-string tan. Or you can judge wines inaccurately by judging them at the winery where they were produced with the winemaker standing next to you telling you what his wines smell and taste like. The power of suggestion is an amazing thing. "It kind of reminds me of Chateau Margaux, though I've heard people say it's more like Chateau Latour. What do you think?" "Oh, I was guessing maybe more like Chateau Marmont; more specifically, the room where John Belushi died." Or, if you really want to get a feel for how to judge wines inaccurately, go to a large public tasting. And, yes, I mean not only is the tasting large, but so are most of the public attending it. Walking up and down the aisles of wineries pouring at these tastings, looking at the backs of the folks tasting the wines at each table, one is vividly reminded of the starting gate at Santa Anita viewed from behind. On the upside, there were plenty of places to set down my wine glass to take notes...
Plenty of spots to put down your glass here at the Pisoni Vineyard table! There's Gary, bottom(s) left
I attended one of these cattle calls (yes, nigglers, I'm mixing metaphors) at Fort Mason in San Francisco, the Grand Tasting of Pinot Days. This is a gigantic room full of Pinot Noir and the people who abuse it. When I arrived I expected the room to be redolent of cherries and blackberries and smoke and earth, but, instead, it smelled strongly of desperation, with just a pinch of hopelessness and fear. Lovely, really. Smelled just like the movie version of "Sex and the City." The coveted souvenir glass of the tasting, a gorgeous balloon glass whose delicacy clearly spoke to its being bulletproof, came with a folded, business-card-sized, piece of paper courtesy of Alder Yarrow at Vinography that listed all the possible aromas one might smell in Pinot Noir. This was an incredibly helpful tool! Especially when I needed to get a piece of food out from between my teeth. And whenever I sampled a Pinot Noir whose aroma I found ineffable, I'd consult my little Aldercard and, voila, the description would be right there. I can't tell you how many wines smelled like business card.
I'd like to start with some general impressions:
"I shall return!"--General Douglas MacArthur
"Trix are for kids!"--General Mills (originally attributed to Michael Jackson--oh, sorry, he's dead)
"Anybody seen my hair?"--General George Armstrong Custer, and me, General Nuisance
OK, now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the Pinot Noirs. The majority of the wines at the tasting were from 2006 and 2007, radically different vintages. I had a hard time tasting the '07's, not just because every table looked like a crowded field at the Breeder's Cup, but because it seemed to me that the vast majority of the '07's I tasted , from Northern California in particular, were in a very primary state, and not New Hampshire. That is, the wines seemed to me to have shut down in the bottle, showing only their primary fruit characteristics and holding back the depth and richness and complexity that I think the vintage holds. So if you read some other tasting notes from Pinot Days, and why the hell would you, keep that in mind. And get you one of those Vinography cheat sheets with all the Pinot Noir descriptors so you can follow the Yarrow Brix Road like all the other mental Munchkins!
My goal when I attend these sorts of tastings is to try to taste wines from wineries new to me, and from wineries who have distinguished track records. By my count I tasted 65 wines in the three hours I was there. I spit every last one of them, not a common practice at these public tastings. There was more spitting at the Gay Pride Parade. But it is really tough to taste wines when the venue, Fort Mason on an 89 degree day in San Francisco, is more overheated than a Republican Governor and more crowded than the unemployment line he's headed for. But, hey, I'm a Wine Blogger, dammit, and I got me a Vinography card and a 10 cent wine glass, I'm can rate some stinkin' Pinot Noirs!
In the next episode of HoseMaster of Wine, the great Pinot Noirs, and the not-so-great Pinot Noirs of Pinot Days. You can just feel the tension...