There were nearly 200 wineries serving Pinot Noir at Pinot Days in San Francisco. It wasn't that many years ago that there weren't any wine events devoted to Pinot Noir, now they seem to be countless. Pinot Days, International Pinot Noir Conference, Pinot on the River, Pinotpalooza, Pinotcchio's Nose, Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Pinot Evil (oh, wait, that's a Urology Symposium). You get the picture. Pinot Noir is the new Merlot in the trendiness department. It seems everyone with a bit of talent and a gift card from Crushpad wants to make Pinot Noir. The result is that among the 200 wineries serving at Pinot Days are scattered a dozen or so quality producers who are forced to pour shoulder to shoulder with mediocrity. Remind you of anything? Wine blogging, maybe?
Let me run through the producers I thought had wonderful wines. I tasted the wines of 28 different producers, so clearly this is not a representative sampling of all that was to be had at Pinot Days. I'm sure I missed a few fabulous wineries. I wish I'd missed a bunch I did taste.
I was very impressed with the wines at WesMar. But I've always been impressed with their wines, and, frankly, I was surprised to see them at Pinot Days. It's certainly yet another sign of our lousy economy, not that we need any more signs. We've seen more signs than Marlee Matson at a speed reading clinic. Marlee with undecipherable sign language opinion of Pinot Noirs at Pinot Days In particular, their 2007 Sonoma Coast bottling and their 2007 "Hellenthal Vineyard" Pinot Noir were sensational. The Sonoma Coast for its pure red berry fruit and luscious, chewy texture, and the "Hellenthal" for the ineffable complexity, the mysteriousness of its perfume, the ethereal texture, the allure of cool climate Pinot Noir.
It was my first time tasting the wines of Ryan Zepaltas, who, as a real job, works as assistant winemaker at Siduri. So he's made 350 vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs (all with genuine terroir!) at Siduri in the past five years or so. His own wines were fabulous, though limited in supply. His basic 2007 Sonoma Coast bottling was quite good, not stunning, but it did possess a lovely spiciness, black cherry and cola fruit, though it was a bit on the clunky side. But his two Russian River wines I tried were superb. The 'o7 "Barton Vineyard" and the '07 "Bottoms Vineyard" were very different, I'm happy to say, but both terrific. The "Barton" had that sweet cherry candy core that many Russian River Pinots have while the "Bottoms" was a bit bigger in structure, maybe a bit more shut down than the "Barton," and also had blacker fruit character. Tough to choose between the two, but as I recall there were fewer than 50 cases of the "Barton" produced, so, of course, try and get that one.
I was pretty pleased with the wines of MacPhail Family as well. His 2007 Sonoma Coast was a lovely, focused, pure Pinot Noir in the sweet cherry and plums vein. (2007 was such a lovely vintage for North Coast Pinot Noir that many of the "basic" Sonoma Coast or Sonoma County appellation wines I tasted were nearly as good as the more expensive vineyard-designate wines in the lineups.) MacPhail also had a nice 2007 Pinot Noir from Mendocino's "Toulouse Vineyard," though I thought it a bit clumsy, and the wine from the actual Toulouse Vineyard in Mendocino is better and cheaper than MacPhail's. My favorite wine at MacPhail was the '07 "Goodin Vineyard," a Pinot Noir with glorious silky texture and a solid core of black and red fruit that speaks to a world of potential. Impressive lineup, really, but too pricey in this market. Buy 'em if your Ponzi scheme hasn't been uncovered yet.
And you cannot go wrong, and should definitely consider buying, the 2007 Pinot Noirs from Benovia Winery, the fantastic, and I mean fantastic, wines from Freeman Winery, the classic and never-disappointing Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir and the gorgeous wines of Black Kite Winery in Mendocino. I've written of these folks in previous HoseMaster posts and they need no further hype from me. Just buy 'em, and buy 'em in this fantastic vintage. Buy just about anything from Windy Oaks in the Santa Cruz Mountains Oh, and don't miss the sensational Donum Estate 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir! This might be the best wine I tasted at Pinot Days. Big wow here for the complex, elegant, concentrated, restrained, black cherry, blackberry, spicy Pinot Noir in this bottle.
These were the wines that stood out for me, the ol' HoseMaster of Wine. Your mileage may vary.
One thing attending a tasting like Pinot Days reinforces is how tough it is to make great Pinot Noir. I tasted far too many overextracted, manipulated Pinot Noirs--cynical Pinot Noirs, Pinot Noirs in Syrah's clothing, Pinot Noirs that magically clipped my nose hair when I sniffed them. It's hard to reconcile notions of terroir with grapes that have been picked with more Brix than every production ever of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Recipe wines: Pick raisins, add water, serve. It was more of a chore to taste the 65 wines I tasted than it ever should have been when Pinot Noir is the featured performer.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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