Thursday, March 19, 2015

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Pinot Noir--PART TWO

My Saturday at World of Pinot Noir began with a pair of wine and food seminars, given the umbrella title “Foodie Frenzy Seminar Pairing.” “Foodie” is one of those words I associate with a poverty of vocabulary and imagination. It sounds like “Groupie,” as though a Foodie is someone who tries to fuck great chefs. A Puckfucker. And a Frenzy was not something I wanted at ten in the morning after a long Friday tasting dozens of Pinot Noirs. Except that I was hungry, and not in the mood to eat a $20 bag of Funyuns from my room, so a frenzy of Puckfuckers seemed OK. The alternative was a Burgundy seminar. Do your best, friends, to NEVER attend a Burgundy seminar. There is almost nothing duller in the wine business, aside from a Michel Chapoutier presentation, than a Burgundy seminar. They inevitably slide into really lame comparisons. Different crus of Burgundy as automobiles (Volnay is like a Pinto—it’ll get you there, but everyone knows it’s cheap). Or Burgundy as some epitome of beauty, the supermodel of wine—some voluptuous, some clearly so lean as to be bulimic. Burgundy worship is banal and tiresome, and often espoused by people who know just a tiny bit about it. I love great red Burgundy, I was lucky enough to have tasted more than my fair share, but I rarely have the chance to drink it any more. I don’t miss it that much.

The first half of the “Foodie Frenzy Seminar Pairing” (could they have come up with a worse name?) involved mushrooms. Pinot Noir paired with mushrooms is a gimme. You’d think. The mushroom expert on the panel was Bob Cummings (anyone remember the comic actor from the 50’s TV show, “Love That Bob!”?—not him).  Mr. Cummings is a retired professor of mycology, and was a very engaging speaker on the subject of mushrooms; a man accustomed, it seemed, to speaking on a panel. He understood how to wait his turn to speak--it's always the smartest one on the panel that understands that. Coincidentally, I had recently been to a mushroom seminar in Occidental, so I felt I was already something of an expert on the subject, a Shroomie. But Mr. Cummings was charming and articulate and clearly passionate about funghi. I’m guessing he’s single. No matter, it was a lively 90 minutes exploring one of the stranger life forms on Earth. And also mushrooms.

The chef at Bacara prepared three small mushroom dishes to accompany three different Pinots. The winemakers of those three Pinots were part of the panel, and all of them, to some extent, were engaged with mushroom hunting. Luke McCollom, of Left Coast Cellars, is even trying to cultivate a truffle orchard, a regular Johnny Trufflespore. He was very intense and interesting on the subject. I wish I had found the time to chat with Luke. He seemed like an interesting guy to know, like that guy down the street who wears a helmet with a lot of antennae sticking out of it.

The mushroom and wine pairings inadvertently emphasized how food can sometimes highlight how much oak is on a Pinot Noir. One of the wines was the Gainey 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir. As soon as you see “Limited Selection” you know that’s code for more new oak—not just in Pinot Noir, but in any variety. It was perfectly fine Pinot Noir, but one bite of the savoury mushroom dishes, all that seductive umami, and the Gainey tasted very hard and woody. The pairings did it no favors.The Bouchaine 2012 Pinot Meunier was a nice addition to the lineup for the curiosity of the variety, but I found it a bit too lean and attenuated—nice balance and acidity, but short in the intensity department, an angry midget. Maybe unsurprisingly, Luke’s Left Coast Cellars 2012 “Truffle Hill” Pinot Noir was the perfect mushroom wine. The vineyard is planted to the Swiss “Wädenswil” clone of Pinot Noir, and its earthiness and bright red fruit coupled with the lively acidity the clone is noted for made it splendid with the mushroom dishes.

Every damned winemaker and marketing person will tell you his wines are “food wines,” but that’s a tired old slogan, and one that has almost no meaning. It’s like saying, “You know, these plates were made for food. They’re food plates.” When a marketing person would say to me that his wines were meant to go with food, or if that phrase were in a wine’s marketing material, I would usually get angry. And an angry buyer is a non-buyer. I hated to be treated like an idiot.

Many years ago, an Australian winemaker (I cannot remember the winery) showed me his wines and proclaimed, “I make food wines.” I was having a bad day, as usual, and I responded, “You know, just once I’d like to have a winemaker say to me, ‘I love this wine, it’s great wine, but it really sucks with food.’” A year later, the same winemaker appeared at the restaurant with his new vintages, and after he poured me his first wine he said, “I think this is really good Shiraz, but it sucks with food.” I’d forgotten my tirade, but I burst out laughing. And I bought a bunch of wine from him.

After a short break, during which I walked to Bacara’s Ocean House restaurant where a couple of cool sommeliers, Branden Bidwell of Wine Cask and Eric Hanson of Bouchon, were tasting what was left of a bunch of Burgundies from various dinners and seminars. They very kindly invited me to taste, and expertly guided me to the best of the bunch. Clearly, they had no idea who I was or they might have had me summarily evicted. Always nice when I’m just another nobody and not the HoseMaster of Wine™. That was a real treat. Thank you, Branden and Eric, for that unexpected and warm hospitality.

The second half of the Foodie Frenzy was devoted to uni. I was a little disappointed. I was a little confused, and thought the seminar was about Street Urchins, and had dressed as Fagin. Well, that was my story. I actually always look like that.

The uni and Pinot Noir seminar was maybe the highlight of my weekend. Stephanie Mutz, the sea urchin diver, could not have been more fun. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people passionate about wine. Stephanie had unbounded passion for sea urchins. Some people find their calling, even when it’s spiny and strange and underwater, like some kind of Mafia hit. I was skeptical, because I always am, about pairing uni with Pinot Noir, but the chef’s pairings, from sea urchin Stephanie had harvested the day before, were nothing short of enlightening. Gray Hartley, winemaker at Hitching Post, was on the panel, and, it turns out, had been a commercial fisherman for most of his life. He and Stephanie had great rapport, and a lot of stories. Again, maybe not surprisingly, Gray’s wine, I thought, paired the best with the uni dishes. It was the Hitching Post 2012 Santa Rta. Hills Reserve (equal parts Fiddlestix Vineyard and Rio Vista Vineyard). On its own it had lovely red fruit intensity, raspberry and black cherry, great reserves of energy and a lovely long finish. But with the uni, it soared. The uni brought out the wine’s earthiness and salinity, the old salt Gray contributing a part of his soul. A perfect match.

Another wine, the Zotovich 2012 Estate Pinot Noir (a producer new to me) I liked fine when I tasted it, it had some unexpected elegance and a nice finish to go with its juicy red fruit, but it didn’t wow me. It seemed on the simple side. But the uni made it better. I’m not sure the wine made the uni better, but the uni certainly made the wine better, emphasized the fruit, made the wine seem more whole. Funny how that works. The food made me think I’d underestimated the wine.

The third wine was Rocky Point Cellars 2012 La Colina Pinot Noir from Oregon, presented by the vivacious Amy Lee. This is gorgeous Pinot Noir, ripe by Oregon standards, with sweet blueberries and blackberries, a sexy texture, with all the vivaciousness of its maker. But I didn’t much care for it with the savoury uni dishes. Just too ripe, not much of the earthy character that made the other wines work with the uni (one dish dusted with black truffle). Yet it’s wonderful wine, as were Amy’s other wines (aside from a 50% new French oak, 100% barrel-fermented, 0% malolactic Sauvignon Blanc I didn’t care for—come on, Amy, you have great fruit, stop dressing it up like JonBenét Ramsey in a beauty pageant). Some kind of beef dish with a black currant sauce and her Pinot Noir is a home run. It was just the wrong wine for the uni.

The uni seminar was great. After the formal presentation, Stephanie had more sea urchins at the dais, and she showed those interested how to open them (who knew there was a kitchen tool to open sea urchins? I think it’s trademarked as the Uni-Bomber™), clean them, and then we ate them fresh. As she opened them, Stephanie pointed out which urchins were female, which were male. You could see the salmon-colored eggs of the females, and the cream-colored semen of the males. We ate appropriately. I had heard it tastes salty.

Such strange creatures with which we share this planet we’re ruining. Stephanie assured us as she opened the still-living urchins that, like Master Sommeliers, sea urchins have no central nervous systems and, thus, cannot feel pain. I wasn’t sure if I was glad, or a wee bit disappointed.



Don Clemens said...

Damn! Actual WINE commentary. Ron, you can be completely enlightening even when you're sending zingers. I really enjoyed this one, and (it's 10:30 AM as I'm writing this) now I find myself VERY hungry. Even for uni!
Thanks for another entertaining read.

andrewbandysmith said...

Hi Ron,

I don't know if this matters because I don't know if your readers actually matter. I mean, I read you, and I'm aware I barely matter, so I'm only drawing on personal experience. I also draw on other people for an experience, but that's different altogether.

The 2013 Rocky Point Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (Amy's) is 0% MLF and 50ish% new FR oak. I'm only saying it since I helped craft it. Or maybe uncraft it in one's view (not saying which one, but one nonetheless).

And thank you for the props on the 2012 RPC La Colina Pinot Noir. We'll keep crafting at least half of the wines correctly.

With all seriousness and admiration for your work and your wordcraft, hugs and smooches.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, I've done some wine commentary before (See "Wine Essays" in my Compost Heap), but I don't do it that much. Too many people doing that as it is. But WOPN was great for material.

The uni was fantastic!

It does matter. Thanks for the correction. I could not have been further off in my notes about your Sauvignon Blanc. My apologies. I'll go back and fix it in the text as well.

The SB wasn't to my taste. Doesn't make it bad wine. It wasn't faulty, or just lousy. I'm sure you'll sell every last bottle.

Thanks for reading. Your Pinot Noirs were very good. As good as any of the Oregon wines at WOPN I tried, and far better than most.

David Rossi said...

What do you think about the event in general? I decided years ago to limit Pinot only events. It is hard to stand out in a crowd when everyone is pouring the same varietal. Eventually I resorted to wearing a tube top and hot pants. While I got attention(in a Bruce Jennery kind of way)it wasn't that awesome.

Do you like single variety events?

jock said...

"Burgundy worship is banal and tiresome, and often espoused by people who know just a tiny bit about it. I love great red Burgundy, I was lucky enough to have tasted more than my fair share, but I rarely have the chance to drink it any more. I don’t miss it that much."

Are you sure you wern't quoting me?

Marcia Macomber said...

Dang! Wish I'd been there. Sounds like it was fascinating on many levels. Different from the usual Hosé postings yet still packed with zingers.

Bob Henry said...

Would this have been the Bob Cummings of “Dial M* for Murder”?


Karl Kelsey said...

Indeed, the Bob Cummings of 'The Devil and Miss Jones' too! 'nuff said.

Amy Lee said...

Thanks Ron! So you do or don't want a case of the Sauvignon Blanc…?

FYI - I found the "Uni Opener" that Stephanie used in her demonstration. You can purchase one for everyone you know at - for the wham, bam steal of a deal of $128.08.

Looking forward to your next post,


Mel Knox said...


You will always be my favorite Schultzie.

Mel Knox said...

And, while we're at it, Amy, will you give your boyfriend a raise and tell him to answer my e mails??

Amy Lee said...

I have a boyfriend? So that explains the mess in the kitchen…

Mel Knox said...

Has he started to log in the back yard yet?? Fish in the bathtub??

Thomas said...

This one made me spit all over my keyboard...oh, wait: wrong entry.

The above in jokes make me feel left out. I do hope, however, for $128.08 the Uni-Opener comes with a sack of sea urchins, which I understand are difficult to find in a Finger Lake.

In any case, nice wine notes Ron.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Sorry to be so slow to respond--busy day for me. My wedding anniversary.

I'll talk about your question a bit in Part 3, I think. I found tasting countless Pinot Noirs a bit on the monotonous side, perhaps because, in general, Pinot Noir has a smaller range than, say, Zinfandel, when it comes to style and substance. A roomful of the absolute best Pinot Noir might be interesting, but, otherwise, it got a bit "more of the same" for me.

You'd have to ask a small winery if it was worth it. I don't know what they charged for a table in relation to the results, but it seemed that tastings like that reflect the culture in general. The 1%--the Kosta Browne and Williams Selyem and such--had folks lined up three deep to taste, while new, unfamiliar, unscored wineries were standing there hoping you'd say Hi. They needed a bell and a little Salvation Army donation box.

If I knew who you were, I might know if I was quoting you. But this WOPN had lots of Burgundy seminars and dinners, proportionally, and, truly, I was only vaguely interested. I'm very interested in the wines, not at all interested in the Burgundy worship.

Why weren't you there? I saw lots of other "friends." And also friends. It was a very nice event, expertly run. We'd have had some fun!

Yup. That's the Bob. "Mycetism" is the worship of rodents, right?

I thought that was his brother Richard.

I was wondering how much that Uni-Bomber was! Thanks for that. Cool utensil, though, right? Looked like it would also be good for an emergency tracheotomy.

Both of the Pinot Noirs you poured were excellent, Amy. The SB not at all my style, and I wonder why you chose to make it like that. Nothing wrong with it, mind you, but it seemed, in my mind, something of an odd choice, and maybe a tough sell. But I will continue to follow what you make. You have a great touch with Pinot Noir.

Yeah, now I'm your favorite since Ann B. Davis died and went to sitcom hell. Thanks. She was the best thing about that show. Cummings wasn't much of a comic actor, but handsome and familiar--which worked in the '50s.

The Uni-Bomber comes in a plain-wrapped package from the Post Office. Be careful when you open it. It'll blow your sack of sea urchin right off.

Amy Lee said...

Hi Ron!

I don't know if you got a close look at the "Uni Opener" - you could probably get a good bargain by going with a speculum instead. They sell them online through medical equipment companies for as low as $8.53.

The Sauv Blanc. We went that direction as I wanted to make a style of Sauv Blanc that wasn't typical new world. I spend quite a bit of time in Sancerre for my day job with Ermitage cooperage and have always loved the bottles that were aged in some wood, rested on lees with little agitation, and then racked off to bottle clean. After pressing - we let the wine sit in the press pan and oxidized it a bit - trying to get rid of some of the aromatics that I don't care for - grassy, tropical, melon. The barrels we used - one 265L Cigar barrel - steam bent and light toast which equals sort of a golden brown marshmallow. The other barrel was neutral steam bent light toast and the third stainless. The oak selection was to try to get some of the spice and sucrosity from the oak - no toast, and more volume and roundness on the palate. I'm super happy with it. Come try it again on my front porch. We can play "I Spy" with the neighbors property who would give any quality hoarder a serious challenge on a reality show.

Thanks for your notes on the Pinot. We are just about to release next week so hopefully I can pay my mortgage.

You are absolutely correct on the small winery front at events like this. Next year I will bring a duck call. We truly had a great time and look forward to next year's event. Hard to say what kind of return an event like this has if at all for the sales. Everyone reading this - you can come drink wine on the porch as well. And pick up your case of Sauv Blanc.

Mel - you are a nut job. But the kind of nuts we all LOVE. Like toasted pine nuts. Or roasted hazelnuts. Or those wasabi almonds from Diamond.

Off to help Rick split wood.

Bob Henry said...

Worship of rodents?

Oh, you mean this mysticism: Karni Mata, a mystic matriarch / rat goddess from the 14th century India.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, I already have my own speculum. Who doesn't?

Thanks for the details on your Sauvignon Blanc. Very interesting. I'd love to try it again some time, your front porch or not. As I said in the previous chapter of WOPN, there isn't a worse way to taste and evaluate wine than a large public tasting like that. But I also don't recall that it reminded me of Sancerre, if that was your intent. No matter, you're happy with it, and that's what counts. I've no doubt your audience will find you.

I was smitten, however, by your Pinot Noirs, and you.

Thanks for being a common tater.

Don Carter said...

So you too have been subjected to a Michel Chapoutier tasting. Nothing quite like Cote Rotie pulled from a bucket of ice water and served teeth-shattering cold.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

You're nobody in the wine biz until you've been Chapoutted. I spent a week with him one afternoon.

Stephanie Mutz said...

Plus $65 shipping!!