I heard a wine instructor once say that the very best wine is the wine YOU like! Right on I say, and I admit, to the dismay of many of my friends…I don’t much care for Pinot Noir. Yes, I know, a self-described wine blogger and avid drinker, not liking Pinot, is a bit controversial; what can I say, I just don’t feel it.
I am a fan of the varietal, however, in a blind tasting at a class or at a party….my overall lackluster response to standard pinots allows me to distinctly identify them, and as such, classify them accordingly. It usually goes something like this: swirl—sniff—“hmmmm, I know this one” —sip—“eeewww, yucky, I hate pinot”—write down pinot noir—get a point! It always serves as reliable point padding for later in a tasting session when I tackle Syrah and Zinfandel, two wines I find to be confoundingly similar depending upon the flavor profile of the Zins being tasted.
Before I lose the pinot fans out there, don’t give up on me quite yet. I guess I should clarify things a bit: honestly, I don’t like pinot that costs less than about $50/bottle; I can count on one hand the times I’ve liked a pinot in the under $50 range. Here it goes: as memory serves, about 8 years back, I liked an Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot (probably a ’97) served at Greystone in St Helena. It was running about $18/glass; current vintages run about $40/bottle. One year, I kind of liked La Crema; it was ok, but another year… not so much. Last fall I was surprised to find that I liked a Lady Slipper 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir quite a bit and to round out my positive experiences, I was really impressed by a David Bruce 2003 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that my friend Drew brought to Thanksgiving Dinner in 2008. That wine was quite good, so good, I kept the cork as a reminder; it was the perfect accompaniment to the day’s fair. The success of the Bruce wasn’t surprising; Drew has great taste in wine, and of course friends! Note to self: invite Drew and family to Thanksgiving again, super fun!
I have some friends, including Drew, who have always sung the praises of Pinot….and it wasn’t until last year when dining at the Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento that it all began to make sense. A group of us were there for dinner and both Drew and another friend, Steve, had very generously brought a few bottles of wine to share. As we enjoyed the evening of food and conversation, Steve and Drew continued to fill our glasses with wines matched nicely to each course. It was somewhere midway through the meal that something special occurred. A wine that Steve brought, and had been decanted earlier in the evening, was now being poured…I checked it out like I do most my wines; it was the color of deeply reddish/purple garnets, and the nose was filled with berry, earth and smoky notes.
My first sip was jolting…OMG, what was this wine, it was truly amazing. It tasted like grapes, and vines, and soil, and the sun. There were tannins, but not an overwhelming amount; just enough to give the wine a perfectly balanced structure. I could glean that an amazing amount of time and energy went into the care of the grapes grown for this wine, and an astounding amount of minutia detail into the winemaking process itself. For me, it was a wine nirvana moment. I asked to see the bottle, and that’s when I saw for the first time the antique-looking label with a simply-drawn wild boar being offered a chalice of wine by a noble-robed woman, and then I saw the name, Marcassin, the French word for wild boar. I was blown away….it was a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma coast, and it was the best wine I’d ever tasted.
So, am I a Pinot fan…..yes, I guess I am, but my Marcassin experience does support my thesis above, I don’t seem to like much under $50 a bottle. I dare you to look up the price of a Marcassin Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir…you’ll realize why the experience was so memorable for me!
Now comes the tricky part—providing you with recommendations. September is California Wine month, so I think I will steer you in the direction of some Golden State regions where good pinot is typically produced, and you can explore wines in your price range. Look for wines from the Sonoma Coast, Carneros and the Santa Rita Hills in the Santa Ynez Valley. That should be a good starting point. We can save Oregon Pinots and French Burgandies for another time!
Be forewarned….the Pinot Noir grape really is known for requiring more caressing, coaxing, and hand-holding to get it to produce a high quality wine, thus, be prepared to pay more for a good example of this varietal. Also, drink your pinots young; with few tannins, these wines typically don’t age well past the 5-7 year mark.
I would love to hear your Pinot Noir recommendations….I think the blog readers would too! Add a comment and list your favorites. Cheers! xoxoSB