Monday, November 17, 2008

Pinot Days - The Latest, Greatest Pinot Noirs


(Photo) Tanya Walker and Jim Ball of Jim Ball Vineyards, Photo ©Tom Hyland

I don't attend too many big tastings these days, as the setting is usually not the proper one for me to sample wines and get the proper feel for what's in my glass. So when I leave feeling like I learned a lot, that's the sign of a good tasting. The Pinot Days event in Chicago this past Saturday was such an event.

I love Pinot Noir, so when I saw the list of producers whose wines would be represented, I was excited about attending. There were some of the who's who of California Pinot Noir estates, such as Siduri, Arcadian and Dutton-Goldfield as well as some lesser-known producers such as Inman, Scherrer and Jim Ball Vineyards (more on Jim Ball later) as well as some old standbys such as Gary Farrell, Buena Vista and Bouchaine Vineyards. Oregon was represented (Archery Summit) as was Chile (Veramonte) and there were even a few bottlings from Germany.

As for the best wines, well you certainly couldn't go wrong with any of the selections from Arcadian or Siduri. Joe Davis was there pouring his Arcadian wines, of which the most impressive for me were the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey and the Clos Pepe from Santa Barbara, laden with attractive red cherry fruit and loads of spice.

As for Siduri, is there a better Pinot Noir winemaker working today in California than Adam Lee? Along with his wife Dianna, Adam has put together a superb assortment of PInot Noirs from almost every great growing region in California (as well as one from Oregon). Adam was present pouring five of his wines; the finest for me were the 2006 from Garys' Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the 2006 Sonatera from the Sonoma Coast, which in my notes, I listed as having a long, lush finish with silky tannins. Along with his precise winemaking, I applaud Adam Lee for keeping these limted production wines reasonably priced in the mid $40 to lower $50 price range.

Other favorites included the 2007 Kanzler Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) from Landmark Vineyards, with a beautiful harmony of vanilla and wild strawberry notes, the seductive 2006 Paraiso "West Block" from their estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the 2006 Sanchietti from Dutton-Goldfield in Russian River Valley. In my previous post, I wrote about this winery's 2006 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. For my money, Dutton-Goldfield may be the most underrated Pinot Noir producer in California; certainly Dan Goldfield is one of the best winemakers working with Pinot Noir today!

I also liked the two wines from Jim Ball Vineyards in Anderson Valley. This is a brand new winery and these offerings are their first releases. The 2006 Signature has good depth of fruit and is made in an earthy style, while the 2007 Booneville has more forward fruit and a longer, more elegant finish. A nice start for this producer - best of luck to them!

Finally, I tasted four examples from Germany. I've read a lot about how producers in Germany are working with Pinot Noir these days and judging by the bottlings I tried, I'd say they're starting to get the hang of it. A few of the wines were quite light, but some of them had nice depth of fruit. Most impressive was the 2004 from Georg Breuer from the Rheingau with tasty red cherry fruit and moderate tannins; this was a nicely balanced wine with excellent varietal character. A few more wines like this and we'll all have to start paying attention to Germany as a top Pinot Noir producing country!

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