Putting in a Good Word for California Pinot Noir

Xochitl Maiman – November 10, 2015

If you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir.

I’m often asked what my favorite wine is.  My usual answer is, “depends on what I’m cooking”.  With that said, my “go to” wine is Syrah, simply because it goes well with many of the foods I like to cook. Hearty pastas, risotto, braised or roasted meats all compel me to reach for a syrah or syrah blend.

However…if you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir. My experience with these wines was rather limited until about 10 years ago when I attended my first Pinot Days event in Los Angeles. Spread out before me was an entire airplane hangar full of nothing but pinot noir from many of the best pinot producing regions of the world. After a couple of hours tasting there, and a pinot noir pairing dinner the night before, it became apparent to me that the stylistic differences from region to region, vineyard to vineyard and winemaker to winemaker,were vast. Nuanced expressions ranged from light, earthy and elegant, to lush, full and fruit forward, and much in between. There began my fascination with pinot noir and my quest to taste new pinots at every opportunity. At this point in my pinot “education”, the wines with the earthy, peppery qualities seem to be my favorite. But I also enjoy the brighter, fruitier styles – again, it depends on the way I will be drinking it and with what food, if any. Great acidity in these wines makes many of them a perfect pairing for myriad foods, including the eclectic collection of tastes and textures that is the Thanksgiving table.

While I have a long way to go in my quest to taste the Pinots of the world, what I have discovered for sure is that there is beautiful pinot noir for every palate being produced in  a number of American wine regions with tremendous success. So it was with some offense that I read David Lynch’s recent statement in Bon Appetit Magazine (Everybody Wants Some – November 2015), “Look to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the best American Pinot terroir.” I admit, I’m not fully versed on the Pinots from the Willamette Valley and I know there is wonderful wine bring produced there. But I felt this statement was too exclusive. What about California??

So in all fairness, I’d like to give a shout out to three California wine regions that are turning out stellar pinot noir, and I hope you’ll consider exploring them a bit, experiencing the different terroir, pairing with your favorite foods, and coming to your own conclusions. (Tough challenge, right?)

Three California Pinot Noirs to Try

California Pinot Noir

Santa Lucia Highlands – The esteemed vineyards of this area are located on the hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. They are cooled by the fog and breezes coming off the Monterey Bay, making this an ideal area for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

One to try: Lucienne 2013 – Hook Vineyard – $50.00 – During my initial tasting of this wine, I was intrigued by its complex tannins and look forward to tasting again on its own and paired with food.  Wine spent 14 months in French Oak, (40% new) (Hahn Family Wines)  –  221 cases produced

Sta. Rita Hills – Located on California’s Central Coast in Santa Barbara County between the Santa Rosa Hills and the Purisima Hills – the east-west coastal valley vineyards of this area are cooled by the breezes coming off the Pacific ocean. Poor marine-based soils limit vine vigor and crop yield, intensifying grape flavors.

One to try: Weatherborne 2012 – $35.00 – (grapes sourced from the John Sebastiano and Melville Vineyards) – 225 cases produced .  When I first tasted this wine, early summer 2015, owner/winemaker, Cris Carter, was also pouring his 2013 vintage. Among the tasters I was with, it was pretty much split down the middle on which vintage they preferred. I found the 2012 a bit lighter and earthier and the 2013 brighter and fruitier. Both were well made and quite delicious in their own way, and I look forward to future endeavors from this label.

Russian River Valley – Sonoma County  – Morning fog coming through the Petaluma Gap from the Pacific Ocean cools the vineyards, but burns off during the day creating a large diurnal temperature variation.

“There are very few common Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley. Certainly, given the number of producers (in the hundreds), the level of quality is extraordinarily high…” – Steve Heimoff

One to try: Fog Crest Vineyard – 2012 – Estate Bottled – $55.00 – This wine blends the elegance and earthiness qualities I enjoy with beautifully integrated dark fruit, cola and spice.                 600 cases produced.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to taste the pinot noir of the United States and of the world, and with so many choices, this could take a while. A great place to start would be the upcoming Pinot Days event being held in Los Angeles November 21st. (other cities hosting event in 2016)

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

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