A look at some recently released Pinot Noirs.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers March 16, 2005
While it may not have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, “Sideways” has had a profound effect on the way Americans view wine. The film features Pinot Noir wines, of which the lead character says: “Its flavors are the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet.” The result has been a dramatic surge in demand for Pinot Noir with sales increasing as much as 135 percent in some areas.
Pinot Noir has been made into wine for centuries and is grown in many locations around the world, including Europe, North and South America, and New Zealand. The type and style of wine produced depends upon the individual climates and the winemaker’s skills. For example, Pinot Noir is one of the principle grapes used to make Champagne. However, the still Pinot Noir wines are the most widely produced.
Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape. The growing conditions must be perfect, with warm days and cool nights. Prone to disease, it is genetically unstable, resulting in uneven and inconsistent production. Once picked, the grapes are challenging to ferment, which can result in off-color and equally off-tasting tart and unbalanced wines.
The styles of Pinot Noir can vary from an elegant wine with nuanced flavors to full-bodied and fruit-filled. The flavors include cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and currant, with occasional spicy and earthy overtones. The Pinot Noirs produced in the France’s Burgundy region are highly prized while the wines from California and Oregon have been steadily gaining admirers. It is a very versatile wine and pairs well with grilled fish, beef, veal and lamb.
Made in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, the Matua Pinot Noir 2002 is a blend of five vineyards. It has cherry and plum flavors with a mild finish making it a nice introduction to Pinot Noirs.
WesMar Winery is producing some of the California’s finest Pinot Noirs. Since the national wine press has not yet reviewed these wines, they remain relative bargains. The wines are beautifully balanced with nuanced flavors and a long silky finish. The WesMar Olivet Lane 2002 is wonderful, with strawberry, chocolate and cinnamon flavors. The equally superb WesMar Piner Ranch 2002 has plum, cherry and licorice notes.
Patz and Hall is also making first-rate Pinot Noir. The Sonoma Coast 2003, a blend of 12 different vineyards, has dark cherry and slight coffee flavors. The Patz and Hall Burnside Vineyard 2003 is a much bigger wine, with spicy dark fruit flavors and a long finish. My wife’s favorite is the Patz and Hall Hyde Vineyard 2003, which is very spicy and has raspberry, dark cherry and plum flavors.
W.H. Smith produces wines in a slightly different style; they have the tannins to support several years of aging. The very good W.H. Smith Sonoma 2002 has spicy blueberry and raspberry flavors, a medium body and a lush finish. The excellent full-bodied Maritime Vineyard 2002 has cherry, raspberry and chocolate flavors, and a long smooth finish.
Other recommended wines from a recent tasting include Etude Carneros 2002 that has spicy aromas and soft tannins with cherry and blackberry flavors, and Taz Santa Barbara 2002, with cinnamon, cherry and mild chocolate notes. Complex and crisp Beringer Stanly Ranch 2002 has nicely balanced mint and cherry flavors. Perbaccco Dionysus 2002 has an earthy, Burgundy-like aroma and deep rich blackberry, dark cherry and spice flavors. Also recommended is Frei Brothers Sonoma Reserve 2003, with plum and blackberry notes.