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Monday, October 01, 2007

East Side Tackles California's Best Pinot....

Is there a better way to send yourself off to the Central Coast than by spending an evening inundating your palate w/ some California’s best pinot fruit? The Upper East Side crew had a western geographical sensibility last night as we immersed ourselves some real stunners, showcasing what staggering potential that the sunshine state truly has w/ this en vogue varietal. You couldn’t help but notice how vast each expression of pinot can be when faced w/ a variety of its clones, vineyards, vintages and divergent enological practices that all conjure a unique silhouette. Experimentation will undoubtedly net a multitude of failures, but that which has succeeded will only become progressively stronger and more convincing in subsequent vintages, thanks to the open minds and adventurous hearts of the Californian Pinot Pioneers.

I find one of the most fascinating aspects of this emerging Pinot renaissance is imbedded in the relative uncertainty of how the wines will evolve. Our opinions, while valid, were almost entirely based on ‘feeling’ where the wines would go or where they wouldn’t go. The track records are a proverbial tabula rossa, with few benchmark wines actually existing long enough to track their progress in the bottle (and several of these wines are simply too delicious to wait for, why risk the disappointment?). Our commentaries are almost virginal, as the learning process unfolds not only for the wine makers, but the wine drinkers.

To find one of California’s most influential harbingers of fine wines, one should look no further than to the late Andre Tchelistcheff, who catalyzed the competitive revolution for America’s quest to make wines that rivaled the great Bordeaux and Burgundies being made in the 20th century. Although he was best known for his finesse in BV’s vineyards and cellars w/ respect to Cabernet, I couldn’t help but think of his fleeting accomplishment w/ Pinot Noir, harvested in the 46 and 47, and blissfully advanced well into the 80’s in, dare I say, Burgundian fashion. Granted, this grape was one of which he did not fully understand, nor have much documented success with….but if just one of the pinots we tasted last night has the ability to not only evolve, but appreciably get better in the bottle over the years….look out Burgundy.


Kosta Browne Rose 2006How does a no holds barred producer, known for cranking out some of the most muscular pinots on the planet, fashion a pink wine?! Well, not entirely unlike their reds, as this rose certainly was in a darker, more large scaled fashion than any Tavel consumer would be familiar with. It is brash, w/ smoky spice, dried strawberries and a rather plump mouth-feel. Unfortunately it kicked off a bit more heat than I’d like, and was marred by a bit of an off-dry, disjointed personality that never really found its sense of finesse, nor composure. Enjoyable ride none the less. 85 points.

Pazo Senorans Albarino 2005
I brought this just for the hell of it, and considering that Jorge (Senior Spain, if you will) is not totally on board w/ the grape, I am glad I did! One of the most quality minded producers in Rias Baixas, known for low yields and battonage, produced a wine of laser like focus in 2005. Flinty, w/ citrus blossom, tangerine and crushed stone flavors that are creamy, but showcase excellent acidity and minerality to keep your heart racing. Another winner. 91 points.

1998 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Vineyard, Carneros
The unofficial king of Carneros, Saintsbury wines seem to have fallen off the radar a bit as ambitious, glitzy competition has taken over the scene of the 21st century. This ’98 has likely seen better days, as the fruit was fading, and the personality was dominated by rusty anise, iron, mushroom and modest cherry notes that were slightly hollow in the mid-palate and drying on the finish. Not a bad drink, but it aint what it used to be! 84 points.

Flowers, Sonoma Coast 2004
Stark in contrast to the Saintsbury, this was a young stud that was just beginning to strut its stuff out of the bottle. Lively and vibrant, with pretty scents of rose petal, vanilla, boysenberry and framboise that are not overtly showy, but very attractive. The wine has rich, mouth-filling body that is kissed w/ just a touch of minerals on the medium length finish. A nice showing, 90 points.

Domaine Alfred, Califa 2005
My enthusiasm for this wine was likely tempered by how much I raved for its former vintage (the 2004 was the most impressive California Pinot Noir I’ve ever tasted), but this certainly was no slouch. A baby, with plenty of positive development in her future, the wine shows sweet toast, anise, pepper, crushed raspberries, pure cherry and a hint of cinnamon up front. Juicy and structured in the mouth, w/ thick, firm tannins echoing a sage note on the finish. Should be a star for the cellar. 93 points.

Siduri, Gary’s Vineyard 2005
I think Adams candor regarding how he handled this vintage was evident in the profile of this wine. It was by no means offensive or displeasing, but it was simply superficial from start to finish. Notes of candied watermelon, pressed pomegranate and an under-card of earth played second fiddle to somewhat obvious traces of residual sugar. Simple, somewhat sweet and under-whelming for both the vineyard and the producer. Get ‘em next time Adam. 85 points.

Rochioli Three Corner Vineyard, 2002
A sincere, Burgundian effort that set itself apart from the pack immediately w/ it’s nearly sauvage character aromatically. Dried mushroom, sweet tobacco, underbrush, clove and iron scents emanate from the glass like a spotlight’s focus on a theatrical center stage. Lively and rich in body, shuddering silky shivers of sweet cherry, licorice and raspberry down the spine. A real stunner that encapsulates nearly all one could hope for in New World Pinot. 96 points.

Kistler, Hirsch Vineyard 2000
Hello controversy, where have you been all evening?! Exactly one day after I was singing their praises for the 2001 Sonoma Coast (the first Kistler Pinot I had ever tasted), I am greeting w/ a Mr. Hyde rendition of epic proportions. The wine was flat out opaque, completely shrouded in an impenetrable black cloak of extraction. Brooding elements of dark fig, huckleberry, raspberry ganache, licorice and coffee erupt, screaming ‘anything but Pinot!’ Round, saturating and masculine, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to a young, heady Grenache (especially when it came to the sweet finish). What blind tastings were made for (and you thought the responses that came from the judges of the Paris tasting were ridiculous?!). I can imagine several would pan this wine, and others may laud it unconditionally. I chose to evaluate it as a wine, not as a pinot noir, simply because it is an outstanding wine! This may garner criticism, but I find it to be the most logical solution to handling this lightning rod of a divisive wine! 93 points.

Dumol Ryan Vineyard, 2003
This producer is exceptional from top to bottom, and the cream of the 2003 Ryan vineyard soared to the top this evening! This young pinot was so nuanced, layered and seductive, exposing notions of decayed leaves, violets and black tea through the nose. The palate was really showy, but tantalizingly ethereal and always mirrored a sense of pristine symmetry. Caramel, raspberry, blueberry and mineral flavors funneled through the mouth w/ absolute precision and grace. Consensus wine of the night as it left us all breathless. 97 points!

Sea Smoke Southing, 2005
This is the 5th time I’ve enjoyed this bottle, which should speak volumes as to the pleasure it consistently gives me. Just as I remember, exhibiting a myriad of rich, lavish red and blue fruits in subtly detailed arrays. Palate coating and full of depth that manages to maintain a beautifully plush sense of proportion. Easy to love. 93 points.

Kosta Browne Russian River Valley, 2004
Interestingly enough, this didn’t evoke anywhere near the amount of debate as the Kistler did! Another wine I’ve made multiple passes at (this is probably the 4th time I’ve indulged on this particular bottling) and I believe it belies traditional note taking. Some of the comparatives I offered up during the evening are probably inappropriate for the board, so I will bring some Cliff Notes to the table. If pinot were a stereo receiver, Kosta Browne cranks up the volume to 15 on the 10 segment dial. What I find so fascinating about this comparison is that the volume, although blaringly loud, is completely transparent! Although it is heady and overtly lush (not to mention delicious), it maintains a sense of not only balance, but varietal character. The 200 pounds of pure, opulent fruit that Michael and Dan pack into the 150 pound Pinot frame somehow make sense, and I can’t articulate why! The most impressive appellation level Pinot I’ve tasted from California. 96 points.


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