I made a sort of “wine resolution” at the beginning of the year to drink more Pinot Noir. To that end, this month I have attended not one but two big tasting events featuring Pinot Noir. The most recent, the Pasadena PinotFest, was held at the University Club of Pasadena on January 30. I had not been to the venerable facility since my friends Jerry and Robin had their wedding reception there. It was a jumpin’ joint that night, but the wine crowd got the room rockin’, too.
A full house made their way from winery table to winery table, stopping to refresh their palates at a major cheese station, a carving table for assorted meats and a wonderful island where succulent braised short ribs were served atop a pile of cheesy grits. Pleasure abounded from wall to wall.
Nearly 50 wineries were represented, and not all of them felt obliged to restrict their pours to Pinot Noir. Quite a few brought Chardonnays and Syrahs with them, while I did see one Pinot Gris and a rose. It was a Pinot Noir rose, however.
Although the room was crowded, I was able to make it in good fashion up and down the aisles. At no time was it difficult to get close enough to the pourers to hear what they had to say about the wines. In fact, at an event earlier in the month, I had some difficulty getting close to the Clos Pepe table. This time around, winemaker Wes Hagen was able to devote his entire attention to my questions for several minutes. That’s probably not the way he would have preferred it, but it worked very well for me.
Hagen poured some of his prized rose to start. He explained that for this pink wine, his grapes are taken a full six weeks before other Pinot growers begin harvesting. He feels he can get full fruit flavor without letting the grapes possibly get overripe. I agree. The Clos Pepe rose has one of the best fruit presences I can remember tasting in a pink wine. Moreover, his Pinot Noir seems almost like an extension of the rose rather than a different wine entirely.
Another big favorite for me was Row 11 Russian River Valley 2007. The spices were so delicious this one really did make my eyes open wide. According to the pourer, winemaker Richard de los Reyes makes New World Pinot Noir by selecting the “best vineyards, in the best appellations and taking the best rows.” She explained that’s where the name, Row 11, comes from. Reyes can walk any vineyard in California and select any row he likes. He apparently likes Row 11.
I was also taken with the Windstream 2008 Pinot. It’s a big, floral, rich wine which is, I’m told, “the winemaker’s baby.” Winemaker Anthony Riboli, of the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli Family, really impressed me with this wine.
The Pasadena PinotFest served as a fundraiser for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization doing good work for Southern California’s children. If you weren’t able to help by attending, please click on their name and explore other opportunities to help.
Here are some of the wines I sampled (all are Pinot Noir):
Ampelos Lambda 2006 – very good
Ampelos Rho 2006 Barrel Select – excellent, bright and earthy on nose and palate
Ampelos Fiddlestix Vineyard 2007 – subdued fruit, somewhat green
Alma Rosa Santa Rita Hills 2007 – nice and earthy
Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard 2005 – wild nose, got a lot of attention from other tasters while I was there
Badge 2006 – complex nose, spicy taste
Baileyana Grand Fire Peak Cuvee 2007 – earthy and full
Cargasacchi Point Concepcion Salsipuedes 2008 – barnyard nose, nice mineral profile
Cargasacchi Estate, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard 2007 – brighter and more vibrant than Concepcion
Clos Pepe Rose 2009 – strawberry, 11.5% abv, great fruit presence, very “real”
Clos Pepe 2006 – like and “extension” of the rose, darker and fuller
Clos Pepe 2007 – even fruitier and fuller than ’06
Derby 2006 – very good nose
Ken Brown Santa Maria Valley 2007 – violets
Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills 2007 – great sense of earth
Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard 2007 – dark and brooding
Loring 2008 – like candy on the nose
Loring Gary’s Vineyard 2008 – herbaceous, bright and delicious
Marimar Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 – lovely and dark
Marimar Dona Margarita Vineyard 2006 – big nose, subdued fruit
Row 11 Russian River 2007 – OMG! great spices
Stephen Ross Chorro Creek 2007 – nice minerals
Tin House 2005 – very nice earth, big, sourced in Edna Valley
Windstream 2008 – very big taste, floral and rich, “winemaker’s baby”