Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir’

Pasadena PinotFest 2010, 2nd Annual

January 31, 2010
Pasadena PinotFest

Pasadena PinotFest draws a crowd

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

Pinot lovers and Pinot pourers

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

I parked behind Clos Pepe

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

Ribs and grits

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

A fave

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

Another fave

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.

Pasadena PinotFest

Anthony Riboli, Windstream

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”

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Pinot Days Southern California, Grand Tasting

January 17, 2010

In the film Sideways Miles delivers a wonderful monologue about why he likes Pinot Noir.  He talks at length about the “thin-skinned, temperamental” grape which “needs constant care and attention” in order to thrive.  Miles calls Pinot Noir’s flavors “the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”  It’s obvious Miles has a deep and abiding respect not only for the grape, but for those growers who have what it takes to “coax it into its fullest expression.”

Sunday January 17th, 2010 there was a celebration of the Pinot Noir grape, those who do the coaxing and those who take the raw ingredients in hand and make the magic happpen.  In Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar, nearly a hundred wine producers gathered to pour their Pinots and talk about them to interested individuals during the Pinot Days Grand Tasting.

The picture at left shows the crowd of “trade tasters” who began filing in at 11:00 a.m.  When the general admittance started two hours later, space became considerably harder to find.  The Pinot Noir kept flowing, though.  Wide open and in plentiful supply at some tables, hidden behind a mass of humanity at others, the wine was the star at each.  Most producers brought out their 2006 and 2007 vintages, while some featured a fresh-faced 2008.  There was even one 2009 I spotted.  It was a rose.  From Pinot Noir, of course.

At this type of event, I judge the most popular wines by counting how many times I have to make my way around the facility before I can muscle in to those oh-so-desirable tables.  There were five notable wineries at Pinot Days which required me to make several laps around Barker Hangar before the crowd subsided enough to allow a bit of access.

The crowd at Flying Goat practically went away by the second time I passed.  Their loss.  Flying Goat’s ’07 Dierberg Vineyard was a fabulous wine with hints of spearmint.

I was able to taste at Merry Edwards the third time around.  I liked the Sonoma Coast Pinot better than the Klopp Ranch, but both were fine efforts, lush and dark.

Clos Pepe's Wes Hagen

It was my fifth pass before I could sample the wares from Hitching Post.  They served a nice array, including their Cork Dancer with its lovely nose and vanilla candy scents.  St. Rita’s Earth features just that, a healthy dose of Santa Rita Hills terroir.  Highliner has sweet aromas, firm tannins and layer after layer of flavors.  It seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.

Just across the aisle was J Vineyards. I made it through on the fifth time around here, too.  Their Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot was perhaps the fullest mouthfeel I experienced all day.  It’s a very smooth and deep wine.

Clos Pepe's Wes Hagen

By my admittedly unscientific method, Clos Pepe Vineyards was by far the busiest for the longest.  It was my sixth time around the hangar before I finally gave in and stood in line to taste Wes Hagen’s Pinot Noir.  It was worth the wait.  The 2006 showed a lot of depth.  Hagen even brought along a Pinot Noir Rose, 2009, which was not too sweet and not too tart.  Each time I had passed, Hagen was literally holding court.  Pouring his wine while firing off fast-paced repartee with the faithful, listing the wines he had available for tasting, which included “one for the true believers.”  Hagen was obviously enjoying his time pouring for the public.  At one point when he was hidden by the throng of people surging towards him I heard him remark, to no one in particular, “I learned everything I know about table tasting at La Super Rica!  Talk to everybody!”  And that he did.  Hagen is a good follow on Twitter, by the way.  When not referencing Santa Barbara’s most popular taqueria, he sometimes waxes poetic.  The man has a gift for haiku.

In all, I tasted 47 wines at Pinot Days.  By the end of my session my palate had gone into a Pinot Daze, so I had to call it quits.  I did manage to taste from all the wineries I had set out to taste from, and a few I hadn’t.  Here are some that captured my attention:

C. Donatiello Maddie’s Vineyard – a minty note I liked a lot

Carr Vineyards & Winery Three Vineyards Pinot and Turner Vineyard Pinot – both show excellent minerals and a flowery component, the latter a bit more delicate

Demetria Estate – ’07 has a lively nose and a bit of tartness on the palate; ’06 has lots of depth

Derby Wine Estates – nice nose, earthy palate

Dutton-Goldfield Winery – ’07 McDougall Vineyard has peppery notes; ’07 Sanchietti Vineyard was one of my favorites

Fess Parker’s ’08 Santa Barbara County – a great nose and a dark quality; ’07 Bien Nacido really fills the mouth well; ’07 Pommard Clone was no slouch

Ketcham Estate ’07 Ketcham Vineyard – a wonderfully expressive Pinot

La Fenetre – two great wines and an amusing good cop/good cop show from Josh Klapper and Adam Leeman

MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast – a very full mouthfeel and a smooth drinker

McIntyre Vineyards ’07 Estate – violets and a more rustic feel than ’06 Estate, which I found very appealing

Tasting Room Notes: Vendome Wine & Spirits

August 1, 2009

Southern California drinkers know Vendome as a great place to find what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for anything in particular, you can browse until you find something that strikes your fancy. Their many locations make for a convenient stop, but I do not believe that all Vendome locations schedule wine tastings.

Vendome of Studio City, 11555 Ventura Boulevard, does have regular tastings, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tasting I’ll write about here was on Saturday, July 25th, 2009. For $15 I tasted 6 wines of the Loire Valley.

Let me apologize for the lack of an image to accompany the piece. I ran a bit short on time (always a negative in the tasting experience) and forgot to get a picture before leaving. I’ll try to grab a shot the next time I’m in there. It’s doubly unfortunate that I have no image, because their tasting bar is actually a small shack-like structure in the west end of the store. Unique and interesting, the bar seats a half-dozen or so with a couple of tables nearby.

Yves Breussin Vouvray 2006 – Only one grape is used for making wine in the Vouvray appellation. That’s the Pineau de la Loire, which we call Chenin Blanc. This wine is a pale yellow in the glass, with a strong and somewhat funky scent. Minerals and a nutty quality are present on the nose and palate. Good acidity, and it finishes well.

Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon 2007 – The vineyards of Menetou-Salon are sloping, mineral-laden fields which border those of Sancerre. This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc with another funky nose. Nice aromas of citrus and wet rocks dominate. The taste is quite smooth, a little lacking in acidity but a pleasure to drink nonetheless.

Jean Tatin Quincy 2006 – Funky noses were the order of the day. This wine had the strongest yet, the kind referred to as “cat pee.” It’s a Sauvignon Blanc with a ton of minerals on the nose and palate. Well balanced with a good finish.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2007 – This Sauvignon Blanc had the strongest nose of the day. It also had the most character. The minerals were right up front, the balance was great and the finish terrific.

Domaine Taille aux Loups Montlouis 2007 – A dry Chenin Blanc, this wine was full of minerals and an unusual quality I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe I was beginning to feel the pressure of my time limitations. Anyway, it was my favorite wine of the day.

Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre 2007 – A red wine from an appellation known for its whites, this Pinot Noir is very full of flavor. Medium-red in color, it features very strong strawberry notes with some clove and cinnamon.

Tasting Notes: Artisan Cheese Gallery

July 5, 2009

We were out for a Sunday morning adventure. Well, actually it was a trip to the Studio City Farmers’ Market. We don’t like difficult adventures.

The trip did turn out to be more than we bargained for, though. We strolled through the fruit stands – unfortunately, most of the fruit wasn’t quite sweet and delicious just yet – and saw the various bead salespeople, the countless baby strollers and the gourmet corn tamale stand I can smell and identify without looking. There were a couple of guys singing folk music and another guy playing a steel drum, probably the happiest sounding instrument in all the musical world. Nobody’s playing the blues on a steel drum.

Just about to call it a morning, we remembered the Artisan Cheese Gallery, just steps away from the Farmers’ Market. It was an adventure after all. We went for the cheese and stayed for the flight of wines.

The aroma of their cheeses is magnificent. It’s not overpowering, because all their cheese is put away and refrigerated overnight. It is a very pleasant aroma for a cheese lover to encounter.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if there’s cheese, there’s wine. Artisan Cheese Gallery is no exception. Two walls are covered with racks of wine for sale and there are several displays in the floor space. A chalkboard on the counter shows which three wines are on the $8 flight. The flight is served in 3 stemless glasses on a wooden tray. The glasses have a dark spot on them in which the names of the wines are written, but it’s no substitute for getting up and examining the labels yourself. A printed sheet containing information on the wine should be provided with your flight. I hope they’ll do that in the future.

The worldly flight took me to Lodi, Sicily and the Medoc region of France. Here are the wines:

Peirano Estate Vineyard “The Other” 2007 – This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah has plenty of the earthy characteristics Lodi wine usually brings. This is the most distictive nose of the three, and it has a currant and plum flavor profile. Very nice indeed.

Chateau Poitevin 2005 – Described by a staff member as a Bordeaux blend of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, this Medoc offering was quite dark in the nose and on the palate. The complexity was not surprising. I am always struck by the complex subtlety in wines from Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

Planeta La Segreta 2007 – This is an interesting blend of the wonderful Italian varietal Nero d’Avola with Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The nose was rather difficult for me to ferret out, but plums, raspberries and chocolate were detected by my wife. There may be a bit of coffee in there, too. It tasted like a Sicilian version of Pinot Noir, with plenty of spicy, dark notes.

Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
818.505.0207

Tasting Room Notes: Summerland Winery

July 1, 2009


Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before? Maybe it’s because when we pass that way we’re usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we’re going. Maybe it’s because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there. Maybe it’s because we never knew about the Summerland Winery.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place. We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort. The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There’s a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze. I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong. Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland’s wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier – my pourer recognized me – so I knew there were good wines here. The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit. The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it’s a good wine to have with food. It’s very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 – More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 – 10 months in oak left its mark on this one. It’s very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one – black cherry and clove all over the place. This is not subdued – it’s a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 – This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me. It tasted a lot spicier than I expected. Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 – The black currant profile is very strong here. French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008 – This dessert wine isn’t sappy, it’s nice and crisp in fact. The sweetness is there, it simply isn’t overdone.

Tasting Room Notes: Robert Mondavi Winery

June 23, 2009


I visited Northern California’s wine country for a trip that began on Monday. I had plans to stay in Geyserville I could not resist the temptation of hitting Napa Valley on the way in. It’s not really on the way, of course. The drive up Highway 29, onto Highway 128, through Calistoga and on to Geyserville took at least an hour longer than a direct approach up the 101 would have taken. But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit again California’s Prime Wine Country?

The drive along Highway 29 took me past winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard. It’s quite a spectacle to see just how much land is devoted to the growing of grapes there. The vineyards go on for acres, miles. As I drove, it came as a surprise whenever I passed a plot of land which, for some strange reason, had no grapes planted on it.

I had planned a visit to a number of wineries in Napa Valley which held some sort of fascination to me, but the place I seemed drawn to was a winery which produces wine that I rarely think about buying or even ordering in a restaurant. Robert Mondavi Winery.

Why do I rarely purchase Mondavi wines? Because there always seems to be something a little more desirable, a little sexier, a little hipper right next to it on the grocer’s shelf. There’s no doubt Mondavi makes good wines. But there isn’t a lot of “insider cachet” to them. Mondavi wines are what your parents bought. How hip is that?

I was drawn to the Mondavi Winery not to try the wines but to pay homage to one of the men who helped build what is now the world-renowned California wine industry. Whether you like Robert Mondavi’s wines or not, you have to admit that your favorite California wine might not exist today if not for him.

I was saddened that in the Mondavi tasting room in Oakville didn’t seem to be a pioneering spirit at work. The pourers were barely interested enough to lift the next bottle. They were certainly not interested enough to offer any type of explanation of what they were pouring. My pourer was more interested in his computer screen than in me. Was that due to an attitude decrying, “This is Mondavi – what more do you need to know?” or was it, “This is Mondavi – who cares?” I can’t tell you.

I can tell you what I tasted. Three wines for $15 is the regular tasting fee. It’s $20 for their reserve wines. The complimentary logo glass is included. I actually got four wines by standing at the bar for a bit after I had finished my third taste and taking advantage of an inattentive pourer’s lapse in memory.

Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc, 2007 – There was a slightly floral, very grassy nose on this wine. Tastes like white peaches. Good minerality, although in a creamy fashion. Quite unexpected.

Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay – The nose was somewhat floral and a bit oaky. It tasted rather like an apple candy without the sweetness.

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 – A very peppery nose with big berry aromas and lots of spices make for a very inviting introduction. The taste was a bit overoaked for me, but there were plenty of cherry and black pepper flavors to make me forget.

Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2005 – A big, bright nose jumped right out of the glass while the explosive palate featured plum notes in a very spicy setting. Very smooth tannins.