Pinot Noir

Domaine Rollin VergelessesFrom time to time, even bargain-hunters need to splurge. When I do, it’s generally French: Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Sancerre dominate my list of mid-range to expensive buys, although I’ll toss in the occasional Barolo or high-end Riesling. The most recent mid-range find fit a rare profile for superior value in its price point: a really superior Burgundy for under $50. We’re talking Pinot Noir, people, something I love but don’t give enough attention. This bottle really grabbed my attention.

A little background on the appellation of origin, Pernand-Vergelesses. Located at the top of the Cote de Beaune, the L’Ile des Vergelesses is, as the winemaker puts it, “the jewel of the village of Pernand-Vergelesses.” It is famous for its elegance when young, with serious aging potential that allows for cellaring if you so desire. The soil in this area is similar to that of esteemed Corton, and harbors numerous vineyard plots of premier cru quality.

And what does such quality look like? Well, it looks really nice. In the glass, the 2006 Domaine Rollin Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses is a pale cherry red, with great clarity. A truly Burgundian nose: aromas of red raspberry fruit, loamy earth, and a slight gamy hint of cured meats coalesce into that quintessential hallmark of Pinot Noir. More round red berries in the mouth, with exquisite balance; this is acidity and fruit as a subtle matrix, covered gently in a cloak of flowers. Or something. The final sip leaves your palate as bedazzled and full of longing as the first. This is a perfect answer to the question: “why Burgundy?” $45.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this one featuring many changes. New locations, new faces, and of course (my favorite), new wines at the table. For this post-turkey post, I thought it would be fun to do a brief write-up of the Pinot Noir wines we chose for our family dinner. Some serious contenders here, in terms of both raw deliciousness and good value. These included:

  • Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004
  • Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009
  • Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

So! Let’s cover each in turn, and see what we can say about why any of these three Pinots should have graced your table this Thanksgiving…

Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004

Galante Vineyards is a small family-owned estate producing varietal wines in the upper Carmel Valley, in California. Their winemaking emphasizes the expression of terroir; they prefer to let the vine speak through the grapes, and the land through the vine. While they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals are produced in minute quantities, such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have a bottle of the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir, bought directly in their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Glorious ruby color in the glass. After the first pour, soft notes of dark cherry and earth drift heavenwards. More fresh-tilled loam and spice form the backdrop, and red fruit gushes around a silky mouthfeel. A little hot, however, at 14.6% alcohol. Delicious overall at $24.


Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009

Nothing too much to say here except: beautifully typical entry-range Burgundy. And entry-range Burgundy is not normally this affordable, not by any means. This is a Pinot Noir with grace, finesse and just enough tannic texture to mesh with the easygoing red berry fruit and snappy acidity. Light-bodied, flowery and a bit funky, this is a steal at $20.







Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

For a seriously delicate wine in this line-up, however, we must turn to the 2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, from their Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon. A long growing season with a cool stretch led to even ripening, but low yields. Blended from grapes based on four distinct clones of Pinot Noir, this is a lovely wine, rosy, pale and shimmering with elegant fruit, minerality, and harmony in all its parts. I’d almost drink this on its own, before food arrives to puncture the experience. $35. Lovely.

Year round, rainy Sundays comprise most of my favorite lazy moments in life. In autumn, these overcast weekends are perfect for hot coffee, pumpernickel bagels with lox spread, tomato and capers, and Frisbee on the nearby track field. But when evening falls, and the rain hasn’t let up, and you don’t want to go anywhere, a glass of wine is your best bet. Of course, I’d say that about any night of the week, in any weather – but I needed a pretext for this review, so onward.

New Zealand is no stranger to bad weather. To prove this, I have excerpted a report for Central Ontago today, from MetService’s Snow Ontago Warnings site:

Issued: 8:25pm Sunday 7 Oct 2012
Valid from: 8:25pm Sunday 7 Oct 2012

A deep low over the Tasman Sea is forecast to approach the South Island during Monday, bringing cold southeasterly rain to Canterbury. This rain is expected to turn to snow about the Canterbury High Country early Monday morning, with some heavy snowfalls through to late morning and possibly through to Monday night. Between 3am and midday Monday, expect 10 to 20cm of snow above 700 metres with 5 to 10cm possible down to 400 metres. Further snow is likely above 700 metres through to Monday night, but should ease in intensity and is expected to turn to rain below 700 metres by early afternoon. This snow has the potential to disrupt transport about the Canterbury High Country and cause significant stress to livestock, especially new born lambs.”

New born lambs! Potential! Intensity! Key words for tasting notes. And what a subject for today’s tasting: the 2009 “Mud House” Pinot Noir, from Central Ontago. This wine owes a lot of its character to local terroir. There is a sumptuous quality to a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir, strong notes of jammy fruit and crushed herbs. Intensity aplenty here; the red fruit aromas fairly jump out of the glass along with notes of lavender and cinnamon. The first sip brought a sense of silky softness in mouthfeel, with enough extract and tannin to make this a fuller-bodied Pinot, even by the standards of those New Zealand wines I’ve tried. But while this is a bigger Pinot Noir, the cool climate acidity brings phenomenal mouth-watering elements as you sip. Very pleasing balance, and a medium finish hinting at mocha and crushed berries. Delicious with roast venison, grilled salmon and beet salad, or on its own. $14.

What the hell, let’s talk Pinot Noir. The grape that shucked Merlot sales in 2004 with the advent of Sideways. That beautiful, beautiful grape with intense sensual earthiness, derived always from terroir when it is good, and richness and depth behind its pale color and delicate floral aromatics. Who on earth doesn’t love this wine? I sure do. And it’ll make a perfect recommendation while I continue to roll out the video format. Coming soon, dear readers.

Generally, Gevrey-Chambertin is known as the most esteemed source of quality Pinot Noir. Exceptional terroir, this is the largest appellation in the Côte de Nuits (comprising the northern half of the Côte d’Or, or Golden Hills, the finest region for Burgundy). It also produces one of the finest red Burgundies around, Chambertin – also one of the finest red wines in existence, depending on who you ask. In the case of the red Burgundy discussed here, the man who made it is as remarkable as the region.

The producer, Joseph Roty, is known as being something of an enfant terrible, a batshit crazy grower and vintner with iconoclastic tendencies and a fierce hold on tradition. Somewhat overstated, but I am trying to honor the man who made the wine. Since his family has been working the same vineyards in Burgundy for over three centuries, however, he does possess some level of authority on the subject of winemaking. Roty maintains a very small production (less than 100 cases apiece for his three best cuvees), and nobody knows much about his techniques beyond his immediate family and acquaintances. Awesome.

A nice garnet color in the glass, the 2000 “Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire” tees off with aromas of red berries, currants, loam, crushed herbs, and a slight gaminess. The mouthfeel is soft like silk; the acidity toight like a toiger. Amazing finish for wine at this level, delicious overall. Enjoy now with braised duck, venison, or Hen of the Woods mushroom risotto. Silly levels of goodness at $13 a bottle.

What’s better than a normal bottle of wine? Yep, a big bottle of wine. Today’s brief review brings us an Austrian red that brings 1 liter of delicious to the table. And like the wine itself, this post is low on depth but extremely dense in fun. Biodynamically made by Gerhard Pittnauer in the Burgenland region of Austria, this wine is a blend of the grape varietals Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, and St. Laurent.

Austrian reds tend to be lighter in style, and this is no exception. Very fruity, but dry, not sweet. Brick red in the glass. Nice dark fruit too, like plum and juicy cherry, with a good earthy note and a distinct umami that complements the fruit, like a slab of smoked bacon, but then this dissipates fast into subtle mineral. On the whole, the 2009 Burgenländer Rot is a light-bodied wine, nothing to take too seriously, but it offers some taut acidity to stay bright, and finishes well enough.

Don’t decant this; I think it gains more from being poured straight into the glass. Pair with pork chops, mashed potatoes steamed vegetables to highlight this wine. $13 for the whole liter. Once again, that’s 1L. Go for it.

I held off from updating this forum for a good long while. Why? Lots of reasons. Busy with work, busy being lost in the grey of New York City. Perhaps I was readying myself for the long winter to come. Perhaps I was trying, as so many people do, to plan for ways to combat the icy dreariness of winter. As it turns out, feasting is often the best way to survive the cold months. In fact, this Wednesday I plan to get together with a group of friends and do just that: deny the loneliness of the coming winter. So we gather, and we praise the cleverness of cooking. We sit at the apex, the very culmination of our civilized state: cooking is now a celebrity act, and cooks are our demigods in media and in fact. Decadence, decadence: who’s to say what’s wrong or right about it? Bring it on, I say. Bring it on, and bring friends. And bring the following wines:

Prosecco Brut, Scu Dò, NV – There’s a reason everyone loves this bubbly. Light, dry and pale gold in the glass, this fizzing crowd-pleaser reveals citrus and baked bread aromas on the nose, with a nice mousse. Approachable, good for raising high in a toast. Perfect as an aperitif. $9.

2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling – this wine will redefine what New York State wines can do. Beautiful. Dry, with a pronounced mineral element, this wine has definite notes of peach, mango, and apple blossoms on the nose. The mouthfeel is a nice balance of steely acidity and a touch of residual sugar, with more fruity notes of pineapple and citrus leading to a medium finish. Be ready. $15.

2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling – Why not go for Washington State, with its surprisingly good white wines on top of their internationally renowned wines made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon? This showing has a nose dominated by peach and apricot notes, as well as some interesting floral notes and lime zest. Great balance here, with the 13% ABV offset by the fruit itself. A soft-yet-strident mouthfeel shows more beautiful fruit, with a long quenching finish. $11.

2008 Silver Thread Gewürztraminer – Another New York wine for the table! This is one of the most unusual and excellent wines I’ve had from the Finger Lakes. Rich, almost unctuous fruit with breathy aromas of lychee fruit, rose petals, and peach drizzled in honey. At first I thought this wine was sweet, but it proved bone-dry on the palate. Exceptional with white meats and lightly spicy dishes (have you ever made curry with your leftover turkey?). $18.

2009 Four Vines “Naked Vines” Chardonnay – From Santa Barbara County in CA, this wine has the acidity that makes it a perfect companion for food. Beautifully aromatic nose of lemon and lime zest, as well as other white seed fruit and floral notes, almost like Sauvignon Blanc in its strident (but not biting) acidity. Reveals a nice silky texture on the palate, with mineral notes and more tropical fruit leading to a medium finish. $14.

2009 P’tit Rouquin “Les Vins Contés” VdT, O. Lemasson – A delightful wine made from the Gamay grape, showing vibrant cherry red in the glass. The nose bounces fresh raspberry fruit, with some slight earthy notes. Great quenching acidity in the mouth, with more red fruit and some minerality leading to a nice bright finish. $15.

2006 Côte de Brouilly, Christophe Pacalet – Pacalet is a star in the world of Beaujolais; his wines are renowned for their finesse and purity of character. Bring some finesse to the feast with this aged Côte de Brouilly, a fine Cru wine with exceptionally concentrated cherry and raspberry fruit, followed by hints of savory hung meat balanced to perfect acidity. Awesome with the turkey. $17.

2007 Heitz Grignolino – Oh snap! That’s right, I propose you foist a wine from the Napa Valley on your family this Thanksgiving. But this is no ordinary Cabernet fruit bomb. This is that finest of all things, a beautiful and honest rendition of an obscure Italian varietal produced by one of California’s premiere producers. Pale coppery red in the glass, with an explosion of aromatics when poured: raspberries, strawberries, orange peel, and violets. Nice balance and good poise; silk-like texture. Long finish, strong on fruit but with hints of earth. $19.

2008 Wellies Pinot NoirI decided to get back into the swing of things in a straightforward kind of way – using the most finicky-yet-popular grape on the scene right now for the lay wine drinker: Pinot Noir. Redolent with redcurrants, blackberries, mushrooms, musk. It’s got social cachet, and has the flavor intensity to back it up. Besides France, New Zealand and Oregon remain my favorite places to go for wines made from this wonderful grape.

Usually, though, these wines don’t come cheap: a decent bottle of red Burgundy will generally run you around $30 (from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, say), and the best Pinots from the Sonoma Valley in California average $60-80 a bottle. So what’s a poor boy to do? Easy! Hunt, hunt, hunt. Never give up: there are bargains to be found.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s long-anticipated post: the 2008 Wellies Pinot Noir, that rarest of rare finds: an extremely affordable, highly quaffable wine made from the most prestigious of grapes. It’s just fantastic – bouncy cherry aromas waft up as soon as this wine is poured, which shows a nice bright red in the glass. Some hints of spice and earth, but mostly fruit, fruity fruit loop fruit. Its acidity springs forward, but remains well-balanced overall, leading to a medium finish. Fun. $12 a bottle. Pairs with itself, mostly, but I guess you could also spring for some wild mushroom risotto or braised lamb. Buy a case.

Pinot Noir: the grape that makes the fabled wines of Burgundy. Unmatched in sensuality. Layered, aromatic; bemusement in a bottle. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just produces decent, tasty wines we can love casually, much like Mallomars.

The 2007 Silver Thread Pinot Noir, the first produced by this fine maker in upstate New York, falls somewhere between those two extremes. In or out of the bottle, it in no way resembles a Mallomar, but also reaches for humbler goals than the grand cru Burgundies people like me wish they could try, if only once. I hope not to offend the hordes of Mallomarian faithful with this statement. Anyone who adores the fine Mallomar can leave this posting content in the knowledge that I would love to walk the hills of La Romanée with a whole box in hand.
Moving on: I found this wine to be tuna or hibiscus red in the glass, with coppery undertones, decent clarity. Aromas of lilac and cranberry to dark cherry, jammy fruit, with earthy and herbal notes in the mouth. Lovely acidity, good balance, with very soft and subtle tannins, as expected from a cool-climate Pinot. Medium finish, with a nice texture and lingering fruitiness. Pair with roast turkey or duck, or herb-encrusted veal. Or Mallomars. $22.

Once in awhile, a wine reaches me as if by fate. Chosen almost at random, it leaves my palate stunned, regardless of its price or country of origin. Wine of this sort is often biodynamic: made by passionate, independent producers working in communion with their land, with the cycles of the local ecosystem. When I drink it, I know that I am tasting the toil of dedicated farmers, as well as the purest expression of a grape and its terroir. Again, this only happens once in a great while, and the wine could be from anywhere – France, Argentina, even the United States: New York and Oregon have both delivered in this regard.

Recently, another such momentous wine crossed the lens of my attention. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of disgorging and drinking a bottle of 2000 Movia “Puro,” a sparkling rosé of Pinot Noir produced by renowned winemaker Aleš Kristancic in Slovenia. I strongly encourage readers to learn more about his winemaking philosophy here. This was the first sparkling wine I have disgorged, and may well be the only opportunity for me to do this – it is not a common procedure outside of a winery.

Disgorging is the process of removing a plug of yeast from the neck of the bottle; although this wine is made in the méthode Champenoise, the lees are not expelled before bottling, but rather must be removed by the lucky buyer. This is accomplished by (if you are lacking in liquid nitrogen, as I was) keeping the bottle’s neck upended in a bowl of ice water and salt for 30-45 minutes, removing the wire and cork underwater, and then quickly righting the bottle to keep the wine from spilling into the bowl with the yeast – keeping in mind that the contents are under pressure. I was fortunate: on my first try I managed to keep almost all the wine, perfectly removing the yeast at the cost of under half a glass of bubbly.

And once the wine is poured? It shows cloudy in the glass due to lack of filtration and the suspension of remaining lees; however, it has a nice salmon tone, with an elegant bead. The nose is bursting with aromas of red apples, strawberries, and animal musk marked by undertones of stony earth. As the wine develops in the glass, the aromas lose some of their muskiness and become more reminiscent of ripe apples and cherry notes and a touch of toast. In the mouth, this wine has zippy acidity backing the berry fruit, with a nice roundness from extended lees contact. Although it normally retails for $45, I managed to obtain this wine for $30, making it (thankfully) eligible for this forum. It went beautifully with homemade salmon avocado sushi rolls, but I would drink this wine carefully, on its own.

I will readily admit to preferring French wine over all others for the most part. No country produces wine as focused, as brilliantly complex, or as delicious as French producers can; especially the right makers, especially in good years. There is clearly room here for forceful debate, and the truth of my statement varies from varietal to maker to region to vintage, but I feel safe making this generalization anyway.

Does this mean that we should not bother to try wines made by, say, Chilean vintners? No! Great wine is made everywhere, just as plenty of awful wine is made in France ( Languedoc-Roussillon has an ocean of it, although good wines abound even there). Removing wine from its global context, and becoming too focused, reduces the richness of our appreciation. As long as it is not an over-extracted, muddled fruit-bomb from a huge conglomerate, I will give any wine from any region a fair go.

And here is a wine to appreciate: the 2008 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, from their “Visión” line. These wines are, according to Cono Sur, a celebration of the various terroirs that Chile can offer, using a wide set of varietals grown in the Colchagua Valley to demonstrate how microclimates express wine in varying ways. I have found the “Visión” wines to be very pleasant overall, and would recommend any as a good bet for value.

Their 2008 “Visión” Pinot Noir, a big step up from the baseline Cono Sur Pinot, is lip-smacking. A gorgeous ruby red in the glass, with excellent clarity. The nose struts out aromas of dark cherry and ripe raspberry, juicy and fresh, with layers of coffee and cocoa just barely peeking through the red fruit. Extremely silky in the mouth, with well-balanced acidity and some earthiness towards the medium finish. This would be excellent with pork chops, baked turkey, grilled salmon, or hearty European soups. $12.