Vintages Pre-Release Tasting—Pinot Noir

Wednesday, May 23, 2013

Reported by Nicole T. Lewis

The May VPR, focused on Pinot Noir, was another capacity event. The attendees had the added cachet of being the first in Ontario to taste these wines since the thwarted LCBO strike prevented the consultants from doing so. As if to whet our appetites for the Queen of Wines, the evening started with a flight of three very different whites.

Flight #1

  • Miopasso Fiano, 2011, IGT Sicilia, Italy, #326793, $14.95
  • Saintsbury Chardonnay, 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, #359281 $29.95
  • Dr. Hermann Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese, 2005, Mosel, Germany, #324285, $21.95

The first wine was an offering of the ancient Fiano grape variety that is most often experienced within a blend typically in Sicily. The Miopasso was a lemony, crisp, dry, medium-bodied white that would lend itself to summer refreshment and pairing with patio cuisine. The Chardonnay was a cross between restraint and classic California buttery ‘Chards’ from the 80s. This Chardonnay saw Taransaud and François Frères barrels with 20% new oak for eight months. It under- went complete malolactic fermentation.

By far the most popular wine and the most expressive of this flight was the Mosel Riesling Auslese. This Bernkastel gem was rated by Wine Align as 4.7 out of 5. It exhibited petrol, white blossoms, honeyed peach and green apples on the nose. It hails from a legendarily steep red soil vineyard. Würzgarten means ‘spice garden’.

This off-dry wine courted ripe stone fruit and honeyed flavours just held in check with a girdle of acidity. This wine will cellar for at least another ten years.

Flight #2

  • Elephant Hill Pinot Noir, 2011, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand, #309583, $29.95
  • De Bortolo Gulf Station Pinot Noir, 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria Australia, #015511, $19.95
  • Maycas Del Limari Reserva Pinot Noir, 2012, Limari Valley, Chile, #311704, $16.95
  • Michel Picard Volnay, 2010, Chassagne-Montrachet, Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy, France, #330134, $41.95

This flight took us a on world tour of Pinot Noir. The Elephant Hill wooed us with aromas of raspberries and strawberries interlaced with smokiness and earthiness, that did not belie its 13.5% alcohol content. It was the most popular choice of this flight. Initially, on the nose, the De Bortolo was prominently gamey and ‘barnyardy’, as it sat in the glass it mellowed and more of the fruit aromas emerged. It offered a moderate degree of complexity on the palate considering its modest price.

The Maycas Del Limari Reserva Pinot Noir, whose parent company is Concha y Toro, is a dry, medium- bodied red that exhibited the floral and candied fruit aroma almost alluding to a Beaujolais nouveau olfactory profile. Some of the members suggested it had a canned green bean aroma as well. It had been aged in French oak for 14 months and on the palate it revealed sour cherry. The Maycas was not particularly popular with the membership. Surprisingly, the French offering was the second most popular wine of this flight. This reasonably priced classic Burgundian Pinot Noir, Michel Picard Volnay, exhibited raspberry and barnyard notes on the nose and an engaging complexity on the palate.

Flight #3

  • Wine by Joe Pinot Noir, 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon, #060467, $23.95
  • Scott Family Pinot Noir, 2010, Monterey County, California, #317784, $29.95
  • Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir, 2011, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, California, #130138, $24.95
  • Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, 2010, Russian River Valley, California, #656868, $65.95

This flight was played out as that beloved Sesame Street game, “One of these things is not like the other.” This was a contentious flight with a more old world Burgundian-style leading the pack. The members were largely unable to guess that the last three wines were indeed Pinot Noirs! These three California wines had both supporters and detractors—the wines were resplendent with ripe dark fruit and alcohol not at all in accordance with the delicacy and elegance for which a well-crafted classic French Pinot Noir is cherished. The purists were not fans of the California wines. One attendee referred to the Cali Pinots as ‘silly Pinots’, while another across the room quipped, “Them’s fighting words!”

The Willamette Valley Oregon is the home to Eyrie Vineyards, winner of the Pinot Noir competition at the Wine Olympics held in Paris in 1979. This region has arguably produced some of the highest quality and priciest Pinot Noirs in the world. It is also home to Wine by Joe. This Pinot showed medium garnet intensity and translucence. This straightforward wine had a sour cherry-cranberry nose with some hints of cocoa. This was a high acidity, medium bodied wine with low to medium tannins and a medium length sour cherry finish. The winemaker, Joe Dobbes, started his winery in 2002 after working for others in the industry for 17 years. He prides himself on making “good wines without attitude.” His higher end wines are labelled under the Dobbes Family Estate Label.

Scott Family Pinot Noir (parent company, Rutherford Wines), 14.5% from Monterey County was a deep garnet, almost purple. This jammy number presented smoky oak, ripe blackberry, eucalyptus and violets on the nose. At 14.5% alcohol, it is a big, juicy Pinot Noir that tasted of cassis and vanilla with soft tannins. According to the winery website, this ultra-premium Pinot Noir is produced from family farmed Dijon clonal selections in the prestigious Arroyo Seco appellation in Monterey County. According to the producer, low yields resulted in limited production wines which exemplify the ideal matching of terroir and varietal fruit. Purists beware! Stump your wine snob friends.

Wearing its 13.9% alcohol content like a cloak of coastal fog, the Meiomi was an intense deep purple- garnet almost opaque and on the nose. Drinking this wine is like eating a toasted brown bread strawberry jam sandwich. There aren’t any crusts on this sandwich (tannins)! “Meiomi” means “coast” in the language of the California native, coastal dwelling Wappo and Yuki tribes and, according to the fifth generation winemaker, Joseph J. Wagner, this wine is intended as a tribute to these people. Belle Glos is the maiden name of the winemaker’s grandmother. The wine is meant to be approachable, food- friendly and ready to drink now. With a New World approach, the grapes for this wine were sourced from multiple vineyards stretching along the California coast starting from Sonoma, to Monterey, and Santa Barbara. The wine spent nine months in 60% new French oak.

The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Meredith Estate is a big juicy California Pinot Noir similar to the previous two, but at a higher price point. No one in attendance was keen to pay $66 for this wine. Merry Edwards exhibited deep garnet purple colour and aromas of blackberry and ripe cherry with hints of lavender and violet. It is full of ripe fruit and sweet baking spice on the palate. This particular estate was established in 1998 and is the winery’s most mature estate planting. It is located in the cool southern region of the Russian River Valley known locally as the Sebastopol Hills.

Flight #4

  • Poggio Verrano Chance, 2005, IGT Maremma Toscana, Italy, #239707, $34.95
  • Montes Purple Angel, 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, #062364, $56.95
  • Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, Stags Leap, Napa Valley, California, #731810, $74.95

This flight was a nice counterpoint to the previous two flights. The unfiltered Chance is a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the Grosseto province of Tuscany. It has spent a total of 48 months in oak and bottle prior to being released. On the nose, Chance revealed blackberry, ripe cherries, cedar, dried mint and a hint of smoke. It is medium-full bodied with medium acidity as well as moderate tannins. It is a fruity, yet dry wine with a persistent dark fruit finish. This is a lovely, well-made wine that may be cellared until 2020.

The Purple Angel is comprised of 92% Carménère and 8% Petit Verdot—its producers consider it a ‘super-Carménère’ (14.2% alcohol). The Chileans consider Carménère to be their grape, even though it was originally planted in the Medoc region of France. It is now rarely found in France. The Purple Angel is sourced from two of Montes Estates, 50% from their Apalta Estate and 50% from their Marchigue Estate. This is a rich

wine redolent with the complex aromas of black cherries, plums, espresso grounds, loam, red pepper and rich dark chocolate. These aromas are revisited on the full bodied flavour profile with an emphasis on the dark fruit and coffee. The finish is long, smooth and pervaded with spicy black fruit. The Purple Angel spent 18 months in new French and American oak barrels. This wine may be cellared until 2020.

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon with 14.2% alcohol hails from a 134- acre estate that lies in the heart of the Stags Leap District, the first viticultural area in the United States to be approved based on the distinctiveness of its soils. It is a dark, inky plum coloured California Cabernet that is medium-bodied and fruit forward. Its ripe cherry flavours carry through to a long finish. It was aged 18 months in 50% new French oak / 50% used French oak. This wine was popular, but the attendees did not think that it merited the hefty price tag. Thus in the quality-price ratio, the Chance was the clear favourite of this flight.