Wine Rating: 94
I was really please to find out that as a result of the ‘Monkey Wine’ review I wrote a few issues ago, that many of you not only went out and tried it but that you really enjoyed it. I’ve been personally seeking out great wines for years and I can tell you that the task of finding an inexpensive Pinot Noir, that I can really enjoy, is not easy and is, in fact, quite the challenge. The ease of reviewing the best of the best, the top, the famous high scoring wines, that we all find listed in prominent wine magazines, is both easier and more enjoyable. I mean seriously, in the majority of cases, what’s not to like. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating… I purchase every damn bottle I drink. No winery is sending me bottles to critique or praise. I buy what I enjoy drinking most and then document the details and send that off to you. What I can promise you is this. 1.) I’m going to necessarily love every wine I’ll drink. 2.) I’ll be completely honest with you. 3.) I’ll not waste your time or my palate on a mediocrity.
That said… if you’d like a quick lesson in how to appreciate the good from bad and the bad from the ugly in wine tasting, I have some tips for you.
First – You will need about $100. Let’s play with a Cabernet Sauvignon. Go to your favorite wine store that has a diverse selection and purchase three bottles. Pick one that’s under $10 (Ugly), the next around $25 (Bad) and for the last bottle, I’d like you to go to Wine Spectator’s website and look up the top 20 wines of 2012. Pick a Cab that’s in the vicinity of $65, give or take a little (for the sake of our test, “Good”). I can tell you that the #1 wine for 2012 (2008 Shafer Napa Valley Red Blend) was about $60 the day before it was named ‘Wine of the Year’. Now, it goes for about $185 – $250 per bottle. When you get respect – demand comes knocking and your prices and value (perceived or not) goes up accordingly.
For the record and speaking of cost and value, I’d like to clarify that price in no way determines a wine’s quality. I have had plenty of expensive wines that were terrible. This is more of a physiological experiment.
Second – Open all three wines and let them breathe for a good hour. Try to serve them at about 62° – 64°. Begin first with the “Ugly”. Smell it. Notice the first thing that comes to mind; be it a heaviness or absence of alcohol, a spice, a fruit. Now take a drink, not too big or too small. Take in the texture, close your eyes if need be, let it coat your tongue, your mouth. Swish it around all around let it cover your teeth. As you do this, remember the smells you first recognized and stay with the minerals you tasted, now swallow. Feel it go down and as if you were actually seeing it, ask yourself, what lingers? Is it alcohol, tobacco, a berry? Combine the smell, the taste, and the finish. This is not meant to be a complicated tasting. Really, have some fun with it.
Third – Rinse and Repeat. Follow the same steps for the “Bad” and the “Good”. Should you find yourself having some sensory overload, it’s okay, just stay the course and go with it. Do NOT over think this! Trust me. Just trust your gut (and your palate) and if you do, you might just find the pleasure and the difference in variety and start to learn and consider what you like and what you don’t. Why is it that some wines win awards and others don’t? In simple terms, wine tasting is like Jazz or Modern Art. In both instances, at least in my experience, they need to be personally experienced numerous times to be fully and truly appreciated. Let me say it again, this does not mean that all high point wines are worth their often high price tag. You should always be the judge of what you like and what you don’t like and over time, with some trial and error, I can assure you that you will certainly become more discerning with is or is not worth purchasing and you and only you should be the judge of that. If you can smell and taste the difference in your wine tasting… then you are well on your way.
But let’s not just skip over what does, in fact, make a wine come in at $100, $1200 or $5000 per bottle? A friend asked me that question today. We were at a wine store looking in on the wines beautifully displayed in their high dollar ‘locked’ glass case. He said, “Why is that Pinot Noir $350?” I told him it was a 2008 Marcassin, made by Helen Turley, one of the most respected winemakers in California. Helen and her husband; John Wetlaufer are legends in creating small selections of exceptional Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. One day I will review the 2006 Marcassin that I have in my wine cellar. So what makes Turley’s wine so expensive compared to any other Pinot Noirs; besides the small production runs? In the simplest of terms and giving you the most genuine and heartfelt explanation I can muster, in one word… it’s truly her “passion”. And if there is a common thread between those who talk and write about Turley and her wine (and winemaking) it’s that her love for what she does it truly undeniable.
Turley, like many ‘Cult’ winemakers (aka small boutique wineries), care not so much about high case production, but rather about the distinctive attention and nurturing that it takes to produce small crops of spectacular vines and she does that over and over again. And this is true, whether its Cabernets, Chardonnays or the obscure and challenging Pinot Noir, which by the way, is made from a grape that shouldn’t even exist, due quite simply to its temperamental and sensitive nature and the way it demands and requires a very particular environment in order to survive, let along thrive. My two favorite regions are Burgundy France, particularly Côte-d’Or and Sonoma County, California.
I’m fairly familiar with the 1368 wine varietals. I know that the country of Georgia and Greater Iran produced the first fermented grape thousands of years ago. The Roman Empire around 121 BC consumed about 47 million gallons of wine a year. I have read dozens of books on wine and have consumed hundreds of bottles of various qualities from Trader Joe’s swill to world-renowned Chateau Mouton Rothschild and I keep coming back to my home; California. I enjoy my wine with high alcohol and fruit that is so forward it tends to punch you in the nose as it’s uncorked. I love that… in fact, I lean in for it.
I seek out ‘Cult’ wines, meaning they make fewer than 600 cases. And yes, I spend my hard earned cash (for a very good reason) on very small production runs of wines that are only found in limited release and are only sold to select wineries who only sell to those on their mailing lists. There are some I am able to purchase from now and some whose lists I have been on for quite some time. In those cases, I am still able to purchase those wines, but only by scouring wine auctions and paying a premium for them. But for me, it’s totally worth it and knowing that someday soon, I’ll make the list, for now, I don’t care. I demand the best, the absolutely remarkable brands and blends that California has been growing since the mid-19th century. And I say this without bias; no one does it like California does. I do extensive research on the latest and the greatest treasures from the producers of cult wines, that include the likes of Araujo, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin Cellars, Dominus Estate, Grace Family Vineyards, Harlan Estate, Kosta Browne, Opus One, Pisoni, Screaming Eagle, Sine Qua Non just to name a few. Of course, Europe and Australia have their own ‘Cults’ but that is another adventure altogether and I’ll save that for another day, another review. I enjoy these wines and their high price tags because in blind tastings they have earned high marks by esteemed wine critics year after year, but it was until I tasted them myself that they get my vote, and really at the end of the day, isn’t that all that counts?
Wine drinking is my passion, my luxury, my past time. I don’t have a sailboat or a ’69 Camaro to spend my money on. I’m not a sports junkie (in fact, other than the Olympics’, my annual surf trek to somewhere beautiful and an occasional Super Bowl, I kind of hate sports) or a clothes whore searching for the trendiest label. No… that’s not me. Instead, I drink and I write and I drink absolutely everything that I buy. I am not here to invest. I am here to consume and enjoy the passion of fermented grapes. This is why I have chosen one of my favorite Pinot Noir cult wines for review this month; Pisoni. The story of where the first grape clones came from is legendary. The tale goes that Gary Pisoni (owner) in the early 1980’s made a trip over to France and ended up in Burgundy; the legendary region of Pinot Noir, he snuck onto the property of an ‘unnamed’ famous Chateau and clipped a few vines from the vineyard and smuggled them back to the states in his pants. When he returned to the Santa Lucia Highlands he planted them and the rest, as they say, is history. Pisoni makes one of the best Pinot Noirs in the world and thankfully this tradition is being passed down to his sons Mark and Jeff, who like their infamous father, have his passion and lucky for us, his talent. With a crew of just 18 people, the vineyard is meticulously cared for and clearly loved, in the classic harvesting style and the wine, simply put is sublime.
I have been on the waiting list for Pisoni going on 3 years. Until I am eligible to purchase directly from the winery I must buy each bottle one by one at auction. The bottle being reviewed is an impressive 2006 and if you love wine and more importantly love Pinot Noir, then you will want to seek out Pisoni. They do California wine the way it was meant to be made; artisanal methods and a non-interventionist style of winemaking: hand sorting, native yeast fermentation, hand punch-downs, no fining and no filtration; created with devotion, intention, and complete clarity…to its most finite detail.
Pinot Noir 2006
Produced by: Pisoni
Winemaker: Gary, Mark and Jeff Pisoni
Region: Santa Lucia Highlands
Varietal: Pinot Noir
Appearance (Color): Deep Burgundy
Aroma (Complexity): Tobacco, Fig and Cherry
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy and Bold
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Moss, Fig, Black Cherry and Plum
Finish (What lingers): Tobacco and Blackberry, Nice Tannins
Food Paring: Blue Cheese, Pork, Dark Chocolate, Turkey
Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink: Now through 2016