Monday, December 13, 2010
White wine from Pinot Noir
I could have taken 100 guesses and would not have come up with Pinot Noir.
Adam Lee is one of our generation's great thinker/winemakers; a guy who has enough energy to make fine single-vineyard Pinot Noirs (under the Siduri label) and Syrahs from up and down the West Coast and also write a steady stream of cogent criticism in comments on the foolish writing about wine he sees on the Internet.
I say "thinker/winemaker" because this wine is an intellectual pleasure; it answers a question that people (like me) who love Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine have wondered. What if you pressed Pinot Noir quickly and took the juice from the skins fast enough to make a white wine?
In theory, you could make a white wine from any grape. But rarely do you see it done, mainly because it's not usually the best use of red grapes. I tried a white wine made from Syrah earlier this year that was interesting, but not as successful as this.
Lee uses fruit mostly from a section of an Oregon vineyard that ripens slower than its neighboring vines. The grapes are pressed whole-cluster as soon as they get to the winery. The juice is left to settle for a day, then drained into a combination of neutral oak barrels and stainless steel, where it ferments. He allows some of the batches to go through malolactic fermentation. It ages for a few months before being bottled in the spring.
If I tried this blind, my first guess would have been unoaked Chardonnay, and then I might have guessed Viognier. Lee was surprised when I told him that; he thinks it's more like Marsanne or Roussanne. I didn't find it to be quite as full-bodied as those, although making a rich white to stand up to heartier foods was one of his objectives. That said, I can't believe he had any greater objective than to have some fun making a unique wine.
What I think is most interesting is the fruit flavors: I got Asian pear and guava, which I never taste in Pinot Noir. No cherry, no cranberry, no raspberry. So do all those red fruit flavors come not from the juice, but the skins? Perhaps. It's not just a wine; it's a lesson in wine chemistry.
This is the third vintage Lee has made of this wine, so he has found a market for it; Siduri and Novy wines tend to draw the wine-geek crowd to start with. I highly recommend it for Pinot Noir fans. It's like looking at your lover's X-rays.
Novy Blanc de Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2009 ($24)
The color is medium yellow with the slightest hint of orange. The aroma is delicate, with notes of guava skin, white peach, Asian pair and floral hints. It's not as delicate on the palate, with flavors of Asian pear and guava skin. Medium-bodied, with a satisfying mouthfeel; 13.9% alcohol. I don't know if this has the gravitas to be a great wine, but it's certainly a good one, even if it weren't a fascinating curiosity. 500 cases. 90 points.
Bonus link: Here's an interesting post from Jeannie Cho Lee about what she thinks Hong Kong restaurants should provide in wine service. It's not her point to tell people outside HK what the wine scene there is like, but you can get a great picture anyway. Most interesting point -- Red Bordeaux is the emperor, which is strange because Burgundy, red or white, would be a much better match with most of the food.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:20 AM