Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wines by the clone: Too geeky to drink?

See how much wine is left in these bottles. Yet I liked them all
Earlier this week I opened three $50 Pinot Noirs at once, to drink almost by myself. (My wife wanted half a glass).

The wines were three shades of delicious: all by Erath, all from the Prince Hill vineyard in Oregon's Dundee Hills region. I could have happily drank any one of them.

Instead, in the course of two nights I finished about 2/3 of the one I liked best, which happens to be one of my favorite Pinot Noirs of the last month. The one my wife preferred has about a glass and a half missing. And my 2nd choice, which I liked perfectly well, is missing less than a glass.

You often see articles comparing similar wines. The New York Times opens 20 Languedoc reds. The San Francisco Chronicle compares 45 Russian River Valley Chardonnays. Or a single wine blogger compares 3 Pinot Noirs.

But we never write about the aftermath.

I have regret for the delicious Pinot that I will never finish -- nor will anyone else. Open for three days, it's past its peak. Sure, I could drink it if I had no other wine sitting around, but I want to remember it as it should be.

This is not the way normal people drink wine. If any civilians are reading this blog, you're thinking, I'd drink it anyway. But you would never have opened 3 bottles of similar Pinot Noir by yourself in the first place.

One problem I have as a wine writer is that I actually like to drink wine. This, believe it or not, is a disadvantage. If your joy is in tasting and writing tasting notes, you can get more done, sell more stories, be more up-to-date on what's good. But when I find a bottle I really like, I want to spend some time with it.

So, the three Erath Pinot Noirs, all labeled 13.0% alcohol (Toto, I don't think we're in California anymore). Two are made from different clones of Pinot Noir; the third is a blend of those two clones and clone 777, which I believe I also had a bottle of but couldn't find when dinner was ready:

Erath Pommard (clone) Prince Hill Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2010 ($50)
232 cases produced. This is aromatically the earthiest of the three, and also the leanest -- initially it smells of sea breeze and makes me think before even drinking it that it was picked early. It is lean and tangy on the palate, a little salty. Not as earthy as the aroma, but definitely not fruit-driven.
Ultimately it's the most interesting wine and the one I keep going back to. On the second day the fruit opens more, pretty as a gamine without makeup. The leanness and savoriness are still appealing, and I drink even more of it.

Erath 115 (clone) Prince Hill Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2010 ($50)
139 cases produced. A fruitier version of the same wine as the Pommard. It doesn't have the strong saline note, and is smoother and more approachable, if less interesting. To me. My wife likes it best.

Erath Prince Hill Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2010 ($50)
997 cases produced. This is why people blend clones. It has some of the earthiness and salinity of the Pommard with some of the fruit of the 115. It also has more tannins than either, which makes me think the wines weren't actually made exactly the same way. It's not the best wine for tasting: the grip of the tannins would have caused me to downgrade it if I had to score it on the 100-point scale, especially compared to the approachable 115. But this wine gains immediately by being drunk with pork butt and black beans; the tannins fight back against the creaminess. If I had only opened this wine, I would have been totally satisfied with it.

That last line is what's a shame about intellectual exercise wines. There were about 2800 bottles produced of the outstanding Pommard clone wine, and I'll bet 2000 of them will be opened to compare with one or both of the other wines. I wonder how many people will pay homage to the wine for its deliciousness, rather than its ability to show what the Pommard clone offers compared to Clone 115.

Of course I am glad to have had this opportunity, and to have had two nights of drinking excellent Oregon Pinot Noir. Yet there's a lot of good Pinot going down my drain right after I finish writing this, and that's the shame of intellectual exercise wines: Too many are tasted, too few are drunk.

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Portland Charcuterie Project said...

This is child abuse!

Forget about your 2010's ( at least Oregon Pinots ) for a few years.

2007's and 2009's are drinking beautifully, and I've just started tasting a few 08's ( which have the legs to develop wonderfully over the coming years.

Also.. you could just invite a neighbor or friend over the help with problems like this :)


W. Blake Gray said...

And that's another problem: Erath gave me these wines hoping I'd do just this: taste them and, if I chose, write about them. Maybe these wines will be better in 2015, but that breaks the covenant of a wine sample relationship.

I do have some wine samples I have deliberately put aside to later say how they have aged, though I will have to make general statements because by the time I write about them, nobody will be able to buy them.

Re neighbor or friend: Much harder than you'd think with open bottles of wine.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

it's a rough job you have :)

rapopoda said...

Drink more. Moderate your moderation. ;-)

W. Blake Gray said...

I'm drinking as much as I can! I personally am responsible for balancing the per-capita wine consumption of the entire Romney family.

Matt Mauldin said...

Enjoyed the post!

At the WBC 12 in Portland, I did a similar clonal tasting of Erath 2009's- it was Prince Hills- 777, 115, Pommard and clonal blend.

The 2009's, albeit a hotter vintage, showed similar differences to your notes for the 2010's. The 777 and 115 was more up front and giving, the Pommard more alluring and complex, and the blend added forwardness but kept the complexity. I preferred the Pommard and the blend.

It was a fun exercise, and I'm glad I got to be a part of it, but you do have a good point about these being tasted too much and enjoyed too little. Hopefully they pay for themselves and have enough fans out there to make it happen!

W. Blake Gray said...

Matt: Seems like great minds taste alike, at least on these wines.

Since writing this my wife and I consumed an entire bottle of wine (LaFollette Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2009) with crab. Is that a better use of wine? Which did we enjoy more? I don't know, but if I anthropromorphized the Chard, it's happier.

Unknown said...

We have always fermented and bottled our Pinot Noirs separately by clone. The differences between them is interesting to taste as they develop and age. Thanks for writing about single clone bottlings as a positive. It seems clonal blends in Pinot are more the norm.

Michael Donohue said...

In my experience individual clones, whether Pommard 4, Dijon 115, 667 or 777 can be interesting but a blend of them usually results in a fuller, more complete wine. I have been wondering lately what the grands crus of Burgundy are choosing when it comes time to replant - the traditional selection massale?