|Ross Cobb makes some of the most elegant Pinots in California|
This year, after I had tasted about a half-dozen Pinots, I was thinking, wow, the West Coast is really doing great things with this grape. These are outstanding, terroir-driven, lively, pretty, not overdone wines that I wish I could spend an entire evening with.
Then I ran into a sommelier and wine instructor I have known for years, and she was shaking her head. "These wines are depressing," she said. "So much oak. So over the top."
How could we differ so completely?
It turns out to be a class issue, and a conundrum in talking about California and Oregon Pinot Noir.
|Pinot prodigy Gavin Chanin|
My friend, on the other hand, was looking for wines she could sell in a restaurant. Price points mattered. She tasted the AVA-level wines I ignored. I will have to take her word for how they tasted.
I could write a hand-wringing thing about how this is a problem for the wine industry: that consumers will only try the entry-level wines and never move up to the good stuff. But I'm not sure that's true.
Most people will only try the entry-level wines, sure. But maybe most people want oakier, heavier Pinot. Maybe Pinotphiles who like something more complex and lively, and who know what good Burgundy costs now, approach West Coast Pinots like I did, and will be willing to pay for them. You don't need that many well-heeled Pinotphiles to buy up wines of which only 200 cases are made.
Something else I learned, or perhaps verified -- taste Pinots made by people who you know to be great winemakers, and you are less likely to be disappointed.
Now comes the fun part of the story. I'm going to list some wines I liked a lot -- not "the best wines at PinotFest" because I'm not Alder Yarrow and I didn't taste everything -- and only after writing the notes will I go to Wine-Searcher to learn how much they cost. They're in alphabetical order.
Cobb Wines Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014: Made with 40% whole clusters, it's a little stemmy on the nose but light bodied and pretty. Not completely fruit-driven; it would stay interesting throughout a bottle. About $65 and well-worth it: buy it here.
Keller Estate El Coro Petaluma Gap/Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2015: Spicy, light, complex and fascinating. The 2014 is about $90 and that's pricey for California but not compared to contemporary top Burgundy. Buy it here.
LaRue Wines Rice-Spivak Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014: Fresh and lively with pretty raspberry fruit. The winery, owned by young winemaker Katy Wilson, only makes about 500 cases a year total. About $75, pricey but what artisanal Pinot can cost. Buy it here.
Lutum Wines Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014: Pretty texture, lovely fruit, just delightful to drink. Gavin Chanin is one of the most talented winemakers in California, and the vineyard is one of the state's few Pinot vineyards that can be called "historic." Well worth $60. Buy it here.
Testarossa Winery Garys' Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2015: Intense fruit but with good freshness so that it just keeps going and going. No mistaking that it's a California Pinot, but it's a good one. The 2014 is about $65; buy it here.
The upshot is, these wines that I loved weren't cheap, but for good Pinot Noir I don't think they were too expensive.
But I get it -- if you don't want to spend $70 for a bottle of wine, West Coast Pinot Noir might not be impressive. I wouldn't spend that kind of money often if I didn't get to taste these wines for free. Maybe this is an issue for the wine industry. I'll let somebody else worry about it.