On Sunday, I joined a group of Pinot Noir lovers in Danville, an East Bay suburb. They were gracious, congenial folks who either don't own TVs or don't have an obsessive interest in football.
They were, to be sure, more concerned about the future of Pinot Noir than who will be tackling whom in Miami in two weeks. Right priorities, I say.
The tasting featured wines from 11 wineries, each of which provided three vintages of the same wine, from 2003, 2004 and 2005. (One winery had two sets of wines.)
Wineries included Siduri, with its Cargasacchi Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills; Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast, Loring Clos Pepe Santa Rita, Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands, Roessler Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley, August West Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia; Arista, a Ferrington Vineyard Anderson Valley; Russian River Valley Toboni Vineyard, A.P. Vin Santa Lucia Garys’ Vineyard, Freeman Sonoma Coast, Abiouness Stanley Ranch Carneros and Alcina Sonoma Coast Sangiacomo Vineyard.
The tasting was double blind, that is, we knew these were California Pinots (and most of the winemakers were seated among us trying to figure out which flight had their wines), and each had a lineage, coming essentially from the same vineyard.
But we didn’t know which wines or appellations or vintages were in front of us, which is fine. That’s the beauty of assessing wines on their own merits, without names, reputations, prices and whatever abstract nonessential factors might otherwise persuade critics.
One thing the event’s host, Greg Piatigorski, owner and winemaker of Alcina, had in mind was testing how the new ‘05s compared with the two earlier vintages. As a whole, the 50 or so tasters preferred the 2005 wines to 2004 and 2003.
On my scorecard, 2004 and 2005 were a dead heat. The 2004s were richer, more complex wines with greater dimensions overall. The 2003s hung in nicely as well, sharing with 2004 a greater density and firmer tannins.
The 2005s were fresh, flashy, vibrant and thoroughly tempting. I expect that for most Pinot lovers, and even critics, this will be a pleasing year. The wines avoid what some consider overripeness, excessive power (and alcohol) and gridiron tannins. Instead, there’s an emphasis on the more delicate, fragrant side of Pinot Noir, which needs to express itself when possible.
Overall, I rated seven '05s as outstanding, six '04s as outstanding and only a couple of '03s as outstanding. (I had trouble with four flights due to either off or corky bottles, which skewed my rankings.) I gave my highest marks to August West Rosella’s Vineyard, with all three wines showing amazing complexity, depth and length. I also gave high marks to the Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast, Roessler Savoy Vineyard, Pisoni, Loring Clos Pepe (despite one off bottle) and Alcina Sangiacomo.
It was a good Sunday workout, with plenty of exciting wines, and despite a few flawed bottles, no one got hurt.