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A Pinot Noir Find

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 11, 2006 11:27am ET

Occasionally you hear complaints about there being too many single-vineyard wines.

Lately Pinot Noir has been one of those wines under fire for this supposed excess.

I have a hard time comprehending this problem, unless people are grumbling about too many overpriced single-vineyard Pinots, or single-vineyard Pinots that are good but not great. More often, wine lovers are frustrated by Pinot shortages--that is, wines they can’t buy.

Here’s one strategy you should employ when buying Pinot Noir. Don’t overlook wines from larger appellations, such as Russian River Valley or Santa Barbara County. They often offer greater value and complexity than higher-priced single-vineyard wines.

Yesterday I blind-tasted a dozen 2004 Pinot Noirs and my favorite was the Londer Anderson Valley. It's pure and delicious, with rich, creamy raspberry, spice, lavender and blueberry flavors that glide across the palate. It’s a great bottle for $30, and there are 1,950 cases. In the 2003 vintage, I also gave this wine an outstanding mark.

I preferred it to the two Londer single-vineyard bottlings, both from Anderson Valley, that also were in the flight. Both were excellent, but also more expensive.

The Londer Estate Grown Pinot ($46) and Paraboll Vineyard ($52) were distinctive. The former tasted quite tannic, the latter a bit tarter. Neither had the supple texture nor range of flavor of the Anderson Valley bottling.

I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by any of Larry and Shirlee Londer’s wines. They continue to make excellent wines. But clearly the $30 bottle was the superior wine yesterday, and it serves to remind us that sometimes a winery’s regional or appellation blend can be more complete and complex than an expression of one plot of land.

Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  May 11, 2006 5:46pm ET
Great entry today! Of course... I may be a bit biased. There are some great Pinot blends to be found these days. I especially like some of the ones that Kosta Browne, Siduri, and Roessler produce.As a producer of a dozen or so single vineyard Pinot Noirs, I've heard the complaint about too many single vineyard wines a few times. The two issues that you list - namely that the wines can be overpriced or that they may be good but not great - are the ones that people often bring up when complaining about these wines. With regards to the price issue, I see no reason why a single vineyard designated wine needs to cost more than an AVA blend. Costs are costs, so the price of the wine should (in my humble opinion) be a factor of those costs. In other words, if a winery buys fruit from 3 Pinot vineyards that all charge the same price, then a blend from all 3 vineyards should cost the same as wines that were bottled separately. Raising the price just because it's single vineyard designated doesn't necessarily make sense to me. I know some wineries do it... and there in might be the issue that people talk about.As far as good vs great... does a single vineyard designated wine have to be "great"? No one ever questions the guy who buys a vineyard and makes estate wine from that property. What if his wine is just good, but not great? Should he be "forced" to blend his wine with another couple of growers? To me, single vineyard designated wines are just a choice that a winemaker makes, hoping to produce something that he likes - and that sells. Good wine is good wine. Great wine is great wine. And bad wine just sucks. I just don't think that single vineyard designated wines are the cause/reason for great, good, or bad.
Jordan Harris
St. Catharines / Ontario —  May 11, 2006 11:04pm ET
I agree with Brian about the cause for great, good and bad not being about a single vineyard designation or blend. Single vineyard wines can be superb, as can blended. Where I see an issue is when single vineyards are designated for no reason. I believe a vineyard should be named if the final wine has something special from that vineyard. The wine should show the terroir. Single vineyards now seem to be overused as a way to sell for high prices with no legitimate charcters from that place. Blended wines however can also show terroir, and be very complex wines. Overall producers should label the wine for what is in the bottle, not to confuse consumers and con them into higher dollar values.
Michael Barnes
Brisbane, CA —  May 12, 2006 1:46am ET
Much California wine is now made to taste like Welch's. When I do buy California, I avoid single-vineyard designations. I believe the winemakers are responding to the market, and realize that Americans are more interested in the product on the bottle than they are the product in the bottle. My wine budget is spent on wines that can be drunk with dinner, are expected to improve with age, and have some component of the soil in which the vines grow. I purchase mostly Ribera del Duero and Graves-style reds, because these blends deliver what single-varietal, single-vineyard California wines don't. It seems to me that winemakers use the exclusive vineyard designations to distinguish themselves in the crowded American market. Here is one American consumer who is buying based on something else. Taste.
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  May 12, 2006 1:59am ET
I was under the impression that a single vineyard should have some distinguishing taste characteristics. The "chalky" texture and nuances of Three Palms, the "mint, eucalyptus" notes of Martha's Vineyard, etc or tendencies like the power & intensity of Costa Russi over the more rounded finesse of Sori Tildin. I do wonder about the sizes of some "single" vineyards now. Appellation-size or bigger it almost seems. Another thing I thought sounded true is that in a great yr a Single-Vineyard can make that exceptional terroir-speaking wine but in lesser yrs it becomes limited in taste and/or production. Blends have more wiggle-room to still produce a good to great wine in any yr in the right hands. I too find some single vineyard wines a bit overpriced for what you get compared to the blend of the same winery. And then last night while pouring several btls of a beautiful Patz & Hall Hyde PN to a big party I also thought that perhaps the nuances of this wine are being totally lost on this particular group. But, maybe not, since they seemed to be having fun even if all but one of them knew or cared what they were drinking. The fact that it was a good wine amongst friends may have been enough.
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  May 12, 2006 9:17pm ET
I think a problem with single vineyard designated (SVD) wines "image" is that people assume that they're suppossed to be extra special. I'm not sure that's what SVD wines are about. Sure, there are certain vineyards that seem to produce superior wines - or at least wines that I personally prefer. But is that a fair requirement to place on all SVD wines? I'd argue it isn't. The vineyard name on the label hopefully provides you some useful piece of information about what's in the bottle. The price of the wine, whether a SVD or a blend, should be judged based on the quality of what's in the bottle. I'd never say a wine shouldn't be SVD'd... but I often wonder about the price charged.
Scott Boles
San Diego —  May 12, 2006 10:09pm ET
Pretty cool when a talented winemaker like Brian Loring can take the time to share his thoughts on the subject. Keep up the good work, Brian. I love your wines!
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  May 14, 2006 11:54pm ET
Ironically, today while skimming through a magazine at the bookstore I came across an article about Bien Nacido. Fifty-five wineries make a Bien Nacido bottling. Over 700 acres and still planting. The few Bien Nacido designates I've tasted I did enjoy but it seems they might be risking dilution of the "Single Vineyard." This isn't meant to disparage the Owner, only to add to this discussion.
David A Zajac
May 15, 2006 1:58pm ET
Michael, I find it interesting to note that you state California (and presumably all US wines) taste like Welch's...so you don't buy them. How many have you drank lately? I challenge you to taste the Martinelli Blue Slide Ridge pinots or the Beaux Freres - Beaux Freres vineyard wines...if you can't taste the terrior or vintage differences in any 3 or 4 years worth of these wines then you should convert to Welch's as your beverage of choice. I don't mean to diminish your preferences or tastes, I generally prefer French wines, but to say California or Oregon producers aren't producing wines with clear Terrior distinction is simply wrong. Also, your choices of terrior wines is interesting, personally I like the wines of Graves and Ribera, but to be honest I don't see much terrior in the wines of Ribera, they kind of remind me of Australia to some extent in that they all taste fairly generic TO ME, I would love some suggestions where you feel terrior shines through in those wines because I don't see it. I do for Priorat, but not Ribera...And by the way, the greatest wines on the planet for terrior have to be Cote Rotie...ok, maybe Burgundy, oops, forgot about Alsace...
Tony Crise
May 15, 2006 10:18pm ET
Funny, is there any pinot noir produced anywhere but California? I am starting to believe that Wine Spectator is a bit biased.
Robert Bentley
Port Townsend,WA —  May 23, 2006 7:41pm ET
I, also question the bias toward California Pinot Noir ala the "Sideways"fad (gosh, we just discovered what Pinot Noir is!").

There's some good to excellent California renditions to be sure, BUT many are just fruit bomb, "smash mouth" parodies of the real thing. Aside from parts of Russian River and Santa Barbara areas, many California areas simply are too hot or lack the right terroir for excellent Pinot. Oregon has much more to offer of the Burgundian styles providing more complexity and diverse characteristics. The single vineyard designations are sometimes overdone, but it must be recognized that there are some specific vineyards with novel character and terroir that more than justify their mention: Freedom Hill, Seven Springs, Brickhouse and others supply a multitude of excellent smaller winemakers for example. Also, the world of great Pinot Noir must now recognize some outstanding areas as New Zealand, where Cloudy Bay, Felton Road, ,Quartz Reef, From and Pegasus Bay,many others quite compare to Burgundy benchmark standards. South America is coming on strong-note Chile's "EQ' Pinot by Matetic, Kingston Family,etc.Australia in small cool zones like Mornington Peninsula has some outstanding Pinots with Tasmania just emerging as another great area.

I recently had a 1999 Dry River from Martinborough NZ, made by Neil MCallum, which I would rate at least a 96 and it would compare to the best Burgundy has to offer. Unfortunately it is a small "cult"- following winery that doesn't (as yet)bother to import to the US. In summary, there is quite a great world of good Pinot above and beyond that of California which measures quite well against Burgundy standards as always the real benchmark. California has simply adapted Pinot Noir to meet the local taste norms and overpriced marketers' hype.

Just some thoughts as I reflect upon my celler full of Rochioli-just for comparsion, mind you.

Bob Bentley CWS Port Townsend,WA (I occasionally write on the such matters).

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