The California Wine Experience, held this past weekend at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square, was an opportunity to taste hundreds of wines.
I don’t have the final count, but over the three-day event, I easily tasted 150. That’s a little more than my typical weekend allocation. At a time when the financial sector is in turmoil and our next president is yet to be determined, a weekend of great wines was just what the doctor ordered.
At the Grand Tasting Thursday and Friday nights, I had two objectives. I wanted to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from California and Oregon to see how they compare and contrast with those of my beats, Burgundy and Champagne. I also wanted to sample some of the names I didn’t recognize since there were a lot of new wines and new faces pouring.
I was a little better at achieving my first objective. Here are a few wines that particularly stood out. Bergström’s Pinot Noir Willamette Valley The Whole Cluster Selection 2006 ($85), is a wine that Josh Bergström made with 100 percent whole clusters and fermented with indigenous yeast. I’m a big fan of whole cluster red Burgundy for the perfume and freshness and this wine showed these characteristics. It offered complexity with its red currant, plum, smoke and spice aromas and flavors. It was elegant and fresh, yet had nice grip too.
Also from Oregon was the Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Laurène 2005 ($65). It combined elegance and richness, with black cherry and earth notes underscored by nice acidity. A Pinot Noir from Rutherford is a rare beast, however, El Molino’s Pinot Noir Rutherford 2005 ($57) had an extra dimension for me, revealing bright black cherry, spice and coffee notes—another whole cluster fermentation.
Perhaps the most interesting Pinot was that of Foursight Wines. Its Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Charles Vineyard 2006 ($46) showed a refreshing lightness in weight along with vibrant cherry, currant and spice flavors. Kristy Charles explained that they ferment several clones separately in open top vats with indigenous yeast; twenty percent is whole cluster. The lighter body and delicacy was a nice contrast to many of the more powerful, concentrated Pinots and Cabernets in the room.
From further south, I thought the Talley Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley Rosemary’s Vineyard 2006 ($75) also had the lighter weight and bright, juicy cherry and berry fruit akin to the Foursight, while the Foxen Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills Sea Smoke Vineyard 2006 ($75) displayed fine complexity through its black cherry, licorice notes and velvety texture. There was an intriguing smokiness that set it apart.
Two Chardonnays impressed me. In the Mount Eden Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains 2004 ($42), I found the interplay of citrus, mineral and waxy flavors that were appealing. And the Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley 2005 ($65) comes pretty close to white Burgundy in California, with its honeyed richness and underlying citrus and pastry elements.
The other whites worth mentioning are Bonny Doon’s Albariño Monterey County Ca' del Solo Estate Vineyard 2007 ($20), a lookalike from Spain’s Rias Baixas region and a great value; and the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2006 ($27), whose barrel fermentation lent a smoky character that blended beautifully with the grassy, grapefruit notes in the fruit.
The reason I didn’t taste as many wines as I set out to taste was because I met many colleagues and acquaintances, some of whom I know from past Wine Experiences and see at the event each year. As good as the wines are, they taste even better when shared amongst friends.