Friday, May 1, 2009

J - Classic. A holy grail of California Pinot Noir - Five Stars -

California Bacchanalia
Inside The World of Pinot Noir
April 6, 2009, By Adam Leith Gollner

Part of the lure of Pinot oenophilia is the challenge of finding a truly exceptional bottle. Connoisseurs, affectionately known as "Pinot wienies," can go on and on about the ways in which quality varies from vintage to vintage, from vineyard to vineyard, and from bottle to bottle (even in the same year). "Pinot Noir takes a lot of education to understand," Mike Sinor (Sinor-LaVallee), a founder of the World of Pinot Noir, told me. "And 80% of it sucks."

As intricate as the wine is, it's pretty easy to tell when it sucks. "You can't hide the flaws," explained George Bursick, the vice president of winemaking at J Vineyards. "Pinot Noirs are unforgiving. There's no margin of error. Skilled winemakers can fix bad Cabs, but you can't do that with Pinots. They're so pure. It's all purity. It's such a difficult grape to bring to consumers in an elegant way."

Before spiraling into this Burgundelicious haze, I'd spent the afternoon tasting many Californian Pinots at the festival tents in Shell Beach. I don't remember most of it. This much is certain: world-class wines are being made in the sunshine state. Here are my top five, with the adjectives I found in my notebook the morning after:

J - Classic. A holy grail of California Pinot Noir.
Hirsch - Harmonious and perfect.
Foxen - Foxy. The Central Coast at its best.
Patz-Hall - So drinkable. Their bottlings of Hyde grapes = liquid gold.
Arcadian - Raw mouse.

"The French have had centuries to figure out what grows good where," explained Bursick. "They had 700 years of noblemen and monks killing each other over the best plots of land. The conditions are completely different. Burgundy has decomposing limestone; we have tectonic plates, sandstone, exposed beaches, prehistoric marshes, geysers and all sorts of Pleistocene issues. We don't have time to do trial and error, but we do have technology. We do electromagnetic conductivity tests by sending computerized probes into the soil to measure the parameters. Then we plant rootstock accordingly. Nobody in the world is doing anything like this - it's way trick."

2006 J Pinot Noir Nicole's Vineyard - FIVE Stars
Compliments: Duck Confit & Soft Cheese

This is the sort of California Pinot Noir I would be happy to drink always as balanced and refined as it is nuanced and elegant. The nose is subtly spicy, and it drinks velvety: raspberries, blackberries, pomegranates, a bit of chocolate silk.

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