Top 100 Wines:
From small labels, big flavors come
This year was all about thinking small.
As in: small wineries, small vineyards, small amounts of wine.
That isn't to say you won't find familiar names among the Top 100 Wines, but much of the most interesting winemaking on the West Coast is increasingly taking place on a small scale. These aren't cult wineries - it's more about vintners who prefer to focus on modest projects they can control from budbreak to bottle.
Most Pinots that I tasted were from 2008, a memorable year in California and Oregon - for very different reasons. In Sonoma and Mendocino, '08 was grueling; first frost, then wildfires, wiped out a lot of fruit, and many wineries declassified their bottlings. There was still extraordinary wine, but much less of it.
With Pinot more popular than ever, there's a surprising amount to go around. This is the Top 100's largest category by far, and it is a big, impressive field of contenders.
Ever more, the finest examples are coming from small, focused labels that work with tiny amounts of fruit.
That rewards the experienced Pinot lover. In a way it returns to the way Pinot was before its celebrity status: a tricky grape whose top examples require a hunt to root out. And while prices are still steep for the best versions, there are still terrific deals to be found - if you know where to hunt.
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50)
J is back in great form with the 2007 Nicole's.
There's masterful subtlety to the loam and brown-spice accents,
and lots of black fruit that unfurls in a nuanced way.
By Jon Bonné at San Francisco Chronicle