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Anderson Valley

Brilliant Gray

Gray Pinot (pinot gris) sounds pretty drab and 9 times out of 10 the name fits the wine. Yet in the hands of some winemakers this variety can sing. Joining the ranks of delicious and interesting wines from this variety, including wines like Jermann, Chehalem, Albert Mann among others, is the Horse and Plow 2008 Pinot Gris,, Filigreen Farm, Anderson Valley. Crisp, refreshing, but in no way light and simple, it is loaded with creamy fresh pear and white peach flavors all accented by a tangy minerality and firm acidity. This wine was barrel fermented in neutral oak, which shows in the lovely texture and a yeasty whisper on the nose. A whopping 350 cases were produced so Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio has as much to worry about as it has flavor.

Marvelous Mendocino

Lots of places on the West Coast think of themselves as pinot prima donna, but there is a very real possibility that the least pretentious of all will claim the throne. Sideways loved the Central Coast. Oregon assumes (a little to quickly) the crown is theirs. Yet it seems time after time the most exciting pinots I’ve been tasting are from Mendocino’s rugged Anderson Valley.

Yesterday’s Taste of Mendocino was packed with enthusiastic tasters and expressive pinots. What's most exciting is, strangely enough, what these Mendocino pinot noirs lack. They are moderate in alcohol, missing a big price tag and offer more pleasure than attitude. They are brilliantly light in color, fragrantly lacy, exotically delicate and long on the palate. Pinot noir from Anderson Valley tastes like pinot noir - a claim many pinots from Oregon and the rest of California cannot claim. You'll not confuse a Anderson Valley pinot noir with a syrah.

We can only hope their increasing fame does not lead these growers down the path taken by so many Oregon producers who have given up the elegance that their cool climate can bestow on their wines in the headlong pursuit of points over purity of variety.

Some highly recommended Mendocino pinot noir wines from the tasting:



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Wine Notes

Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:

  • Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, Roederer Estate, 25th Anniversary, NV - I’ve had this very nice sparkling wine many times lately; several bottles at home and then one interesting experience at a wine bar. First for the wine bar experience; my local wine bar was offering both the NV Roederer Champagne Brut and the Anderson Valley Sparkling, but having had the Anderson Valley recently I, against my better judgement, ordered the Roederer Champagne. I say against my better judgment because few wines are more disappointing these days than big name Champagne. However, I took one sip and was blown away by the quality of the Roederer Brut. Not so fast, I soon found out the bartender had poured me a glass of the California Roederer by mistake. She quickly followed up with a glass of the real Champagne, which, as usual, was lackluster. The Anderson Valley Roederer continues to be an outstanding American sparkler and is clearly superior (and less expensive) then their Champagne.
  • Champagne, Grand Cru 100%, Blanc de Blancs, Reserve Brut, Guy Charlemagne, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, NV - High strung and very toasty, this is a delicious and complex Champagne that shows the best of chardonnay in Champagne. The aromatics are delicate, but not a bit shy with a steely froth that races across the palate, stopping just long enough for a compelling finish. Although I prefer the big Bouzy Champagnes, this is an excellent wine and a bargain at $46. This is a one of those Champagnes that can handle caviar.
  • Riesling Kabinett, Selback-Oster, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 2006 - I enjoyed a bottle of this lovely wine over four days as an aperitif when I arrived home from work. I swear after four days in the refrigerator this wine hardly changed a bit. Such stability is a tribute both to their winemaking and winegrowing. Only perfect grapes can produce such harmony. Beautifully fragrant with honeysuckle and spices, it took effort to pull your nose out of the glass to take a sip. That sip delivered pure charm and seductive white peach and ripe pear flavors laced with tart citrus and a lovely touch of sweetness. No thought required here, just up-front delicious pleasure. Nice screw-cap, I’d drink this up young and fresh.
  • Riesling, Alsace, Albert Boxler, 2004 - This is it, riesling right on the money. No-over-the-top, off-dry, high alcohol, quasi-dessert wine from Alsace here, but a big, rich wine that maintains respect for the variety and vineyard from which it came. On the fuller gold side of color with a rich nose touched with hints of figs laced with bright apricot with touches of crisp apple that continue into the complex layered flavors. It is rich and expansive on the pallet without becoming dull as it maintains a racy, crisp essence under its substantial girth. I enjoyed this thoroughly with some of my own crispy fried chicken.
  • Monferatto Rosso, Braida IL Banciale’ di Giacomo Bologna, 2004 (60% barbera, 20% pinot nero, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot) - Not so long ago I had a bottle of the most expensive wine Bologna produces, which I did not enjoy. Yet here is one of their least expensive wines and it was a delight. Earthy and fragrant with great complexity and balance, it was delicious with a very buttery mushroom risotto at Bice. Oddly enough, the cabernet and merlot hardly show in this wine as the backbone is all barbera and the aromatics and elegance all pinot nero. I really enjoyed this wine, which only really seemed to open with the last glass.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pra di Po, Germano Ettore, 2006 - This is simply a wonderful dolcetto that I intend to buy a few cases of as soon as possible. I recommend you do too before it’s gone. This wine is all about hedonistic pleasure over the next two years, although I doubt any bottle I have will make it that far. I salivate thinking about the beautiful bright wild dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and aromas intermingled with hints of black truffles, new leather, sage and lavender. All of this is held together by racy acidity and some silky tannins that bring all the fruit intensity into perfect harmony.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Roberto Ferraris, 2006 - This is one of those stealth wines. It seems pleasant enough at first, but by the time you finish your second glass it has you hypnotized. What is amazing is no matter how long you leave it open it just seems to get better and better. I finished the last of a bottle that had been open for three days tonight and it was flat out wonderful. This is not a big wine, it is exceptionally balanced and the underlying complexity requires you to pay attention and introduce yourself before revealing everything. I’ve opened three bottles now and I would suggest decanting this wine for an hour before serving if, like me, you can’t resist drinking it. What this wine is not is a jammy, oaky ultra-purple barbera like so many make these days. If you can, give it a few years in the bottle and you’ll have something special.
  • Gigondas, Bertrand Stehelin, 2004 - Big and beautiful is not easy to do, but this wine achieves it. The aromas and flavors are richly pungent, bringing to mind an old fashioned butcher shop where the aromas of raw meat mix with sawdust and smoke. Intermingled with all these carnivorous sensations are ripe wild blackberries, an engaging warmth and round tannins that give it a nice backbone. I served this wine with some braised, bone-in pork loin and all three of us enjoyed the experience. While obviously too young to be at its best, this is a wine that just draws you into its sumptuous experience and you find yourself savoring each drop as you finish your glass after the meal is done.