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Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Noir’

The Case of the 2008 Mendocino Lightning Complex

Summer in California—a time for backyard barbecues, lounging poolside, spending warm days at the beach or maybe camping in the beautiful Yosemite Valley. Summer is also the time when Californians experience the annual travails of wildfires. Each year hundreds of thousands of acres burn in the Golden State destroying homes, causing injury and death, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

The 2008 fire season would prove to be one of the worst in recent memory as an unprecedented outbreak of thunderstorms traversed Northern California from June 20 to June 21 sparking countless fires. One region particularly hard hit by these storms was the Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte, and Mendocino County area, with some 1,500 lightning strikes registered. All told, at least 600 fires were attributed to lightning strikes across Northern California during the two-day period.

By now many ardent wine consumers have heard about the problematic 2008 vintage in the Anderson Valley. How best to deal with the perception of, or actual presence of smoke taint in certain wines has been a huge challenge for producers in the region.

One novel approach taken by Navarro Vineyards has been to bottle the 2008 Pinot Noir under a second label, Indian Creek, and offer these wines at steeply discounted prices, but only after making it abundantly clear that the wines deviate somewhat from the usual Navarro offerings.

For Navarro’s part, they are to be commended for their effort to educate the consumer, while making their wines available at steeply discounted prices. Calling it their “Wildfire Offering” and asserting that the wines have developed an “uncharacteristic nuance” that is not normally associated with Navarro, customers are invited to make their own determination as to the magnitude of smoke taint, but at prices that go a long way toward eliminating the potential for buyer’s remorse.

As for the wines themselves, I took advantage of Navarro’sWildfire Offering” and purchased a mixed case of Indian Creek Unfiltered Reserve Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Thus far, and after consuming several bottles of all three wines, I must say that while the smoke definitely does exist, both aromatically and on the palate, I find it to be something of an enhancement.

It’s important to note that the presence of detectable smoke taint in these, or any other Anderson Valley wines, seems to depend to a great extent on the sensitivity of the individual tasting the wines. There is no question that some may find these wines less than satisfactory, or even undrinkable, while others will find the wines to be quite palatable or even enhanced by the smoky characteristics.

Regardless of how you perceive the smoke influenced 2008 vintage from the Mendocino area, a winery like Navarro should be congratulated for their honesty and innovative marketing that allows all of us to experience these wines with very little financial risk.

Review of the 2008 Indian Creek Pinot Noir – NOTE: Indian Creek is the Navarro Vineyards secondary label. Navarro has chosen to bottle its 2008 Pinot Noir, 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, and 2008 Zinfandel under the Indian Creek label due to the potential impact of smoke on each of these wines. The Mendocino Lightning Complex, which occurred from June 20 to July 19, 2008, consisted of hundreds of wildland fires that burned 54,817 acres and left the Anderson Valley shrouded in smoke.

Much has been written about the influence of smoke on Anderson Valley fruit, especially Pinot Noir, with some consumers and critics claiming that the existence of smoke taint has made some wines from the region undrinkable. Others assert that these wines either show little or no ill effects from the smoke. However, it is clear that there exists a wide variation in how each person perceives the impact of smoke on these wines. The tasting note below features my original impression of the 2008 Navarro Pinot Noir, now labeled the 2008 Indian Creek Pinot Noir…

Tasted at the source and enjoyed this one for its decent QPR. There is a lot of talk about the impact of smoke on the 2008 Anderson Valley pinots, but after tasting this bottling, I am more convinced than ever that the concern has reached an almost hysterical level. This edition of the Navarro Pinot Noir is clearly a notch below the 2007 bottling when it comes to aromatics. That being said, I found that with some time outside of the bottle this wine not only becomes passable, but quite enjoyable. Yes, pinot noir, perhaps more than any other varietal acts as a mirror of its environment, both earth and air.

With that being said, we found this wine to be only slightly smoky, and what traces of smokiness that were detectable actually contributed to the character of this wine. On a final note, it must be said that we each possess differing sensitivity to the impact of smoke on any wine. In the final analysis this is a simple pinot noir that benefits from some time out of the bottle before enjoying. With flavors of muted cherry and a bit of oak, I’m happy to have acquired this wine for the price.

All things considered I am comfortable giving the Indian Creek Pinot Noir a B on taste alone, but when considering this wine as a value play, there is little doubt that this is an A-. Way to go Navarro, I mean Indian Creek!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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Part II – Urban Wineries = Outstanding Quality!

As promised, it’s time to conclude my report on the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance 5th Annual Urban Wine Experience that recently took place in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

To refresh memories, this yearly event features a slew of urban dwelling winemakers that for the most part call the East Bay home. Some of these producers practice their craft in warehouses, while others occupy space on the once bustling property of the Alameda Naval Air Station.

What makes this a truly special event is the simple fact that the majority of the participating wineries are producing exceptional wines that one would never expect to have been created within the confines of the San Francisco Bay Area’s urban sprawl.

While most of these urban wineries source their grapes from growers located in typical regions – Dry Creek Valley, Carneros, Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Napa Valley  – only one of the urban wineries in attendance cultivates their own grapes on their own patch of land, Prospect 772. According to the Prospect 772 website, founders Ron Pieretti and Wendy Sanda, discovered their ideal grape growing site in 2001 on a 25-acre parcel of land located in Calaveras County. Today Pieretti and Sanda cultivate various Rhone varietals that are blended into three wines, each with its own distinctive moniker, The Brat, The Brawler, and The Baby Doll.

Our tasting was limited to 2007’s The Brawler (score A), a big, masculine Syrah that we thought was one of the best wines poured at the event.  This is a wine that lives up to its name with layers of dark fruits and a complexity that demands it be paired with grilled sausage or even braised lamb shanks.

Next up on the tasting parade was an offering from Eno Wines, the 2007 Pinot Noir “The One” produced from vines grown at the Fairview Road Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands (score A). This is an outstanding effort that shows off lovely plum and cherry aromatics with plum and spice coming through on the palate leading to a beautifully smooth finish.

Our final stop on a day that featured so many outstanding wines was Dashe Cellars. In the interest of transparency, I will admit that I am a huge fan of the wines produced by the husband and wife team of Michael and Anne Dashe. Combining their substantial experience and skills in winemaking, Michael and Anne have succeeded in producing consistently outstanding wines of great character and quality.

Today Dashe Cellars produces a range of topnotch Zinfandels as well as a Dry Creek Valley Grenache, an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a lovely Mendocino dry Reisling made in the Alsatian style.

In a perfect finish to our day’s tasting, the fine folks at Dashe served up a taste of their 2009 Les Enfants Terribles Dry Creek Valley Grenache that left us all smiling and racing for the door to make it to the Dashe Cellars Tasting Room just a few blocks away before closing time! In fact, this Grenache, features aromas of fresh picked cherries bolstered by gentle hints of strawberry and mild spice – mainly a bit of pepper. The flavor profile is well defined with brighter red fruits, ranging from raspberries to strawberry that are supported by a touch of earthiness and minerality. The finish is a real feature to this wine in that is surprisingly long and rewarding (score A).

So if you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area do yourself a favor and check out the member wineries of the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance. You won’t be disappointed!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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Or How I Fell Deeply In Love With Wine

fond memories

I recently got to thinking about how I developed such a deep and abiding passion and curiosity for wine. My life has been essentially two chapters – chapter one was gin and tonic, while chapter two has been wine. Now I know this is all more than a bit self-serving, but I very rarely allow myself this kind of reverie. Not to mention, it’s my blog, so I’ll blog about whatever I want to blog about! Now that we got that out of the way it’s time for you to make that sound that Wayne and Garth made when they entered their dreamworld.

It was some 20-years-ago that I met my beautiful wife, Julie, and with that momentous meeting came a crash course in fine wine consumption. It all began over dinner with my future in-laws. Pops, as I call him now, had a penchant for good wines from some of the world’s most reputable producers. What would soon become an every Sunday ritual was my formal introduction to the wines of California, Oregon, Washington, France, Australia, Spain, Italy, and Portugal.

Within a matter of mere weeks my vocabulary had expanded to include more than a few buzzwords and catch phrases that now, when I think back to those days, I can only chuckle to myself in a sort of pained amusement. Words like minerality and tannic had no business spilling from between my lips, let alone from my glass. Of course, as time passed, I gradually became cognizant of the meaning of those terms, but to this very day, I still struggle to cobble together cogent descriptions of some wines feeling that my vocabulary is less than adequate.

From Pops I would learn the basics of wine during our once-a-week tours of the world’s great wine producing regions. One Sunday would be spent quaffing Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay and reveling in the fact that a passable wine could be had for a mere $5.99! Then there were the Thanksgiving dinners that would feature a tour de force of fine wines starting with an exotic Alsatian Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley and Carneros regions, and finally topping the festivities off with one of my favorite after dinner drinks, a 10 year old tawny port.

Grand Cru vineyards of Latricieres-Chambertin in Burgundy

With my ever-expanding exposure to wine I became curious as to what the entire vine-to-wine process actually entailed. A subsequent trip to Burgundy, including a picnic at the foot of the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, ignited what has blossomed into a full blown fascination with the concept of terroir and an unceasing amazement that it’s possible that so many scents and flavors can be contained in a single glass of wine!

I am thrilled to report that my interest in wine is as keen today as it was during those early days of discovery. While my preferences have shifted over time, I continue to treasure those times when I can share my enthusiasm for wine with others. It’s a big world of almost countless flavors out there and I am ready to taste as much as I can!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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