Unchartered (sic) wine waters

kingbidgood1.jpgWhen it comes to Pinot Noir we are entering unchartered territory, if you will, irregardless of goodness of fit. Pinot Noir, like “common” language, is becoming absurdly stylized and impossible to understand. In the attempt to create individually expressive Pinot Noir wines that can win big Parker Points, a phalanx of PN wines has emerged that does not taste like Pinot Noir while at the same time tastes remarkably alike. Either my palate is becoming more finicky or there are more and more of these big fruit big alcohol Parkerized fiascos.
The whole movement to re-make Pinot Noir as a new world vision began when the alcohol levels crossed 14.5%. The tBoW has tasted a Pinot Noir above 16%. tBoW liked it! as the excessive alcohol was balanced by the excessive fruit. Kind of like hippoes in toe shoes. hippotoeshoes.jpgThe flavors one associates with Pinot Noir are barely present in high alcohol Pinot Noir. This grape is supposed to make wine that is exotic, gamey, even stinkyfunky, the old forest floor. Mushrooms, bacon fat. Cherries, strawberries, black cherries. Sometimes beets. They are supposed to be delicate, light to medium weight, translucent. Neither clouded or dense. And the alcohol should begin with the calming figure of 13%.
Otherwise we get problems in the most egregious New World versions. We get palate crushing fruit bombs that are closer to New World Syrah. In fact, tBoW gets confused sometimes with these two varietals especially if they are from Santa Barbara County or Paso Robles. In many cases the high alcohol blows out the fruit, overwhelming the palate and even the nose. The wine comes off hot. The winemaker needs the big fruit to balance the high alcohol which gets harder to pull off the higher the alcohol. Even when the trick is pulled off the result still ain’t Pinot. Serious music fans HATED Fantasia. Here is a mixed review that tries to get at the weaknesses and strengths of the 1940 animation. As for New World Pinot Parker bombs when the winemaker gets the gaminess going the typical correspondent is a profound smoky nose and flavors. This is where things begin to melt into the Rhone style.
There are exceptional New World Pinot Noirs. Several have been reviewed here: Skewis, Chasseur, Paul Lato. Each winemaker shows restraint and a traditional idea about what comprises classic Pinot Noir. However, for each one of these New World traditionalists there seem to be thousands that occupy a narrow bandwidth where big fruit, high alcohol, short finishes, ultimately produce a forgettable wine. It is shocking how many big name producers are in that space. They are making something closer to a milk shake or chocolate covered briquets.
As with many enterprises today (sports, cooking, unction) that prefer to stretch the limits of taste and skill, there exists within the broad New World group an extreme contingent: the Uncharted Pinot Noir Winemakers. These are the Pinot Noir wines that are from another dimension. We tasted one such recently and it is reviewed below. These Pinot Noirs taste nothing like any of the above descriptors. At best, they begin to taste like lesser known Italian varietals, i.e., Amarone or Lagrein or Sagrantino wines. I am not talking about Pinot Noir wines from Germany, Austria or Switzerland which express their regions and climates without losing the Pinot Noir character. I am talking about somebody’s vision, maybe their dream, to do something truly exceptional. Whatever. Please pick on another grape.
lecuvier05.jpg 2005 Le Cuvier Paso Robles Pinot Noir $45: Bourbon? Sour mash? The alcohol is not really that big but combined with the over-ripe fruit that tastes like it was dried on straw mats in the sun, and some premature aging in the color, this could be a high-end Amarone. It is not a bad wine [ed. you mean FLOD] but it ain’t Pinot Noir either. Bee-zarr. The http://www.lcwine.com/ is highly entertaining. Maybe I should try some other vintages but I don’t think so. 14.7%
2006 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard
$78: Here is the original model for New World Pinot Noir. WS wines – only Pinot Noir – were always sweet to the point it was rumored they contained Viognier. But they were also balanced, delicate, lyrical. WS wines made the perfect book end for their neighbor Rochioli. WS still produces a Riverblock bottle which is premium Rochioli juice. The Allen vineyard is about as big as it gets for WS. This is no exception. There is smoke and light tannins. The flavors are ripe, crossing the robust fruitiness of Gamay and cherries with some gamey qualities. This would be a great Thanksgiving wine big enough to stand up to all the important flavors of that meal (nothing can handle Mrs. tBoW’s marshmallow yams). Allen is a cornerstone WS wine; one you can count on to show characteristic style. A classic wine even though tBoW feels a twinge of hypocrosy given the price and the wine’s sweetness. 14.1%
ericrossRRV2006.jpg2006 Eric Ross Poule D’or Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ~$30: Another hot [ed. as in alcohol] wine that comes across on the nose and dominates the first sip. The poster wine for Parkerized Pinot Noir. Sourced form xxx in the Russian River Valley, arguably California’s best Pinot Noir region. [ed. It isn’t; Carneros is]. Flavorful enough but undistinguishable from a million others just like it. 14.7%
northberkeley core de brouilly06.jpg2005 Cote de Brouilly Cru de Beaujolais Cuvée Vielles Vigne $20: Here is the other end of the discussion. A Gamay wine from Beaujolais that is almost Pinot Noir. This is a house blend selected by North Berkeley WInes which is a favorite tBoW retailer. The wine is almost brawny. Tannins still very much in evidence, balanced, good dark fruit flavors. Beaujolais has been blessed with great vintages in 2005, 206 and 2007. If you see one from a producer other than Georges Dubouef you might snap it up. 12.5%
palialphabets2007.jpg2007 Pali Pinot Noir Alphabets Willamette Valley $15: The label is from Santa Rita Hills. The winemaker for 2007 was Brian Loring whose own label tends towards big and fruity. Pali produced 13 Pinot Noir wines in this vintage from what many would consider the premier domestic growing regions for Pinot Noir: Sonoma, Santa Rita and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This is one of three Oregon efforts. It tastes like the 2007 vintage which tells you that it is all about the terroir. The wine is smoky, light to medium weight with restrained pinot noir flavors on the forest floor side of the spectrum. Not a fruit bomb. If tBoW had tasted it at the Portland Indie Wine Fest it would not have made the final cut. But the terroir is there as is the lightweight nature of the vintage. And he used a screw cap. 13.3%

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