Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

Pinot Noir Thread - Domestics & Imports

Posted by JonDerry, May 21, 2013.

Pinot has been a much celebrated topic here on Snooth over the years I've participated, and it's obviously one of the more celebrated grapes in the wine world. It'll no doubt be a story line I plan on focusing on in years to come so I thought I'd start a thread, logging experiences. Sorry in advance, Greg T.

Having said that, I've been mostly disappointed with domestic Pinot Noir while Burgundy has really captured my attention over the past year or so, as much as it may hurt my wallet. However, with both styles, there's something elusive and also transcendent about the grape as it has a unique ability in appealing both the masculine and feminine ends of the spectrum. 

The basic equation I've noticed when drinking domestic Pinot Noir (mostly from CA), is domestic = bold fruit + heat, while Burgundy = sour fruit + acidity in spades. EMark and I discussed recently that we've come close to giving up on CA Pinot Noir, but I'm always willing to try the next thing and I know there are many old world influenced CA Pinot producers that I haven't yet tried such as Anthill Farms, Ceritas, Sandhi, and others.

There are also a couple of celebrated, and ultra cool climates in CA that I plan on doing some real digging in, with Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma Coast, and the Anderson Valley leading the pack.  Further north, there is the famed Willamette area in Oregon to explore. New Zealand and other regions like Germany's Ahr also warrant monitoring. Now let the games begin!

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Reply by outthere, May 21, 2013.

Do yourself a favor and try Copain SVD's. (post 2007)

You're on the right track with Ceritas as well. I would also suggest trying Littorai, Dehlinger, Cabot, Rhys...

I drank through the Anthill Farms lineup a couple months ago and while some of them stood out (Tina Marie, Campbell Ranch) the others (Demuth, Abbey Harris) didn't do a whole lot for me.

Experiment ,more!

Reply by Welkja, May 21, 2013.

I've just had a Copain pinot from 2008 and it was Burgundian  in style than many of the Pinots from California. It was very enjoyable. The thing that is missing the most in U.S. Pinots is minerality that is so good in the Pinots of France. That should be expected since the root stock has not had time to go deep into ground yet since they have a recent planting history. I have found that many of the Willamette Valley Pinots are beginning to gain the complexities of Burgundies. I particularly like the Ribbon Ridge area near Newberg, Oregon. Adelsheim, Bergstrom, Beau Freres, and boutique wineries such as Utopia are making very good wines. Given time, I think the wine will develop complex minerality. ( You can tell I am a huge Pinot fan!)


Reply by JonDerry, May 21, 2013.

Thanks for the rec's guys, and I'm glad we haven't gotten into clones yet. I should've also mentioned the Santa Cruz mountains in the OP, and probably other areas in OR.

OT, Mark and I picked up some Cabot Anderson Valley last week, couldn't pass it up @ $23.99 retail. After popping one last night, it's no doubt good stuff and I'll probably get more.

Here's one I had over the weekend by Cargasacchi. Had held them in (above average) regard as a name in Santa Barbara. I know they have some Sta. Rita Hills fruit, but this particular wine wasn't. Rather it was from the Jamala vineyard, 3 miles south west of the SRH AVA. It's also just outside the Santa Ynez border, so it gets the general Santa Barbara County AVA.

Except all of the above doesn't really matter, this wine tasted pretty good on entry, but was a hot mess overall. Super alcoholic, cola, the whole nine. Listed at 14.5% ABV, but tasted higher than that. At least the wait staff brought it out chilled. If it hadn't been for that, it would've been a brutal experience. Had at Petit Valentien, Santa Barbara on our 4th anniversary weekend. 

Reply by JonDerry, May 21, 2013.

Much better results with Cabot's Anderson Valley 2010...

Strawberry, Raspberry, Pomegranate, and maybe just a slight bit of funk on the nose. The palate is medium in weight, showing good red fruits consistent with the nose and strong acidity. I did feel some heat on the finish, which was very mellow, and medium in length. An impressive effort overall, and a nice value play - this is just a fun wine. Slow ox'd for about an hour, and drank over another hour or so. Served chilled, and noticed the fruit turn more to cherry as it warmed, but never got cola or overripe impressions. Definitely recommend to domestic PN lovers, and maybe even one for Burg heads to check out.
I had just got back from a run before pouring a glass, hence the sloppy picture...incidentally this paired pretty well with trader joe's fried rice.
Reply by Richard Foxall, May 21, 2013.

I'm going to put in my two cents for Fred Scherrer's PNs as well.  I think they straddle some of that fruit v. minerality balance, and definitely not hot.  He worked with Dehlinger for quite a while, so you get some of that style for a good price.

I was just thinking last night that I need to get my hands on some Copain SVD.  What a coincidence.

I don't mind a big Pinot if it is balanced, hence my affection for Roar, but I have a hard time with the bottlings from the Pisoni vineyard.  I also like a good dose of smoke and funk in mine--my wife likes the smoky pinots best. 

We can talk about clones, but I think if you want to talk about minerality, you also have to talk about rootstocks and geology.  Will age on these vines increase minerality?  Good question, but there are some old vines around that don't necessarily show noticeably more minerality in the product.

Reply by outthere, May 21, 2013.

Go here!

    • 32 Winds Wine
    • Anthill Farms Winery
    • Baker Lane Vineyards
    • Banshee Wines
    • Benovia
    • Boheme Wines
    • Ceritas
    • Charles Heintz Ranch Vineyards & Winery
    • Coastlands Vineyard
    • Cobb Wines
    • Doc's Ranch Vineyard
    • FAILLA Wines
    • First Leaf Land Acquisitions
    • Flowers Vineyard & Winery
    • Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
    • Freeman Vineyard & Winery
    • Gros Ventre Cellars
    • Halleck Vineyard
    • The Hartford Family Winery
    • Hirsch Vineyard & Winery
    • Joseph Phelps Vineyards
    • Kutch
    • LaRue Wines
    • LIOCO
    • Littorai Wines & Estate Winery
    • MacPhail Family Wines
    • Marimar Estate Vinyards & Winery
    • Martinelli Winery
    • Merry Edwards Winery
    • Pahlmeyer
    • Papapietro-Perry
    • Patz & Hall Wine Company
    • Paul Hobbs Winery
    • Peay Vineyards
    • Quality Shoots
    • Ramey Wine Cellars
    • Red Car Vineyards
    • Siduri
    • Small Vines
    • Sojourn Cellars
    • Sonoma Coast Vineyards
    • Zepaltas Wines




Reply by Welkja, May 21, 2013.

I agree with your opinion. Balance is very important  as well as smooth finish. In terms of geology making  an impact on minerality in a wine. It takes years for root stock to penetrate deep enough to begin absorbing the minerals found in the region. U.S. Pinots are beginning to gain the age needed to gain complexity from the geology. It will be interesting to see what 10 or 20 more years will do for American Pinots.


Reply by outthere, May 21, 2013.

Cargasacchi is on my short list. Peter is a nice guy  and a huge advocate for Central Coast Pinot.

So much wine, so little money!

Reply by EMark, May 21, 2013.

Jon and I had a lot of fun the other day in the wine store, and, yup, I shared with him my frustration with Pinot Noir.  I read descriptions of pinot noir that include words like "transcendent," and, like I've stated here before, I just don't get it.  To me, most Pinot Noir's come off as watered down cough syrup.  So, I told Jon that I'd pretty much "given up" on Pinot Noir. 

The quotes are used in the previous sentence because what that means is that I am not going to pick up a Pinot Noir off a store shelf and put in my basket just to try it.  I will do that with just about any other wine--Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Italian Red, Sauternes, just about anything else--and I don't feel like I'm cheated.  It just doesn't work for me with PN. 

I have mentioned in at least on other post here on the Forum that I am willing to continue the search for that "transcendent" Pinot Noir experience.  So, my current plan is to try only Pinot Noir that is recommended to me.  As Jon mentioned, he and I both picked up a bottle of the Cabot.  In the past few weeks, I have put my name on waiting/mailing lists for Rhys and Ceritas on the recommendations of Outthere and Foxall.  I have respect for people like these and, so, their opinions carry weight with me.  

About a year ago I posted about a very nice experience at the Merry Edwards winery.  This was before I developed my current PN strategy.  So, I have some Merry Edwards PN in my storage unit.  When I do open them up, I hope they meet my expectations derived from a few tastes that day.

Anyway, I guess the quest still continues.

Reply by JonDerry, May 21, 2013.

Will have to see if I can make it up in Aug - OT

At least now you know what Cargasacchi wine to avoid...would recommend their Sta. Rita Hills stuff if you're going to try them. Clos Pepe and Dragonette are higher on my radar, then of course Sandhi.

Interesting about the vine age leading toward minerality/complexity. I guess in terms of vine age, we're not very far removed from Sideways.

Reply by outthere, May 21, 2013.

Interesting about the vine age leading toward minerality/complexity. I guess in terms of vine age, we're not very far removed from Sideways

I'm not really sold on that idea. I've had very minerally driven wines from vines that are not necessarily that old but were planted in limestone (Chalone, Matthiasson). 

The problem with modern viticulture is that most vines are irrigated on drip systems which induces surface roots and does not lend to the roots searching deep for water. The main reason you see vineyards torn out every 7-10 years is because they use up the land due to the irrigation and things have to be replenished.

Head trained old vine vineyards such as are found in much of Europe were forced at a young age to seek water. The vines end up living/producing much longer due to the great root system. The land around them is planted with cover crops that are re-introduced into the soil to replenish vital nitrogen and other nutrients. It doesn't work the same way in trellised irrigated vineyards.

Reply by outthere, May 21, 2013.

Will have to see if I can make it up in Aug - OT

I got the email from Littorai at 10:30 am, opened it at noon and the Littorai dinner was already sold out! To say that this is a much sought after event is a vast understatement.

Reply by EMark, May 22, 2013.

Those winemaker dinners sound very cool.  I can understand why they would sell out very quickly.

Reply by JonDerry, May 22, 2013.

OT, the vine age is an interesting concept...not an easy thing to analyze unless you really make an effort, such as routinely tasting the same site with different age to the vines.

We just tend to accept the general knowledge that old vine = more complex, while young vines are not as complex. Young vines can still produce good wine though, I mean take the Dr. Crane vineyard, it's pretty darn young and producing great juice! Ditto for Lagier Meredith.

So there's probably something to it, but just not really a night and day difference like vintages are from time to time.

Meanwhile...I have this '05 Lignier Morey St. Denis shipping to Foxall this week, to hopefully be consumed when I'm up in a couple weeks. From a deep point in my cavernous 24 case off-site storage at the Wine Cellar Club. This is probably one of the more highly regarded village burgundy wines I've tasted to date...really looking forward to it and hope it shows well.

Reply by Welkja, May 22, 2013.

The geology of the region can  impact the minerality greatly. Mt. Vesuvius wines are known for there minerality due to volcanic activity. Sicily's Mt Etna wines the same. They don' t  need time for  root growth of great depths. The same is true of some other wine regions around the world. In alluvial soils it takes much longer to reach bedrock to gain minerality.    It is important what was said before regarding irrigation hurting the process of root growth in search of water. These wines will probably have a hard time with gaining a higher complexity unless they are in a geological gifted area.

Reply by dimsum4sum1, May 23, 2013.

Foxall..I would recommend a South African Pinot Noir for your wife. South African reds exude a lot of smoky characteristics.  Their reds is something I would recommend to bordeaux or burgundy drinkers that are looking for something different. Back to the Pinot Noir..I'd recommend Hamilton Russell. Their chardonnay is pretty good too. If you want a bordeaux varietal from South Africa..Mulderbosch is a good one. Oddly enough, I was told by the winemakers that best South African wines are the ones still not released for the market.

Reply by GregT, May 23, 2013.

Funny thread. I was visiting Mom this past weekend, moving her actually, and since nobody was around, I actually tried some PN and bought it at retail no less. Eh. It was fine for what I wanted, but if people want complex wine, they really have to drink a lot more wine from different varieties.  Americans think there are only five or six worth discussing and that's just not true at all.

Two issues I have with the assumptions so far, well, a lot more actually, but I'll limit my comments. First, Burgundy  vs CA and elsewhere. That's WAY too simplistic. CA is about the size of France. Burgundy is a small part of France. 

Burgundy has about 29000 hectares of vines, whereas Napa in CA has about 43000 and there are many other AVAs. Comparing the wines of one small region to a mix from elsewhere is a bit unfair. In the same way, one would expect that the Zins from Dry Creek would have more in common with each other than with a lot of Zin grown elsewhere. So if you like Dry Creek Zin, or PN from Burgundy, that's fine, but I think you want wine to taste different when it's from different places, no? Stuff from elsewhere doesn't taste like Burgundy for the same reason stuff from elsewhere doesn't taste like it's from Dry Creek Valley - because it isn't.

"Interesting about the vine age leading toward minerality/complexity."

That is interesting, but mostly because it's widely repeated in spite of the fact that it's mostly BS. I think I've posted this a thousand times in various places, but because there's no such thing as "minerality" in a scientific sense, accounting for it with biology-lite doesn't make it any more true. Plants don't just willy-nilly pick up "minerals" (and define exactly what those are BTW) and stick them into the fruits.  If plants lacked discrimination on that scale, they would simply die in most places, because they'd never be able to get any reasonable ratio of one thing to another.

One definition of "minerals" is: solid, inorganic, naturally occurring substances with a definite chemical formula and specific internal structure. Halides, oxides, carbonates, and sulfates can be minerals. Most of the rock-forming minerals tend to be silicates, which means SiO4 and which make up say, 90 percent of the earth's crust.

But hell, that's not all-encompassing enough so let's throw in single elements - carbon, gold, etc., and remember that they too can be considered minerals.

So what are the "minerals" people think they're getting from old vines?

Pretty much none.

And why would an old vine produce more "minerals" in the wine anyway?  Roots look for water. When they find enough water and organic matter, they grow. Otherwise they wither and die. If you have a mountainside where all the organic material has leached away, and you have large outcroppings of rock and mostly just rocky soil, why are there so many more "minerals" deep in? Especially if the hill has been lifted up and what you think is surface was really deep down low for a few million years.

When people talk about "minerality" in wine,  they're not talking about minerals. They're talking poetically, as they do when they refer to a wine as female, nimble, mysterious. They're referring to sensations they have, mostly having to do with acid and probably sulfur compounds, and imagining how gold might taste if it had any taste and comparing it to that fantasy. 

You pick a little green, don't put your wine thru malolactic fermentation, and voila! Minerality!!

Pick a week or two later, go full malo and put it into oak and voila! You've "masked" the minerality that was never there in the first place. 

The oldest soils on the planet are in Australia and so are the oldest wine-producing grape vines.  Garnacha I believe. So would wines from those grapes show the most "minerality"? They should - ancient soils with not so much organic matter, just minerals, growing ancient vines. But then, Garnacha doesn't show "minerality" either does it? Who ever talks about those two things in the same sentence? 

Finally -

"We just tend to accept the general knowledge that old vine = more complex, while young vines are not as complex. "

Be careful who you're calling "we" old buddy! It's not quite true and for a very good reason - that's just not how plants work. It is however, romantic to believe that and consequently people do. OK, let me be a little careful - if you define a "young" vine as one that's only a year or two old, then yeah, your fruit isn't going to be all that it can be. But if you give it seven years or so, it's still young by some standards but it can be putting out pretty good fruit. The complexity has a lot more to do with whatever potential that vineyard has, with the vineyard planting and management, and with the winemaking than with the age of the vines.

Outthere has it dead on IMO - try some of the wineries on his list if you want sour red fruit.  Pahlmeyer and Martinelli don't really do it IMO, but some of the others do. 

And, although it's not Pinot Noir, I had a wonderful wine the other day that set me back $14.99 and frankly, is one of my exciting finds of the year. It was a Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir from Michigan. Tart pomegranate fruit, long finish, medium body, hints of pepper and herbs, just delicious and even improved with a bit of air time.  As good as many Gamays from elsewhere and better by far than most Pinot Noirs costing many times as much. 

Cheers all.

Reply by napagirl68, May 23, 2013.


I am a big Pinot fan, but of a tiny population.  I will say firstly, that, Sideways aside, I typically do NOT care for Pinot from the Santa Barbara area (Sta. Rita hills, los olivos, Lompoc, etc, etc).  It is overcooked, purple and big to me.  When down that way, everyone was raving about Clos Pepe.. I was not overly impressed.  Just not my style.

Central coast (meaning inland of Carmel valley) typically is not to my taste as well.  Once in awhile there is something decent, but usually they are big fruity bombs.

I love Sonoma coast and russian river  as a rule.  My all time fave is the 2008 Lioco Sonoma Coast Pinot, and now there is the 2010 that I love as well.  I AGREE with OT on going to that tasting.  I am telling you, the terroir is nothing like central/southern CA.  AND I also like only a few Oregon pinots... Stoller and Bethel Heights are a few- but not many others.   And like OT alludes to, even the high quality producers have some that you may not care for, and then some great examples.  You need to taste up in Sonoma to see if you can top your French burgundies. 

I recently spent a lot of money on a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield pinot (don't remember the vineyard/vintage) and was very disappointed. 

You need a trip up north, for a week, at least.  Don't give up on CA pinot.

Reply by JonDerry, May 24, 2013.

Thanks for chiming in GT and NG

Greg, notice I avoided the minerality talk for the most part. It makes sense that medium to strong acidity + fresh fruit and maybe a hit of soil expression approximates the taste of acidity. Or maybe it's just the combination of chemicals as you explain.

NG: I'll make sure to tread carefully in Sta. Rita Hills, but from what I've tasted of their Chardonnay through Liquid Farm, it's undeniable that this terroir is special for CA. Being from Southern CA, maybe I want to like these wines more than normal, but ultimately I will favor whatever suits my palate. 

I have about a day to tour Sonoma Coast coming up and I'm really looking forward to it. Won't be able to taste many of the wineries I'd like to since I'll be with my wife and son, and also because most of the boutique producers aren't open to the public! RRV Pinot interests me as well, as does Anderson Valley, Williamette (I'm starting to collect Big Table Farm's SVD lineup). Also curious as to how the German's are coming along with their PN, Spatburgunder, but distribution here in the states is a bit of an issue.

Reply by zufrieden, May 24, 2013.

The great Pinot Noir debate continues.  I have great respect for the commentators on this thread, but PN is a poetically loaded beverage.  You either have that relationship with the drink or you do not - usually from a long poetic and fantastic love of Burgundian wine.

Mostly, that relationship is with the emotive side of life - not just those visceral aspects of life we love to love because of our inescapable physicality.

Perhaps I should say that all this talk is just a shorthand for some sensual moment we cannot express in any other way - only metaphorically.  I do not see any problem with this problem (what is what), but I hope to meet up with a few of you in a face to face discussion of these points or many more of (I am certain) mutual interest.

That can be arranged quite easily, but I am in a bit of an retreat at the moment - but as with everything this is temporary.  Not that my ideas are anything special.

And just in case you think otherwise of my own opinion, PN is very beautifully expressed in every region; it is a matter of taste whether you stick to the Old World or New.

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