Pinot Noir is often described as being a “difficult” grape to grow, to deal with in the winery, and to find truly great examples of, but fans are passionate about this variety, as sensually expressed by the dialogue between Miles and Maya in the 2004 movie “Sideways”. The Pinot Noir that gets the most attention is associated with the delicate, yet powerful wines of the Burgundy region in France.
Difficulties plague Pinot Noir at every step, from propagation to even its bottle-aging characteristics. The same genetic instability that has resulted in so many progenies also means that the parent vine may produce offspring that bear fruit that is nothing like the parent’s in size and shape of the berry or cluster and will frequently even have different aromas, flavors, and levels of productivity. In the vineyard the Pinot Noir grape is susceptible to spring frosts due to its early-leafing characteristic. The vines are not prolific and the lack of canopy often leaves the berries as a snack for the birds.
Great Pinot Noir creates a lasting impression on the palate and in the memory. Its aroma is often one of the most complex varietal and can be intense with a ripe-grape or black cherry aroma, accented by a pronounced spiciness that suggests cinnamon, sassafras, or mint. It is full-bodied and rich but not heavy, high in alcohol, acidic or tannic. The most appealing quality of Pinot Noir may be its soft, velvety texture. When right, it is like liquid silk, gently caressing the palate.
River Road Vineyards 2007 “Essense” Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley has a red cherry color and exhibits the great cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors expected from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The balance of acidity and tannins leads to an exceptional finish. They produced about 100 cases and the price is $33.
River Road Vineyards has been a family farming company for years, growing the grapes used by winemakers in the area. Farming is always unpredictable and the family decided to open a small winery to use much of their fruit from their 12 acre vineyard. This is a special cuvee of 4 barrels made from selected lots.
The Whitcraft Winery 2006 “FI” Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley is a fine Pinot Noir has a lighter cherry color with a nose of strawberry and plum that carries through to the palate with good acidity and a rich full mouth feel. It has a nice long finish. They produced 140 cases and the price is $33.
Morning Dew Ranch is a vineyard owed by Burt Williams of Williams-Seylem fame. “FI” stands for Fred’s influence. Fred was Burt’s son who passed away, but he told his dad to plant clone 23 (“Mariafeld clone”) which is the primary grape in this Pinot Noir.
Downhill Wines 2007 Pinot Noir from Peter Martin Ray Vineyards in Santa Cruz Mountains has dark earthy qualities reminiscent of black tar and sandalwood. As you taste the wine you will enjoy the aromas and flavors of cherry cola and significant spices including pipe tobacco, cinnamon, cloves and anise. The finish includes blackberry and forest floor. The price is $3328.
Martin Ray began planting grapes in the 1940’s in the Santa Cruz Mountains, sites which now include the Mountain Winery and Mount Eden Vineyards. His son Peter has maintained the tradition and still farms many of the same vines his famous father planted in the hills above Saratoga.
For more information:
- River Road Vineyards
- Whitcraft Winery
- Downhill Wines
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