Thursday, March 7, 2024

World of Pinot Noir 2024: Old Friends

I'm a horrible hypocrite, dear reader. While I suggested in my preview post that you MUST HAVE A PLAN to attack World of Pinot Noir grand tastings or you might get lost in crazy clonal seas, what I did on March 1st was anything but. I started just on walkabout. I stopped at tables with people I liked, as interested in chatting as tasting. I drank at tables without "customers," both feeling sorry for the pourer gazing out hoping to lure someone in with eye contact and simply to have plenty of room to stand. The wineries were arranged in alpha order, so I couldn't focus on regions too easily, and didn't bother. And then I was sure to hit someone every so often with some sparkling, just to Scrubbing Bubbles my palate a bit. (Much fancy water in retro-futuristic aluminum cans was consumed, too.)

I did do some math--well after I got done tasting, as wine breaks brain computational function--to discover I averaged a new taste of wine every 3 minutes and 15 seconds. So no matter how any particular pour invited me to linger, I moved on faster than a cad in a romance novel. Just so you know. 

I'm also going to lean on my favorite organizational method for tackling a Grand Tasting, breaking things down into Old Friends and New Finds (that is, new to me, far from a cutting edge sharpener). 

Phil Carpenter is far from old, but he's a dear friend, and no one has a job better suited for him. The man loves wine and adores the ones from SB in particular, and then got hired as the Director of Operations for Santa Barbara Vintners. Score! He got to pour SB wines from folks who didn't pony up for their own tables this year, and that meant stunning wines like a Barden 2020 Radian Vineyard. Of course Doug Margerum knows the region's wine as well as anyone after his years at Wine Cask and running futures, but he seems get just better and better making wine, too. This Radian sang with the forlorn vineyard's wildness. His Barden 2020 Sanford & Benedict was equally the epitome of its vineyard. There are far worse old friends than Phil and Doug, indeed. 

If you've read my wine scribbles you know I have an affinity for Anderson Valley wines, that sweet spot of coastal influence in Mendocino County. (It's also a great off-the-beaten track place to visit, free from crowds and national brands.) As I haven't had a chance to get up that way in a while, it's convenient when they come to me at WOPN. I was sure to taste at the Maggy Hawk table, and was rewarded by a 2018 Afleet they led me to write the note, "Jay-sus!" So if you care for a holy experience, look no further than this winery that likes naming things after racehorses. I can't do better than their own notes (even if this verbiage is for the 2020 vintage): "Wonderful breadth, depth, and personality in spades. Afleet incorporates four distinct blocks from the vineyard and incorporates 60% whole cluster fermentation to craft a wine with a variety of aromatics. Mandarin, stargazer lily, guava and saffron aromas mingle and develop over time. Stem tannin circles the outer edges on the texture and leaves the mid-palate fresh and juicy." OK, I probably couldn't tell apart the scent of a stargazer lily from Lily Gladstone, but I'll take their word for it.

I get a transition handed to me because Maggy Hawk's winemaker Sarah Wuethrich previous worked at Copain, the next winery I want to mention. Although physically situated in Sonoma, Copain has long worked with Anderson Valley grapes, and they nailed it with a 2022 Les Voisins Rosé. My notes say the grapes are from Yorkville Highlands, a slightly warmer AV spot, and while the wine is a pale pink, it's far from bashful on the palate, not anemic in any way. I also adored the 2020 Sealift Pinot from Sonoma County just below the Mendo County line. But at 1200 feet. Pomegranate and raspberry bursts out of the glass, so much fruit, but then the acid hits you like a velvet hammer--I mean that in the best of ways. Somehow all that flavor sits in a 12.5% ABV package. 

Speaking of places I don't get to nearly enough, France. So this WOPN I had to make my annual pilgrimage to the thoughtful men of Louis Latour. You own the most extensive Grand Cru acreage in Burgundy, you just might know what you're doing, especially when you've been working that land since four years after the guillotine came down on Marie Antoinette. It's a vivid education in Old World vs. New Pinot styles, tasting their three wines. They make you think about flowers and stones as much as cherry or plum. Each also got a bit more complex and fuller, ending with a 2020 Corton Grand Cru "Clos de la Vigne au Saint" that you would want to spend a week or two studying. It's wine for contemplation, and thoughtfulness does not throw shade on delight. At a suggested retail price of $190, I am happy for my sips.

Circling back to the almost local, one of last year's New Finds gets to be an old friend, now--I even was sure to taste it in the media room. A mere 1.5 miles from the Pacific near Avila Beach, the family-owned, organically farmed Topotero Vineyard is where Haliotide grows Pinot for their 2020 Extra Brut Rosé. Sparkling wine is their passion--it's all they do--and that focus shines in every bottle. If you could turn shortbread, strawberries, white peaches, and cream into a wine, it would be this--salt and yeastiness, fruit and richness.

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