The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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Page 26 of 140

I was contemplating a 2013 Failla Pinot Noir from Occidental Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma Coast. The Failla's color was a deep, vivid, almost blue-tinged red, and the nose was gushy with strawberry-like varietal fruit, infused with whiffs of woodsy forest floor. Tannin and flavors seem appropriately aggressive, considering the nose and the wine's youth, but seemed to plop like a dead weight on the palate, like an over-floured gnocchi kneaded by a clumsy novice cook. I've been through this movie before with this particular wine, which can come across as gawky, one-dimensional and slutty to an uncomfortable point of artificiality right out of the gate—like a pretty girl in unnecessary makeup. The question was: Why can't Failla's Occidental be a little finer, limber, more lifted and delineated in its woodsy, strawberry perfumed intensity—qualities I found abundant in, for example, the 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir from Mendocino Ridge's Valenti Vineyard? The answer struck me: A young Failla Occidental Ridge can't be as "fine" as a Baxter Valenti because it's grown in a deep, foggy pocket of Sonoma encircled by a lush stand of evergreens, whereas the Valenti is high up on a Mendocino ridgetop, also surrounded by woods but well above the clouds. Different strokes, different Pinots. For many of us in the wine trade, the overwhelming compulsion is to evaluate wines in terms of varietal character rather than terroir or origin. This Pinot Noir tastes fat, fruity and clumsy, whereas that Pinot Noir is zestier, more delicate and less obviously fruited. We don't do this so much when we compare Burgundies or Bordeaux, because the French make it easier for us by reminding us from the get-go that we're tasting regions and vineyards, not varietal categories. I, for one, still find myself wrestling with that compulsion, as cognizant as I am of it. Although I don't do scores, I recently "marked down" a Merry Edwards 2012 Meredith Estate, thinking its strawberry/rasp- berry concentration too blatant, ripe and preponder- ant—until I reminded myself that I'm tasting Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, not one from McMinnville, Central Otago or Mendocino Ridge. I found that forcing an open mind even allowed me to better appreciate wines that I previously found weak or wanting—like the 2012 Adelaida from Paso Robles. On paper, the thought of Paso Robles Pinot Noir seems ludicrous—it's too darned hot there. But when you consider the fact that Adelaida's Pinot Noir is crafted from historic 50-year-old vines (some of the oldest in the state) on limestone slopes at a 1,700-foot elevation, then the wine's dull, faded nose suddenly turns into a gentle, subtle, intoxicating bucket of wild cherries, and its scrawny frame suddenly tastes sleek, zesty, sexy. It may be all in the mind, but then again, pleasure is always a perception. No doubt, an Adelaida Pinot Noir, or even a young Failla Occidental Ridge, might get "destroyed" in a double-blind tasting, when we line them all up and let the chips fall. What a shame. Because when you taste terroir driven wines within their own context—as we do, in fact, when we taste French crus or châteaux— then it's amazing how bright and diverse the wine world turns out to be. TASTERS SHOULD REMEMBER THAT PLEASURE IS ALWAYS A PERCEPTION by Randy Caparoso Great Pinot Noir Is a State of Mind 26  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2015

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