The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2016

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T he 2016 World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara's Bacara Resort this past March was an incred- ible opportunity to glean the state of American Pinot Noir, particularly California Pinot Noirs from the 2013 vintage, which, by all accounts, was a remarkable one. But do remarkable vintages equal remarkable wines? After tasting more than 100 Pinot Noirs during this two-day festival, I had my doubts. For example, typifying most of the 2013s was a single-vineyard bottling by one of Sonoma Coast's most prestigious Pinot Noir specialists that could only be described as over-the-top: big, at 14.4% alcohol—not in itself trouble- some, since 14% to 15% alcohol is pretty much par for even the best California Pinot Noirs these days— densely layered with adolescent tannin and glycerol, and at the same, ultra- ripe to an annoying degree with sweet cherry/Kool-Aid fruitiness, despite the wine's evident dryness. So what gives? Are California Pinot Noir producers that tone deaf about recent calls for wines of less overt fruiti- ness, and some semblance of "balance"? Toget answers, I called Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines, whose experience with American grown Pinot Noir is legend. According to La Follette, "2013 was a great year for California Pinot Noir. But in great years, when grapes are looking really good, winemakers tend to get bolder about things like wild fermenta- tions, or following the latest trends like using less SO2. As a result, you can just as well end up with sluggish or stuck fermentations and rampant secondary microbiological super-bugs. We saw a lot of stuck fermentations, more residual sugar, and lots of VA [volatile acidity] in 2013, which were only exacerbated by use of less SO2. "Furthermore, you have to remember that wild yeasts are also wimpier yeasts that preferentially consume more glucose, leaving fructose sugars behind. In years like 2013, you might end up with one-and-a-half to two grams residual sugar, which is still below the threshold. The tricky part is that fructose tastes twice as sweet as glucose, so your one-and-a-half grams of residual sugar tastes more like three grams. We also got beautiful stem ripeness in 2013, and so we saw more whole cluster fermenta- tions, which build fruity aromas called esters. Hence, your phenomenon of a 'sweeter' tasting vintage." The 2013 California Pinot Noirs may be fruity, but that doesn't mean some producers weren't able to produce perfectly proportioned wines that are also keenly focused on vineyard delinea- tions. To name just a few that I found: Patz & Hall, Côtière, Rusack Vineyards, Freeman Winery, Siduri Wines, Talley Vineyards, Hilliard Bruce and Stephen Ross Wine Cellars were among the producers showing 2013s with all the grace and terroir-related distinctions we love in the grape, notwithstanding the vintage's unabashed fruitiness. Are American Pinot Noirs from "Good" Vintages Actually Good? PHOTO: TENLEY FOHL PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTO: TENLEY FOHL PHOTOGRAPHY PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO 40  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2016 by Randy Caparoso Sommeliers toasting their love of Pinot Noir. Two of Patz & Hall's 2013 Pinot Noirs from Gap's Crown Vineyard and Hyde Vineyard. Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines talks Pinot Noirs.

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