The Golden State’s online wine tasting demonstrated pinot noir at its best, writes Peter Ranscombe.
FEW grape varieties get wine geeks as excited as pinot noir.
Most-closely associated with Burgundy in France, the grape has gone on to find new homes in the new world, including at Mornington and Tasmania in Australia, Central Otago in New Zealand, and Hemel en Aarde in South Africa.
Pinot captures a sense of place – its thin skin means it soaks up the sun, resulting in different flavours being produced in warmer and cooler climates.
It expresses altitude, it expresses soil, it expresses winemaking techniques in the cellar – it’s a test for both the farmer and for the winemaker.
But, when they get it right, it can be spectacular.
And no more so than when the right site and the right winemaker come together in California.
The Golden State’s pinot noir-growing areas are spread far and wide, from the – slightly – warmer Russian River Valley to the coolness of Santa Barbara.
Last month’s Essential California online wine tasting – complete with samples posted out to participants – illustrated the diversity of varieties being grown throughout the state.
And the pinots shone.
The Joy Fantastic Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2017 (£34, Wanderlust Wines)
A really Burgundian nose, with cold tea, cedar, sharper cranberry and redcurrant, and rounder red plum and raspberry. There’s a powdery texture to its tannins, with deliciously-savoury blackcurrant and wild raspberry flavours on the palate.
Whitcraft Winery Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2017 (£44, The Solent Cellar)
Don’t let its pale colour fool you – it’s full of fruits of the forest, dried herbs, cold tea, and damp earth on the nose, leading into squeaky acidity on the palate, balanced by fresh cranberry and redcurrant, plus sweeter mocha and dark chocolate. Another savoury and elegant example, made from fruit harvested from sustainable and uncertified organic sites.
Varner Wine Upper Picnic Block Santa Cruz County Pinot Noir 2014 (£46.49, Stannary Wine)
Wafts of rose and hibiscus tea on the nose are joined by strawberry and redcurrant, with even a touch of prune developing. It’s equally elegant and perfumed on the palate, with pomegranate, spun sugar, and woody notes joining the red fruit. Despite the extra bottle age, the acidity is still lively, and there’s a lovely richness to the fruit flavours.
Marimar Estate La Masia Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2017 (£36, Fareham Wine Cellar)
One of the stars of our “12 wines of Christmas” virtual trip to California, the Marimar delivers all those classic sweet Golden State raspberry, red plum, strawberry jam, vanilla, and milk chocolate flavours. More damp earth and wet leaf notes are starting to emerge on the nose too. A slight step-up in tannin makes this the foody contender.
Raen Winery Freestone Occidental Bodega Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 (£81.68, Stannary Wine)
Roses – straying even into violets – provide an attractive lifted floral note on the nose, alongside red plum, raspberry, and spun sugar. The acidity is perhaps sticking out a wee bit at the moment – and so it would probably be best suited to accompanying soft fillet steak or mushroom risotto at the moment – but that structure hints at what’s yet to come with this wine. There’s an interesting mix of sweet and sour on the palate too, stretching from spun sugar and strawberry jam through to cranberry sauce and cold tea.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain