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 Vintage pinot noir: avoiding the plonk

LonaOak
Live Oaks Vineyards, Carneros, Calif. Photo courtesy of Live Oaks Vineyards

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

Pinot noir, an all-purpose red wine, pairs well with many foods. It is light- to medium-bodied with red and black berry fruit aromas.

The wine is lighter in color than many red wines, taking on a garnet hue in Burgundy (France) and a darker color in the New World. On the palate, the young wines can be fruit-forward. Based on vintage, winemaker techniques and growing region, the wine can age five to 20 years, adding more complex fruit flavors and structure with age and wonderfully smooth, lingering finishes. When well-crafted, this is an exceptional wine.

  Wayne Wine

This difficult-to-grow grape cluster needs cool weather to thrive. It has thin-skinned berries best known for the outstanding wines produced in Burgundy.

In the New World, California wine regions—including Carneros District of Napa and Sonoma, Anderson Valley, Sonoma and Monterey—produce excellent pinot noir. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley winemakers are crafting exceptional pinot noir; the valley is on the same latitude as Burgundy. Washington state and New York also are producing pinot noir. The pinot noirs I have tasted from Georgia were thin wines offering little or no competition to the other wine regions. I believe the weather in Georgia is generally too hot to produce pinot noir.

Understanding the vintage year is a great aid in selecting pinot noir wines. As noted above, this is a difficult grape to grow, so Mother Nature plays an important role in production. In Burgundy, the two best vintage years have been 2005 and 2009, with many good wines coming out of 2010.

In Oregon, the two best vintage years have been 2008 and 2010, while 2011 was not a good year for pinot noir. Many reviewers and wine growers believe the 2012 vintage was superb. In Monterey, 2009 and 2010 have been good vintage years. In Anderson Valley, 2007 and 2009 were the best vintages. Finally, Sonoma’s three great vintage years are 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Careful shopping by region can reveal some great wines on the market for the years spanning 2007 to 2010. But, I always recommend: Drink what you like.

In past articles, I have cautioned discrimination in spending money on cheap wine. This is particularly true when selecting pinot noir. There is a considerable amount of plonk pinot in the market living off the reputation of the grape and a region. However, with the recession, some pricing has improved, but as the economy grows, prices can be expected to increase.

Finding good pinot noir under $20 is a challenge. A few suggestions include: A to Z Wineworks, Ore., 2010; Acrobat, Ore, 2010; Cantina Andriano, Alto Adige, Italy, 2010; Carlton Cellars, Willamette Valley, Seven Devils, Ore., 2010; Kim Crawford, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2010; Illahe, Willamette Valley, Ore., 2010; Kingston Family, Casablanca Valley, Tobiano, Chile, 2010; and Pali Wine Co., Santa Barbara County, Huntington, Calif., 2010.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Acadia 2005 Pinot Noir, Lone Oak Vineyard, Carneros, Calif., $40: The wine has a deep ruby-purple color. The nose combines blackberry, plum, sweet cigar tobacco, hazelnut and earth with floral and rose notes. The mouthfeel is rich with ripe, red fruit – spice at mid-palate. The tannins are luscious, with balanced acids that lead to a long finish of fresh blackberries, cherry and vanilla. This is a delicious wine that pairs well with game birds, rabbit and rich pasta. This was the first choice in the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasting; look for vintages in 2007, 2009, 2010. Highly Recommended.

Chateau de Chamirey 2005 Mercurey, France, $26: This wine has lively ruby-red and violet colors. On the nose, it has aromas of black cherry and bread. Fruity and spicy on the palate with berries, pepper and nutmeg with fine fresh tannins, providing a lingering finish.

King Estate 2008 Signature Pinot Noir, Ore., $30: This wine offers a medium-ruby color with ripe cherry aromas. On the palate, flavors of cherry, cranberry and raspberry along with spice notes. The French oak barrels add touches of cedar, smoke and caramel flavor to the wine. It has good silky structure and balance together with a long finish.

Big Canoe Wine Group fundraiser takes center stage in my next wine update.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

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