Posted: January 27, 2010 in Pinot

NOTE: Thanks to the Pinot Gallery for voting in my poll to the right! I see that as of press time I have seven friends and four of them HATE ME.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned I worked as a waiter in the fine-dining industry. That’s not entirely true. I don’t work as a waiter at a fine dining establishment.

I work as a waiter at two.

This week I’m focusing on The Derby in Arcadia, an old-fashioned steakhouse near Santa Anita Park. Ah yes, finally a place where horseracing and fine food collide.

(My Job. Fun fact: also where they shot the “Boats n’ Hoes” scene in “Stepbrothers.”)

On top of all the other duties, owner Dustin Nicolarsen takes care of the wine buying. I’ve often accompanied him to offer a second opinion, but since My Pinot Year, I haven’t been able to help. Now when he tastes he just gives me mean looks and reminds me how I’m going to fail miserably in my year-long experiment.

Go Team!

In any case, I asked him what it is he looks for when selecting Pinot Noir for his by-the-glass wine list.

“I’m looking for something that isn’t just cherry,” he said. While he knows a lot more about big, loud Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with his red meat-centric menu, he’s after some subtlety and nuance with his Pinots. “Since Pinot is so light,” he said, “a lot of winemakers will blend Syrah in for color. The problem is, if there’s too much, it stops being Pinot.”

As I’ve found in previous weeks Pinot Noir can say a lot of different things. Dustin’s Pinots are a good example of that.

The house Pinot is Aquinas (reviewed last week). Above that sits Mark West’s 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I thought it was the most delicate of the three, not as heavy as the Aquinas, loftier. Finally, their flagship is Wild Horse’s 2006 “Unbridled” Pinot Noir, from Santa Barbara County. I’ve never used the word “ferocious,” to describe a Pinot before, but I can with this one. Wow.

OKAY OKAY OKAY I can hear what you’re thinking.

While some might consider this entry on shaky journalistic ground, I have no qualms being a feckless shill for the places I work. A lot of pinot-related activity happens there and doubtless I’ll be relating a few pinot-related anecdotes from them for this blog.

So there.

Case in point:

Freshly smarting from my Chargers’ loss in the AFC Playoffs and just as hung-over from barrels of mediocre industrial pinot, I awoke Monday with a sour memory driving a spike through my head:

ME: Tomorrow I’m heading to San Diego to watch my boys demolish the New York Jets.

MIKE SMITH: Whoa, don’t be so sure.

ME: They’ve got it in the bag. It’s going to be a big victory. Big and ugly.

MIKE SMITH: Want to make a bet?

ME: Of course!

MIKE SMITH: Okay. How about a nice bottle of Pinot, under $50?

ME (shaking hands): You’re on!

(This is to show we really shook on it.)

(“Forget DisneyWorld, we’re going wine tasting!”)

Who’s Mike Smith you ask?

You may have heard Smith’s name mentioned in conjunction with his stellar win riding Zenyatta to victory in last year’s Breeder’s Cup. Or maybe from his appearances on the hit Animal Planet series “Jockeys.” Born in New Mexico, the world-famous jockey cut his teeth racing in New York 1989-2000 before settling here in Southern California.

When he isn’t busy pursuing 5,000 career wins he’s occasionally found at The Derby enjoying a bite to eat. He’s friendly and humble and he definitely knows his wine. Especially Pinot.

“I used to hate it,” he said, “really hate it. So what I did was I made myself drink it, to see what the fuss was about.” He did so for almost a year. Finally he started to see. “There’s a moment where you enjoy a really good one and you say, ‘Oh! This is what it’s SUPPOSED to be like..’”

Now that’s drinking like a champion! His story wasn’t so different from mine, and he seemed genuinely interested when I brought up my blog.

Or he could have just been sizing me up as a rube.

Regardless, a wager’s a wager so I headed over to my friendly neighborhood wine store to eat some humble pie.

I told my guy, “I’m looking for a nice bottle of Pinot under $50. What do you have?”

We settled on Loring Wine Company’s 2008 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills. Recognized by their Stelvin closures (WINE-ESE for screw-caps) and their distinct stencil-designed labels, Brian Loring turns out killer Pinot he sources from all over the western United States.

Sourcing is WINE-ESE for taking grapes one doesn’t grow oneself in order to make wine. I dig Loring’s take on sourcing from his website:

“My part in the vineyard equation is to throw heaping piles of money at the vineyard owners (so they can limit yield and still make a profit) and then stay out of the way.”

Which pretty much reflects how I decided on the bottle of Loring. The result is some highly regarded stuff. It isn’t cheap. But it’s perfect when paying off an idiot wager.

By Friday night Smith and friends were back at The Derby to enjoy his bottle of Pinot and a card from me:

Mike, here you go. You won it, fair-and-square. I was a fool to bet you. You are a walking rabbit’s foot. Enjoy.

Aquinas 2007 Pinot Noir Napa; some basic structure
Mark West 2006 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley; light ;lofty
Wild Horse “Unbridled” 2006 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County; Ferocious; wow!
Loring Wine Company 2008 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills; tasty enough to pay off a debt!


(This Bench Reserved for Awesome Jockeys and Serious Wine Lovers ONLY)
  1. Chris says:

    “Case in pinot” Cobb?

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