Archive for March, 2010

all-Pinot tasting flight

Posted: March 11, 2010 in Pinot

CalWine&Chz in Monrovia is doing an all-Pinot tasting flight. Go there NOW and watch for my write-up in two weeks! When you see ’em tell ’em. Mr. Cobb says hi!


2006 Joseph Swan pinot

Posted: March 9, 2010 in Pinot

Tonight K and I enjoyed a 2006 Joseph Swan pinot with my friends The Hatchmans!. Nummers. Blew my Gary’s Vineyard from Loring out of the water!

Ah, Sonoma. For too long people have called you “Almost Napa,” and that’s just not fair.

Both places put out exceptional Chardonnay. But where the Napa Valley is known for growing huge, bold, killer Cabernet, Sonoma’s closer proximity to the coast ensures perfect weather conditions for the fickle and infinitely more nuanced Pinot grape.

Which is what I’m all about right now.

So I packed up the car and grabbed the girlfriend and escaped the LA smog to enjoy a day of tasting with my New York counterpart, Andy from the Bin End.

A note on my man Andy: This guy knows his grapes. He just earned his Level 1 Sommelier Certification and manages a wine store in the financial district of Manhattan. He’s also one of my best friends. He completes me. He’s Holmes to my Watson. Without the gay undertones…well MOST of them, anyway.

If you want to LEARN about wine and ENJOY doing it, I advise you to YouTube his video blog by searching The Bin End. The man is a riot-and-a-half. Careful, ladies: he’s single and ready to mingle.

Okay. Tasting with someone in the wine industry is great because it opens doors that won’t open for us regular, normal-like Sarah Palin Americans. This is especially great for Sonoma because the geography of wineries and tasting rooms is not as concentrated as, say, the Napa Wine Trail. Therefore you can’t take a Monday and go tasting on a whim and expect every place to be open and willing to serve you. You’ve got to have a plan.

Andy had a plan. We book-ended our day with private tastings and compiled a list of places suggested to us (special shout-out to Chris Mangandi and Friends for the assist) that took walk-ins. Once we hit town we found the local Trader Joe’s and stockpiled relevant foodstuffs (I was still smarting from the misadventure at PinotFest).

Yes we’re drinking and it’s before noon. It’s what wine professionals do.

Siduri was our first stop for the day. Siduri is the brainchild of Adam and Dianna Lee, a couple of Texans who realized they were blessed by the wine gods to give the world PRIMO sourced, single-vineyard Pinot, just Pinot and nothing but the Pinot.

We got to meet Adam briefly and shake hands; he was taking some people far cooler than us on a private tour. They may have been far cooler but they were far less attractive. Regardless, shaking hands with Mr. Siduri was a treat in itself.

The tasting room was jammed in the rear of an industrial mall in Santa Rosa. Because 100% of their juice is sourced from elsewhere, they don’t have the super-romantic tasting room nestled among acres of vineyard. But the bottom line is they don’t need it. The quality of the wine speaks for itself.

So instead you’re in this chilly space with concrete floors and barrels for a tasting area. Behind you are the vats processing next year’s vintage. Like all good Texans, the Lees are also serious football fans, and have labeled their vats after their favorite Dallas Cowboys.

Studies show Pinot tastes better from vats named for Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Everything we tasted was excellent, but Andy and I preferred different wines. Andy was more into stuff out of the Sonoma Coast, which he maintains carries a lot of the personality from the land and sea air. I preferred Russian River Valley, which tended toward fruit-forward. Both of these AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) are sub-sections found within Sonoma, among a whole mess of others. Sonoma itself belongs to the “North Coast” wine region of California, which also includes Napa. Blah blah blah, lecture over. Wikipedia the rest of this if you’re interested.

Because Siduri is Pinot only, the Lees began a new label, Novy (Dianna’s maiden name) to put out everything else. The highlight, however, was their 2008 Willamette Blanc de Noir, a naked Pinot Noir. So they peel the grapes instead of macerating the skins and stems at the start of fermentation. And yes, if you’ve seen “Sideways” you know it’s the skin—not the berry—that gives a wine its color. In any case, it was so nummers in my tummers I bought two bottles.

“If you’re thirsty, we’ve got barrels. If you’re REALLY thirsty, we’ve got vats.”

After Siduri we headed over to Merry Edwards, which has one of those super-romantic tasting rooms nestled among acres of vineyard. Fortunately, the quality of the juice in the glass matched the quality of their interior designer. Where Siduri buys grapes from everywhere and does some kind of gyspy magic to it, Edwards has spent the last 15 years buying up vineyard acreage in and around Sonoma for her product.

The Bin End’s Andy sings a hymn in praise of Pinot.

Merry Edwards, whose parents probably didn’t know they trouble they gave her when they named her, does two thing well: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Of course, I only concerned myself with the latter.

Two sexy bottles of Merry Edwards…now KISS!

Which reminds me…to all my great friends who took part in the poll in the upper-right-hand corner of the blog, Thank You So Much. Apparently you thought Option C should win, even though it would define “drinking” as something that doesn’t even involve swallowing. So in terms of wine tasting I couldn’t even swish and spit any other varietal. Well, I forgot to mention my vote counts for 10 votes. And I voted for Option B. That wins. So there.

Yeah, forget you people. You must hate freedom and America.

The pinky is ALWAYS raised: The Author enjoys his Pinot like a true gentleman.

In any case, this wasn’t an issue at Merry Edwards. They were pouring all Pinot and it was all delicious. So much so I picked up a bottle of the 2007 Klopp Ranch.

Even though the location was beautiful and the wine was really good, one thing sort of turned us off to the Merry Edwards experience; the customer service. As wine tasters we don’t expect to have rose petals thrown at our feet and we aren’t after freebies, but we shouldn’t have to feel like the place we’re patronizing is doing US a favor when we show up. It’s not complicated and it’s not difficult. Sometimes it’s as simple as a smile.

It doesn’t even have to be sincere. It just has to look that way.

The patio outside Merry Edwards’ tasting room. Hey is that a human skull in the fountain?!

Oh well. The wine was still great.

And that was just the first two places! Tune in next week to dig on the inside scoop from Littorai, Sonoma’s Fort Knox of INCREDIBLE Pinot.

To Be Continued…

Take that, January! And for that matter February too!

It has been two months since I’ve enjoyed anything other than Pinot Noir and I have to admit I don’t miss other varietals, beer and cocktails as much as I thought I would. What started out as an Impossible Task has since turned into a Highly Unlikely one. That’s progress, right?

Of course, I still have over 300 days to crash and burn.

It helps when there are events dedicated solely to the pleasure of Pinot, and that is how I capped the month of January; tooling about the famed University Club on North Oakland Avenue, host to the 2nd Annual Pasadena PinotFest!

Okay stop your giggling. I understand that when spoken quick enough the name of the event could possibly sound like some other, more male-oriented event. Or at least that’s how most of my degenerate friends chose to hear it when I told them where I was headed.

“I’m going to PinotFest!”

“Good luck bro. And uh, don’t forget to wear protection.”

Created by restaurateur Mike Farwell, the event brings together winemakers and wine lovers from all over California, in a free-for-all wine pouring smack-down that benefits kids in some way; I can’t find in my notes or their website how these kids are benefited, but I do remember buying a pile of raffle tickets when I arrived and have the vaguest memory not winning a single thing and being very sour about it.

Oh well.

As someone banished from most aisles of the liquor store, you can imagine my enthusiasm at the idea of PinotFest. However, like most rookie drinkers too eager to enjoy, I made a number of crucial mistakes that probably inhibited my wine tasting experience:
-I didn’t sleep well the night before.
-I didn’t stay hydrated.
-I didn’t eat a huge meal prior to tasting.

Know that this was not a smart choice.

No matter. I didn’t think too much about it. Instead I wasted no time jumping in, combing the labels on tabletops, trying to find the ones recommended by wine lovers who heard I’d be in attendance.

Imagine being at Disneyland right when they open and you think to yourself, WHAT DO I RIDE FIRST?

Except at PinotFest, every ride you go on gets you that much drunker. You’ll notice in many of these pictures there are white buckets liberally laid about. Those are spit buckets. You taste the wine, swish it around in your mouth, and if you care to, you pick up the bucket at a bit of an angle and spit onto the inside wall (to avoid splashing back into your face). This stops you from going sideways too quickly. If you choose NOT to spit, well, let’s say that pretty soon you won’t be able to tell the good from bad wine and you won’t care.

If you find yourself at a tasting event and you’re not sure where to hit first, take a look at where people are clustered. Wineries bring a certain amount of wine and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Wine lovers know this and will try to hit the nicer stuff first, to make sure they get a taste. Plus, if you’re among other people you can ask them, “Hey, where should I taste while I’m here?” Wine lovers and the winemakers doing the pouring won’t intentionally steer you wrong.

There were four long rows of tables with winemakers pouring every four feet. The place was also catered by Claud Beltran (exec Chef at Noir in Pasadena), but even his superior tapas-style spread was no match for the siren song of Pinot.

When attending a bacchanal like PinotFest, accidents are sure to happen. SO you want to make sure the outfit you’re wearing is nice enough the wear in front of a judge if necessary, but also is of a color that can withstand a few splashes and doesn’t fall victim to a Jackson Pollock-style attack from overzealous wine pourers.

All the wine pourers deserve a medal from that night. I’m certain more than a few are suffering PTSD from the crush of patrons, if not a wicked case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from the repeated tilting of bottles.

At this point in the evening, things get a bit fuzzy. Looking over my notes, the loops and whorls take a messy prominence and I have to spend more than a bit of time figuring out what the words “Lompoc,” “Cowboy Hat,” and “Finnish Winemaker,” are doing together in a sentence.

Well. I should point out my grateful thanks to a good friend of mine who filled in for my girlfriend when she couldn’t get out of work to attend with me. My pal Kelly did his best to wrangle me into some form of human decency fit for public consumption, and for the most part he succeeded. And where he failed, well at least he got photographic proof.

Like below. What am I doing there? Was I attracted to the bottle because it was shiny? Or maybe it was a bad wine and, sorry I didn’t have anything nice to say, felt compelled to compliment the winemaker on his choice of bottles.

I’m sure it was important at the time.

But like all good things, PinotFest also had to come to an end. The winemakers, eager to enjoy the rest of their Saturday night, rushed to pack away the empties and pour out all the spit buckets. However, some patrons insisted on getting one last glass.

Pasadena PinotFest 2010. See you next year.

If you’ll let me back in.