My Pinot Year Week 6: ATTACK OF THE SONOMA, Pt.1/2

Posted: March 8, 2010 in Pinot

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…

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