The Friday Fermentable: A Pinot Noir Revelation with Erleichda

I must extend hearty apologies to my colleague, wine and research mentor, and guest blogger Erleichda for overlooking a great wine column he wrote for Terra Sig back in November. November! How could I overlook a post whose third paragraph begins, "The evening began with three different champagnes..."?!? As The Friday Fermentable has been running on-and-off, I should be more grateful to him for keeping this Friday fun feature alive. So, here ya go - cheers!

Recent Wine Experiences : A Pinot Noir Revelation
By Erleichda

I grew up with limited exposure to wine, primarily my father's preferred Gallo's Hearty Burgundy and perhaps an occasional Manischewitz Concord grape. College and graduate school days saw me evolving into an appreciation for Mateus. My true enlightenment however, came one day, synonymous with my initiation into trout fishing, whereupon I was introduced to white Bordeaux and Burgundy. For many years thereafter, until falling under Sweetpea's influence, I was predominantly a dry white wine imbiber. I would, on occasion, choose a red wine when the meal demanded something more tannic, and more often than not, that red wine would be a pinot noir. I remember being particularly fond of red Chassagne-Montrachet, the minority production of my favorite (amongst the "somewhat affordables" ) Burgundian variety.

And so the recent gathering of the wine-tasting dinner group, known as Jim's Disciples (named after our wine mentor, Jim Skyrm, now of California), was of particular interest to me as it was dedicated to a sampling of pinot noirs. Jim himself, had conducted many pinot noir tasting classes, and I was surprised by my preference for Californian offerings compared to Oregonian, when I had expected just the opposite. For our pinot noir dinner however, we were allowing entry of pinots from any geographical origin.

The evening began with three different champagnes, each containing a significant proportion of pinot noir. Side-by side comparisons were made of Blanc de Noirs Gloria Ferrer ($17), composed of 92% pinot noir, from Carneros, CA, French Pol Roger ($26), 33% pinot noir, and another French brut, Dumont & Fils ($33), which was 100% pinot noir. While this was an open tasting (all the champagne bottles visible), I had few preconceived notions about which champagne I ought to like the most. My thin sliced Kobe beef in ginger sauce might not have been the best appetizer to have paired with these bubbly samplings, but others at the table were partaking of more classically appropriate raw oysters or foie gras. I liked the Gloria Ferrer. I found it to have a nice balance of acidity and flavor, and a pretty color to boot. The Pol Roger and Dumont were similar in terms of dryness and degree of effervescence, but less flavorful in my opinion. The room was fairly mixed as to which champagne was preferred. One of the participants described the experience aptly when he said that all the entries were worthy examples, but that perhaps one's preference would depend upon what was being consumed. Sure am glad I liked the least expensive contestant, as now I know what to buy this coming holiday season. [yes, proof that Erleichda wrote this in November - APB]

The next portion of the tasting evening was fun. Each of the eight still pinot noir wines brought to the dinner was wrapped in brown paper and rubber banded at the neck. Only the one example from Alsace had a tell tale shape to the bottling. While we each knew the names of the eight wines before us based on the wine list that had been distributed, only the origin of the Alsatian bottle could be discerned. As my micro-greens salad with three different beets and splash of warm goat cheese arrived, I was ready for the first two side-by-side comparisons. Offering "A" was to turn out to be my favorite of the evening, and I managed to secure an adequate volume in reserve so I could refer back to it over time and perform multiple side-by-side comparisons. The tasting experience began with a wonderful perfumey nose, and sipping led to a mouth-filling envelopment of subtle dark fruit flavors and just the right core of tannins and acidity. The table echoed oohs and aahs and the wait-staff entered wondering what it was we were really doing in that room (and would we mind sharing whatever was in that particular bottle). Surely this must be one of the 2002/2003 Burgundies several of us were known to have brought.

Wine "B" was, in comparison, thin, closed and mildly fruity. It wasn't bad, just not anywhere near the class of "A". This was getting interesting. Two pinot noirs and two very different taste sensations.

The table was now filling up with entrees and quite an assortment they were indeed. A traditional paella of shrimp, mussels, clams and sausage, grilled pork chops with couscous, King salmon with wild mushrooms and leeks, sea scallops with lentils and edamame bean puree, or my own grilled marinated strip steak with potatoes and Swiss chard. A m&eacutelange of food. Might it portend a mixed preference for the wines being tasted?

Wine "C" had a nice nose, fairly well balanced with but perhaps a touch too great an acidity. I liked it and thought it might be one of our French entries. But then came wine "D". More oohs and aahs. Wait staff once again intrigued. Very nice, complex. A hint of cherry with the right mix of acidity, and tannins. Enticing, not quite up to wine "A", but definitely something you must taste. Ok, now this one must be a 2002 Burgundy, right? I kept comparing "A" with "D", and while I preferred "A", I didn't want to leave "D" behind. Wow. What a nice dining experience.

Sufficient alcohol and food had now been served that the room was getting a little noisy. That meant that I could only share tasting notes with my immediate tablemates. So far, it seemed like "A" and "D" were both viewed favorably by more than just me.

But now we were on to wine "E". Barnyard smells, which were faint in "A", were more noticeable in this wine. Some find this odor objectionable, but in small doses, as is typical, someone at the table announced, for pinot noirs (?), I find it to be an interesting addition. Wine "E" was well integrated, it came together with no rough edges, but its being soft and nice also meant it was unremarkable. I'll have to check the price out on this one, I said to myself. If relatively inexpensive, this would make for a nice quaffing wine.

The only wine of the tasting I did not like was passed around next, wine "F". Apropos of its letter designation, it failed, at least for me. My notes, which as often happens this far into the tasting, were becoming far less descriptive, and I'd written "needs to mature" and "a little unusual". Wine "G" however, was the most unusual. Not sure if I liked it or just tolerated it, but my notes say "ok, but not like the others". And, finally, wine "H". I was on to dessert by this time (a pear Frangipane tart) so perhaps this wasn't the best accompaniment for an earthy, spicy, red berry flavored wine that seemed too tannic.

So what were these wines? Let me first tell you the voting results around the table seeking to establish the favorites of the group. By acclamation, wines "A" and "D" were the clear winners. It is rare amongst Jim's Disciples to have such unanimity of preference voiced when 10+ wines are in the running. Wine "A" was a Walter Hansel 2002 "Hansel Family Vineyard", Russian River Valley, (Sonoma) CA ($26). Wine "B" was an Alsatian Domaine Barnes Beucher 2004 Reserve ($24). Wine "C" was O'Reilly's 2005 ($19) from Oregon (perhaps an older vintage would have been a better comparator).

And the other tasting favorite, wine "D", was a 2003 Crichton Hall Truchard Vineyard in Carneros (Napa), CA ($22). I have since purchased a case or more of this one to cellar and share with friends who were not at the tasting dinner, and a few bottles of wine "A".

Wine "E" turned out to be one that I had brought to the dinner, LaFouge's 2002 "La Chapelle" Premier Cru from Auxey Duresses in Burgundy, France ($25). Of the French entries, I believe this was my favorite, but it's a bit too cher for every day drinking (and at this price, I'd rather buy "A" or "D").

Wine "F", my least favorite, was in fact a Domaines Chandon de Briailles Savigny-Les Beaune 2003 ($20). Having had some really nice pinot noirs from this appellation in years gone by, I 'd have thought this offering would have been my favorite based on the wine list. So much for preconceived notions, and a vote for the usefulness of blind tastings. Wine "G", the most unique taste among the entries, was a Heron Hills 2002, from the Finger Lakes region of New York ($15). Lastly, wine "H", my second entry, was a 2002 Louis Jadot's Nuits St. Georges ($33). At this price, I wish I would have had it to taste earlier in the evening.

A favorite pinot noir of your own? Let's hear about it.

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I'm a fan of Gloria Ferrer, too, especially at the price. If you want to spend just a little more, look for Roederer Estate from Mendocino county.

By Ross Nelson (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

For the grad student readers on a fixed income, I can recommend Castle Rock Pinot Noir - the 2003 from Carneros can still be found for $8-12 but almost any offering from Castle Rock is solid.

We love Castle Rock here at Erleichda's place