Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Feminine Pinot Noir

By Jessica Yadegaran
Monday, December 3rd, 2007 at 12:30 pm in Uncategorized.

Can we talk for a moment about the ridiculously sophisticated Pinot Noir coming out of the East Bay?

I tasted through Bryan Harrington’s 2006 vintage yesterday in his cold, cement-floored Berkeley winery, a hodge podge of small tanks and aluminum folding chairs.

Most California Pinot Noir is too dark and fruity for me, like thinned out Zinfandel. But these are just right: uber-light yet complex ruby liquid.

The Brosseau Vineyard (near Chalone) wine ($50) has the savory, herb-and-limestone goodness of a Burgundy, while the bottle of Lund Vineyard ($40) is an expression of Carneros’ glory, with leather and raspberry flavors that are balanced then tinged with dust.

With this kind of touch, it’s a shame that Harrington doesn’t dabble in other varietals. He’s entertained the idea of making Merlot, he tells me, but is holding out for a batch of Touriga Francesa, a Portuguese grape and lighter, sexier cousin to Touriga Nacional. A blending wine, Francesa provides the elegant floral component of Port. On its own, which is how Harrington would make it, Francesa’s got Pinot’s potential for balance, finesse and complexity.

UC Davis got its hands on some and Harrington says it would take about $10,000 to get the grapes and get it started. If you wanna be his angel, let me know. I’m sure we won’t be sorry.

A discussion of East Bay Pinot Noir isn’t complete without a nod to Lost Canyon, and their now-famous Saralee Pinot Noir. Also Burgundian in style, the 2005 ($40) is ready to go — mellow and silky cherries with a dash of spice and pepper.

Yesterday, at the winery’s harvest party, I did a vertical of Pinot Noir and while I found the 2006 Saralee ($42) too sweet in the nose (think Gamay), I think you will be thrilled with the beauty and aging potential of the 2006 Widdoes Pinot Noir ($42), their newest vineyard-designate wine from the Russian River Valley.

I got roses and violets in the nose and lots of peppery black cherries on the palate. They made about 335 cases of the Widdoes, and as a new wine, I’m sure it’ll go fast so get your hands on it for someone on your holiday list who loves artisan Pinot Noir.

If you have a Syrah buff in your life, too, grab a bottle of Lost Canyon’s Stage Gulch ($35) for them. I’m wild about Northern Rhone-style Syrah, the type that has tons of meat, smoke and herbs in the nose, ditto on the palate. This is that wine. Make it a two-fer and add JC Cellars’ Ventana Vineyards Syrah, another dead-ringer for the northern Rhone.

Tomorrow: Edmunds St. John’s wines — the grand-pappy of East Bay vintners.

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