current and future pleasure:
Noir. A frequent pick with many of my favorite dishes....because
its spicy, ruby-rich flavors so nicely complement roast fowl, game
(especially duck, goose, wild turkey)
love the various incarnations of Pinot Noir,
from the taut well-structured wines of France's Burgundy regions -- the
Côte de Nuits (richer, denser
appellations such as Nuits-St. Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and
Vosne-Romanée) and the Côte
de Beaune (the lighter but elegant Volnays, Beaunes) and Côtes Chalonnaise (earthier
but simpler Givry, Mercurey), to the elegance and balance of Oregon Pinots, to the extravagant
fruit of Sonoma's Russian River Valley.
Out in the
Russian River Valley recently, I visited Russian Hill Vineyards to
taste the 2009s. This winery
commands a spectacular view of the eastern portion of the valley, with
vineyards stretching in all directions--a must-visit if you find
yourself in or near Santa Rosa.
Owner Ellen Mack
opened her current Pinots from 2009 and 2008, generously fruity wines,
representive of a particular style for the region.
Russian Hill 2009, RR
Valley, $33. The basic Pinot from both estate and
purchased grapes is a congenial and deliciously sippable red. If you
want to introduce someone to the appeal of Pinot Noir, this is the
place to start --a great choice for lighter meats such as pork loin,
roast veal or chicken--and the Thanksgiving bird.
Russian Hill Estate 2009,
$40. A step up in structure but with plenty of fleshy ripe-berry
fruit. Think boysenberries, wild plums in a sweet ripeness balanced
with refreshing acidity.
Russian Hill Tara Vineyard
2009, $54. This is my favorite Pinot from Russian
Hill--consistently intriguing for its spicy fruit and excellent
balance. The '09 is stunning, teeming with accents of cinnamon and
allspice. The tasters went quiet for a minute as the wine's rich cherry
and cola nut flavors took over. The acidity is refreshing and
contributes to the appealing length. Already showing complexity,
the Tara '09 will continue to evolve--no wonder they are expanding the
vineyard to produce more.
I think one of the things Pinot
Noir/Burgundy fanatics love about the variety is a certain sauvage character--a kind of
wildness of flavor that sometimes expresses as earthiness...or wild
rose...wild berries over cultivated...a certain woodsiness (not woodiness)--that is,
forest floor, woodlands after rain. When pinot noir is allowed to get
too ripe this "wild" character is oblitereated and the result is a ripe
fruit bomb that could be almost any variety.
a Pinot/Burgundy fanatic, so I
love this flavor characteristic. It's showing now in the Merry Edwards 2010 Russian
River Pinot, the winery's so-called entry-level Pinot
($45). When I get that
in RR Pinots, I'm thrilled, captivated--wish that I had more bottles
because -- though very drinkable now, with the likes of grilled duck
breast, roast loin of pork, even roast leg of lamb -- I think it will
be even better with some bottle age (I recently tasted the 2007--nigh
on to perfect!). This one is beautifully balanced, the key to aging,
and likely will be even more interesting and intriguing from, say,
At dinner with friends recently we opened their bottle of Merry Edwards 2002 Windsor Vyd--wow!
It was beautiful--aromatic, silky in texture, spicy flavors, smooth and
long. Oh, the delights of aging!
Vineyard 2009 Chardonnay,
Alexander Valley, $30. I very much like the minerally
underpinnings of this Chardonnay--and it's nicely fleshed out with
enticing citrus and lemon zest flavors. Well-balanced and drinking well
now and for the next year or so.
Clos des Mouches 2010 Blanc Côte de
Beaune, Burgundy, $70. A
classic Chardonnay from Joseph Drouhin, the venerable negociant and
owner of top vineyards, including this premier cru in Beaune.
Beautifully balanced, with pear and lemon curd flavors accented with a
light imprint of toasty oak. It can be enjoyed now, but complex nuances
develop with a few years of bottle age.
Merry Edwards 2011 Sauvignon
Blanc, Russian River Valley, $32. Dash and
verve, perhaps the most scintillating of Sauvignons, wonderful spicy
and very intense citrus flavors, a superb match with lobster dishes,
shrimp scampi, crab.
Roast Lamb or Beef:
Many reds work with beef and lamb but fine Cabernet Sauvignon is a
noble match. There are some excellent ones out there
Valley, $50. An outstanding Cabernet-rich,
beautifully structured. I’ve admired the balance
and suppleness of Jordan
Cabernet Sauvignon since the first vintage of
Jordan ages their Cabernet, releasing it in its fourth year—it is often
harmonious it will complement a grilled steak or rack of lamb at that
age, and can do so at any age. A recent retrospective tasting at the
revealed that in several vintage, but spectacularly in the Jordan
peak at the moment and likely to hold there for several more
years. The 2009 reminds me of that 2001--better lay some away
(but try one first!).
Captûre Harmonie Red
2009, Pine Mountain (Sonoma) $130-150. This young winery on a
hilltop in northern Sonoma is producing some impressive wines,
particular the Cabernet-dominant 2009 Harmonie--dark and rich but very
aromatic, with alluring blackberry fruit and good acidity which meld
into a long satisfying finish. Drinks well now but will definitely
One Point Five Cabernet
Stag’s Leap District, $70. The ripe fruit of Shafer Cabernet is so
seductive that you’re persuaded to drink
it immediately—which I wouldn’t discourage except that the rich black
mocha and spicy oak flavors only get more lush and gorgeous with a few
decade or more (if you can keep hands off it!).
2009 Merlot, Napa Valley,
$50 One of the classic (and classy) Merlots, with ripe
black fruits and berries in flavor; lush texture, long in finish, it's
pretty intense for current drinking but it should evolve beautifully,
as Shafer Merlots are wont to do.
Trefethen 2009 Merlot,
Napa Valley, $38-40. An excellent cool-climate Merlot, redolent of dark
berries, a hint of chocolate and spicy oak; very well-balanced. Great
with leg of lamb.
Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de
Thalabert 2009, $45-50 Take note: this wine
at around $35 a bottle. It can be found but the price has gone up--and
no wonder. I recently tasted it when I was the northern
Rhône--it's superb: gorgeously dark and rich, teeming with ripe
black fruit flavors (blackberry, plum), with a hint of black pepper in
the aroma. Pair this with grilled steak of butterflied leg of
Crozes-Hermitage 2009 Les Jalets, succulent, nicely built,
balance and depth, well worth buying now to drink.....and to age, at
least 5 years. Recently had the 2005
with roast lamb the other night--excellent, with tannins mellowed but
still plenty of vibrant fruit. A hit at the table!