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U. S. Pinot Noir

If Burgundy Pinot Noirs can age, do U.S. Pinot Noirs indeed age well?

Some 18 wine aficionados are to shed light on the question and attempt to offer an answer on Flower Day 20 August 2021 (Friday) at Crown Wine Cellars(Deep Water Bay, 18 Deep Water Bay Drive), where Vincci and Steve Nelson showcase 12 Pinots from some of the essential AVAs from the California and Oregon Regions(Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia, Santa Rita Hills and Mount Harlan, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill), theming the wine tasting dinner The Hong Kong Wine Society: U.S. Pinot Noir.

The bottles taste consistent with sound logic.

  1. All wines display a wide array of classic Pinot Noir profiles. They are red and dark fruited, with plums, cranberries, raspberries, mulberries, blueberries, blackberries being the common benchmarkers. Other tertiary tones expressed by these bottles include truffles, fresh mushrooms, fallen autumn leaves, tea leaves, gravel, savoury spices. The older wine, the stronger the 'sense of place'; the younger the wine, the more affinity to the Pinot Noir fruit profile.

  2. It would seem that proximity to the ocean breezy will be a much bigger influence on the altitude and latitude of the vineyards.

  3. With one or two exceptions, the alcohol % of all the bottles are significantly high for Pinot Noirs, between 14 to 15%.

  4. The mouthfeel of these 12 Pinots tastes varied. Most of them are pleasantly dry, with fine-grained tannins to varying grades of sandpaper. The fruit quantity of some of the bottles is dropping; however, even the shortest palate(fruit) can give a firm impression and still over 10 seconds.

  5. Most of these 12 Pinots show excellent structure with adequate acidity; some are zippy, sharp, rigid, linear. Also, most of these Pinots are still fleshy and supple with unsuppressed fruit; palates on some others are clothed, ranging from light and medium to skim milk, 2% milkfat. Oak treatment is still judiciously applied.

  6. 'Balance' seems to be the core quality benchmarker in this tasting. That is in great contrast to earlier tastings on Bordeaux and Rhone wines when descriptors such as 'full-bodied', 'complexity, 'intensity', 'length', 'power' are used to indicate the better wines.

Can we answer the question, partially or entirely, after this event? Probably not. However, the overall view would agree that quality U.S. Pinot Noirs can age. The more elegant the wine, maybe the more the mileage.

Comments from the 18 tasters in the evening consolidate to form the core of this tasting report. If there are faults, they are mine.

2002 Rochioli West Block, Russian River Valley

Presenting itself as an excellent example of the Russian River AVA with smoky tones and refreshing acidity, this wine kicks off the evening nicely. Although it looks murky, it is elegant, balanced, pretty, layered tertiary styles, spices with a good palate. Unfortunately, it may be too ripe, hot, alcoholic. With three generations of dedication to the land, Rochioli Vineyards and Winery has earned the reputation as one of Sonoma County's finest wineries. This bottle is the 2nd most expensive wine for the evening, according to Steven Nelson. Two Firsts, Two Seconds, 2 Lasts, and it comes 4th.

2007 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Citrusy and red-fruited with a solid mid saline palate leading to a chewy texture. Coolish. Comments are not optimistic about starting with: sharp, zippy, green, need time to open up, disappointing, dusty, stemmy. The contrary opinions are lovely green, getting better, structured, edging dry in a good sense, elegant. No First, 3 Seconds and 2 Last; it comes 5th.

2006 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyards, Sonoma Coast

It is balanced, has excellent drinking, a long palate; structured, with outstanding youth and lots of mileage. Unfortunately, some tasters find it metallic, weak, die fast. Spices and tertiary tones are strong; the palate is too edgingly dry. Lurking behind, not too noticeable, are some fresh, small red fruit(cranberries, raspberries), and it is perfumy. No First, one Second, no Last; it comes 7th.

2002 Sea Smoke Southing, Santa Rita Hills

The positive comments are fresh, sharp, complex, simply good. Sounds Burgundian? Tasters seem reserve in expressing views on this wine, or maybe they don't have to say much because they love it the way it is? The not-so-good comments are it is dropping off fast, brutal and tricky, with no balance. One wrinkle: no taster seems to acclaim this bottle as the iconic, monumental, lush and robust expression for a wine from the South! So it is one five Firsts, two Seconds and one Last. Nevertheless, it is the wine of the night and comes First.

1996 Calera Selleck Vineyard, Mount Harlan

Muted dark fruit, jammy sugar. Stalky, watery. Angular, tannic finish, disappearing fruit. There are loads of earthy notes, minerality with tar, saline, liquorice, and balsamic accents. It sounds like a journey to 'terroir' in the narrow sense. Some tasters find it improved to become structured, expressive, deep, complexly gamy, with liquorice and black tea—quite a controversial wine of the evening. No First, no Seconds, one Last, and it ranks 10th.

2004 Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Water Trough Vineyard, Russia River

There is a bottle of significant opinion deviation, with 4 Firsts(and 2 Seconds) and 4 Lasts. Comments are hot, like a port wine with high alcohol content, generous, peculiar. It noses caramel, vanilla, clove, liquorice, mushroom, wet leaves, and tobacco with big Cola fruit. Zero First, Zero Second, One Last. It ranks 8th.

2009 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Green, short, zippily high acidity, dropping off are the negative comments. Animal tones are strong against the struggling fruit. Positive comments are it is lovely balanced, rich. Listed 13% ABV. Xero First, Zero Second, 3 Lasts and comes last.

2001 Sine Qua Non No.6 Shea Vineyard, Yamhill

Floral. Full-spectrum fruit nose from red to dark fruit, cola fruit, bonbon. Tertiary note of pepper, mushroom, old leather. Almost oily, richly balance, round on the palate. Getting better over time, intense. It is a bottle of good drinking wine. It comes 6th, with 0 First, 2 Seconds, 0 Last.

2003 Lucia Garys' Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey

Clear and bright. Well-liked, this bottle is floral, with elegant red fruit, tea leaves, fallen autumn leaves. On the palate, it is pleasing fruity with mild spice and outstanding balance. Big, structured and refined. It comes 3rd with 2 Firsts, 1 Second, 0 Last.

2004 Bryce Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge

The wine is deeply coloured, richly flavoured, and carries a wild blackberry, brown spice, and earthy—balance in the beginning but finishes rough with a vegetal core. However, one taster says it is a very different wine(compare to all)- very savoury but too mushroomy, pointing to the lack of fruit on the palate. This wine is 11th, with 0 First, 1 Second and 2 Lasts.

2006 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Full-spectrum nose and palate. Cranberries, spices and sandalwood on the nose. Black cherry, Asian herbs, earth, mushroom, pine needles, pomegranate and raspberries on the palate. The finish is exceptionally long and spicy. Great acidity. Other comments are balance structure, lovely, acidic, candied, close then open up nicely, well-made. It comes 9th, with 1 First, 0 Second and 1 Last. Occidental Ridge Vineyard situates on a wind-swept, sun-drenched promontory above the little town of Occidental on the Sonoma Coast.

2008 Rhys Vineyards Alesia, Sonoma Coast

Floral and minty hints lead to solid mid-palate with fine-textured. Very elegant, structured, consistent. Other comments include an exceptional and different wine with lots of savoury elements, majestic. Not-so-good comments are too mushroomy, dropping off. Nevertheless, it is the co-champion wine of the night. It comes First as well, with 2 Firsts, 2 Seconds, and no Last.

The DInner wines.

Dinner Wines are performing well, exceptionally. The suppressed fruit of the quite oaky 2004 Montinelli Zio Tony Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, is lifted by Orange Dressing, and the pieces of orange enhance the texture of the dish, which go seamless with the House Cured Salmon. Suddenly, this 2004 Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch Chardonnay breaths much new life into this Salmon Dish.

In the 2nd Episode, the 2002 Morgon Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands tertiary savouriness accompanied with the lifted aromas of cherry cough drop, black tea, and a hint of toasty oak went perfect with the more complex, mild textured Chef L's Signature dish of Linguine with Foie Gras/ Truffles. This 2002 Morgan has become even richer but still smooth; brambleberry and cigar box flavours support the palate's aromas. I think it's an exquisite match.

This sturdy yet simple 2001 Seasmoke Botella Pinot Noir adds much firmness, richness, intensity, with lots of concentration to the fruit quality. The tones and flavours of Black cherry, blackberry, fresh earth and blueberry jam stand well against the power and savouriness of theUSDA Beef. The well-focused 2001 Seasmoke Botella Pinot Noir, with mouthcoating, integrated tannins and a long, pure, rich aftertaste suppress well the big wed wine sauce with ratatouille.

Having returned with 'a sense of place', 1996 Calera Selleck Vineyard Noir's minerality, gravelly elements, salinity complete the Pan-Seared Duck Confit Leg balance. I’s edgy palate and aromatic properties cut through the greasiness of the Leg preserved in its fat. And the Freshness of Enoki Mushrooms and Plums themselves are enhanced by the profile taste of the wine.

The roundness of the 2002 Martinelli " Martinelli Vineyard" Reserve copes extremely well the Selection de Fromage de la Couronne and, with coffee or tea with the Chocolate Assortment, we remind ourselves that we have travelled through and well the U.S. Pinot journeys and are back to the civilization.


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