The holiday season is here and many people are big fans of Pinot Noir with their turkey and ham dinners. Yes, there are other selections you could be making in pairing wine with your family holiday meals, but I have had so many questions about suggestions for wines to pour I felt it was a good time to talk about wines to consider and the mysterious 2010 vintage year for Pinot Noir. First let me start with the 2010 Pinot Noirs I had the opportunity to taste so far this year and then I will address the holiday selections.
The 2010 growing season was a challenge for grape growers across California, working on the North Coast and specifically in the Russian River Valley, I was able to see and hear much about the trials and tribulations. This vintage combined rain, frost, lower than normal seasonal temperatures, pollination issues, early rain at harvest time and one huge untimely heat spike. In short, it was an OMG (Oh My God, for the non-texting people out there) growing season. The impact was felt in quality and quantity throughout California with all varietals, but the question out there that is beginning to be experienced now is, “How good is the wine from 2010?” I had the opportunity to taste the new 2010 Pinot Noir releases from two premium producers recently and am using them as the start for this discussion.
Earlier this fall I spent the evening with the Martinelli Family, the Winery winemaking team and the hospitality staff (of which I am a member) tasting our way through all of the Fall 2012 new releases at Martinelli Winery and Vineyards. A week later I took advantage of an invitation to have a similar experience at the Williams Selyem Fall release of mostly 2010 Pinot Noirs (there were 3 chardonnays, a zinfandel and a port too). Both tastings were amazing presentations of wines that are frequently scored highly by The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator and others in the media. It is important to note that a number of these wines are either limited production or frequently swept off of the market by members of each winery’s mailing lists, as the list members have priority to the new releases of both of these venerable wine institutions. So as you read this it is likely that 2010 Pinot Noirs by both of these producers may be hard to come by. So lets kick it off with the tasting at Martinelli Winery.
Martinelli Winery pre-release tasting
There is a tradition at Martinelli Winery, that prior to each of their wine releases (two per year), they have a tasting with the Family, Production staff and Hospitality staff to evaluate the wines and establish tasting notes. This was my third opportunity to participate in the pre-release tasting as a Hospitality staff member and we were all looking forward to it. This was a release of the fall wines which included the Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir, Jackass Hill Zinfandel and Hop Barn Hill Syrah, amongst the 13 total included in the line-up. But, for the purpose of this article I will only address the 2010 vintage of Pinot Noir.
The 2010 Pinot Noirs were from the Blue Slide Ridge, Lolita Ranch and Moonshine Ranch vineyards. For a bit of expediency I will tell you my favorites, as a whole description of the tasting would take forever. First I will say that I was impressed with all the 2010 Pinot Noirs from Martinelli, which also includes three I have tasted earlier in the year (2010 Three Sisters, Zio Tony Ranch and Bondi Home Ranch Vineyards). For the 2010 Pinot Noirs, all of which are very young and should be given the benefit of some aging, they were quite nice with both the Blue Slide Ridge and Moonshine Ranch standing out as special for me. Even with their youth, both showed nice ripe fruit, Moonshine being more satiny, while Blue Slide was more earthy and better acidity. Both had great long finishes, but need the benefit of age to reach their potential and when I say age I mean that I think they will really be amazing in about 2014-2015, probably even longer (the same applies to the 2010 Bondi Home Ranch). So consider these for future events and meals.
For current drinking consideration, I would say that the 2010 Zio Tony Ranch and the 2010 Bella Vigna (a blend of Russian River and Green Valley vineyards) are the ones to consider for your 2012 holiday enjoyment. They are very approachable now and would be a great presentation with your meals. Both are still available to the public at the winery! Now, if you have the opportunity to taste them you will be able to asses them for yourselves, but I encourage people to remind themselves that it is your money and if you like it, buy it and drink it when you like!!!!
Williams Selyem 2012 Fall release Tasting
Attending the Fall release at Williams Selyem was a first time treat for me. I have the opportunity to sample a bottle here and there, but to be able to experience 14 different 2010 Pinot Noirs from this cult producer was absolutely special. I drove out to their beautiful new facility on Westside Road in the upper portion of the Russian River Valley, seeing for the first time their unique modern building that housed our tasting. It had floor to ceiling barrels stacked inside and face out to an excellent view of the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys. As I entered into the tasting, it was a pleasure to see Michael Traverso greeting and pouring wines for the guests. Michael is the Director of Hospitality for Williams Selyem now, after years of being involved with his family’s business, the old Traverso’s Gourmet Foods.
After catching up with Michael Traverso, I proceeded to taste my way around the room. I started with three Chardonnays, but then quickly moved to the Pinot Noirs, as they were my main reason for attending. What I found was 14 2010 Pinot Noirs being poured. They were as follows:
Burt Williams’ Morning Dew Vineyard Weir Vineyard Ferrington Vineyard
Vista Verde Vineyard Bucher Vineyard Olivet Lane Vineyard
Eastside Road Neighbors Flax Vineyard Coastlands Vineyard
Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Allen Vineyard Hirsch Vineyard
Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard Precious Mountain Vineyard
What made this an even greater treat was that they had the some of the vineyard owners pouring wines from their own vineyards. Participating were Burt Williams, Bill Weir, John Bucher and Donnie Schatzberg (Precious Mtn). It was such a great opportunity to learn about the vines and the growing season from the men growing the grapes. Each of them were proud of their fruit and very willing to share their knowledge, it made a good event into a great one.
All this leaves now is to talk about the wines. Firstly, I will say that I thought they all were quite good, having so much potential. Each was drinkable now, but seriously they are so very young, they deserve the opportunity to have some more time in the bottle to become the great wines they are always reputed to be. I will be honest too and tell you that I have Pinot Noirs with a bit more age than these and would reach for those first, allowing these time to develop. I did have favorites, picking both the Ferrington Vineyards and Bucher Vineyard Pinots to take home. They were the two that I felt had the flavors and structure that I tend to prefer, as well as the potential to develop into amazingly delicious wines by 2014-15.
I was very grateful for the chance to participate in this tasting. If you ever have the opportunity to visit and taste at Williams Selyem, definitely do so. They do not have a regular tasting room and do limit their appointments to mostly mailing list members, but you never know when you get the rare chance to visit. If you do, take it up. If you can find these wines, definitely consider them, though they are hard to find they would most likely be available in fine wine shops and restaurants.
Holiday Pinot Noir selections
If you haven’t picked your holiday wines yet (yes, this may be too late for Thanksgiving, but there are a lot of holiday parties remaining before Christmas and New Years), then I hope this will help. First, there are still some excellent wines from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages to consider that are available in stores and wineries. If you have old standby wines you love, go for them. For me most of my recent tastings have been with wines from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley regions. The wines I am considering taking with me for those delicious dinners are Pinot Noirs from:
Marimar Estate Winery Graton Ridge Winery Martinelli Winery (surprise)
Papapietro Perry Winery Hartford Court (Family) Woodenhead Winery
Moshin Winery Golden Eye Winery Drew Estate
No, I haven’t decided yet my choices yet, but am getting close to choosing, at least for Thanksgiving. Now some of you may have had the ability to taste a variety of wines at events like Pinot Days down in Southern California or some of the other Pinot Noir focused events throughout the country. If you have, trust your palate, yes, even if you loved those 2010 Pinot Noirs. REMEMBER ONE THING………….if you like it, buy it and drink it, as it is your money and your palate.
I hope you all have a very Happy Holiday Season and a Merry Christmas. Don’t forget, Life is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine!!!!!!
Rick Fraga, currently performing wine education, hospitality and sales for Martinelli Winery, is now working full time at following his passion for wine. Leading up to this segment of his life he had a 25 year career in Telecommunications Management. For a number of years he co-mingled his passion for wine with his career, but over the last 7 years wine tugged him back into its fold. His experience over the last 20 years include hospitality, education, cellar work and sales for wineries including Konrad, Fife and Greenwood Ridge, Dutcher Crossing, Acorn, Stryker Sonoma and Martinelli. Additionally, after adding educational background in Wine Business, Marketing, Evaluation and Service at Santa Rosa JC, he continues to work with the Wine Studies program at the JC.
Recently, Rick has taken on the challenge of wine writing and blogging, his blog site being www.gatewaytowine.com. The focus of his writing is to demystify wine for the masses, hoping to share his passion for wine and the many enjoyable ways it fits into our lives. Along with his blog, he is performing freelance writing, emphasizing observations and evaluation of wine, food, hospitality and facilities.
Rick is a proud father of three grown sons, including a marine with two tours of duty in the middle east. On those non-wine related days you can find him, hiking, traveling, or just catching up with his family and friends.
Rick believes that “Life is too short to drink bad wine”, which translates into not only trying to find out which wine is good or bad, but encouraging other to do the same. His frequent advice to others is “Find your Palate and then enjoy it!” If you would like to contact Rick he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.