Bold and brassy doesn’t go over in NYC? That’s weird
There’s something ironic about the fact that the New York contingent of wine writer/critics hates brash, in your face California Pinot Noirs. After all, isn’t that the essence of New Yawkahs–brash and in your face?
The latest would be John Mariani, writing this piece in Bloomberg decrying “blockbuster,” “fleshy,” “muscular,” and “hedonistic” Pinot Noirs, as though his delicate sensitivities as a Big Apple denizen allow him to covet only wines of timid, tremoring restraint. It’s passing strange.
But enough of the snark, let me defend why some of these high alcohol Pinot Noirs merit their place in the pantheon. Consider, for example, Armanino’s 2010 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir, from the Russian River Valley ($55). It clocks in officially at 15.1%, which in reality means the actual alcohol level may be slightly higher.
The overwhelming fact of that wine is deliciousness. In my review, which will be in the May 1 issue of Wine Enthusiast, I called it “vastly rich.” Amber Ridge Vineyard, which was planted in 2000, is just west of the 101 Freeway, near the town of Windsor and south of Healdsburg, making it somewhat warmer than, say, areas further west and south, such as Green Valley or the Laguna Ridges. That extra kick of heat no doubt accounts for the ripeness that translates into alcohol.
Yes, this region doesn’t yield your typical Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The same vineyard, Amber Ridge, has been source to excellent Novy Syrah. But the Lees, who own Novy, also make an Amber Ridge Pinot Noir from their Siduri brand, with excellent results. And just to the south of Amber Ridge is Starr Ridge, a rather famous vineyard in its own right due to Gary Farrell’s consistent production of rich, ageworthy Pinot Noirs. So it’s not like this is no-man’s land for Pinot Noir. There certainly are cooling influences, from gaps that allow maritime air to filter in from Guerneville as well as the last punch that comes up through the Petaluma Gap. (Things heat up quickly as you cross the 101 and move into Chalk Hill, where the heat bunches up against the 1,500-foot Coast Ranges.)
Isn’t diversity of style a large part of the charm of Pinot Noir? Burgundians rave about the spectrum of wines within the Côte de’Or, everything from a big, sappy Vosnes to a lighter, more delicate Beaune. If there’s room for a spectrum in Burgundy, why not in California? That Armanino, and Pinots like it, shouldn’t be mindlessly thrown under the bus just because it doesn’t conform to a “Burgundian” template. Nor, I should add, ought a wine like the Patz & Hall 2009 Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $55), with its alcohol level of 15.8% (another producer Mr. Mariani picked on). These wines may not be for everyone. But I’d like to see critics who don’t like that style at least credit them for being high-level examples of that style, instead of saying, “They’re not Burgundy.” They’re not supposed to be Burgundy. Their creators don’t want them to be Burgundy. They are legitimate expressions of their terroir, and they reflect house styles that have proven to be popular with many wine consumers and critics–including me.