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Live, from Shell Beach, The World of Pinot Noir!

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I decided that my theme for today’s tasting will be Pinots under 14%. Unfortunately, the official program that lists the wines doesn’t include ABV, which will make my hunt problematic. I’ll have to look at every label, which means a lot of squinting.

I was chatting last night at the opening reception with someone over a glass of Claiborne & Churchill’s 2009 Pinot Noir, an awfully good wine, light and savory. Somehow, the conversation drifted to coffee styles, and then to beer. I remarked that the preference for big, extracted wines is similar to the love for high roast, Seattle-style coffee and IPAs in beer. The guy I was talking with said that lighter beers and coffees are coming back in style, which would coincide with a shift to lighter wines, if in fact there is one. Cooler vintages certainly are pushing the wines that way, but there’s also some movement among winemakers to keep ABV down. I’ve seen it in Cabernet and I’ve seen it in Pinot Noir, and I’m going to see it up close and personal today.

I want to understand if a below-14% Pinot from California can consistently deliver flavor, or if I’m going to find a lot of green minty stuff out there. I’m not talking about some mass produced, industrial grade 13.5% Pinot-in-name-only Pinot. I’m talking about serious Pinot Noir, probably single-vineyard, produced by ambitious coastal wineries. We’ve grown so used to high alcohol Pinots (I’m not knocking them, just saying) that this new emphasis on below 14% represents, not just a new taste experience, but an intellectual challenge. To say that they’re made in a different style is one thing; to say that they deliver pleasure and complexity and maybe even ageability is another.

I’m assuming that most of the Pinots poured today will be 2009s and 2010s, two cool years, so there should be lots of low alcohol wines for me to taste. There are also lots of Pinots here that are not from California. Maybe there will be some discoveries. I hope to report what I find on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

  1. I have read a lot this past year from the industry about lower alcohol preferences. Personally l love those styles from ABC, La Fenentre, and Storm amongst many others. I also appreciate Richard Sanfords Alma Rosa that is just over 14%.

    Do you think lower alcohol percentages is a consumer taste shift, or more of an industry push?

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