No, I am not writing about football or other typical Labor Day activities; this recap is all about wine and the inherent differences based on locale, or terroir, as the French like to say. Some dear friends invited me over for dinner and the menu was French inspired with a nod to Normandy in the main dish, chicken with apples and mushrooms. Though I often like to find wines from the exact region of the menu, Normandy is better known for dry ciders than red wines so I broadened my search parameters and decided to focus on Pinot Noir, the red varietal that defines Burgundy. Then I decided to make it a compare and contrast, since I knew my audience loved these winey games. I brought both a Burgundy and a California Pinot Noir. Without any advance communication, another friend brought another Cali Pinot Noir, so a comparison of three Pinots became the theme.
We started with the French Red Burgundy by Philippe Girard from Savigny-Les-Beaune, a Prenier Cru Vieilles Vignes 2012. Sourced from the center of Bourgogne where the Côte D’Or meets the Côte de Beaune and from a good vintage with low yields, I had pretty high expectations since it was also an “ancient vine.” It was classically Burgundian with earthy scents like forest moss and shitake mushrooms that merge into cellar smells. Light in color with tart red currant flavors and strong minerality on the finish, the wine opens up to softer fruits like cherries and a subtle floral note of violets mingled with a hint of chemical. I was left with a final impression of sharp acidity and lingering stones. This was not a ripe fruit bomb and really needed the food to help balance out some of its strident angularity.
Though this group was very open to the rustic imaginings of this Burgundian vigneron, they couldn’t help but express giddy glee at my next offering, the 2013 Block 074 Pinot Noir Reserve from the Santa Rita Hills in the Central Coast of California. A year younger and from a very different terroir in the Santa Barbara Valley, this Pinot showed off the abundant juiciness available to this grape from a warmer locale. I smelled black cherries rolled in talc at first, then ripe berries and currants found in a pine forest. Juicy on the palate with hints of pepper and rhubarb on the finish. Soft tannins and elegant acids make this an easy-quaffing wine, but it leaves a balanced impression, not overripe, but where acid and fruit find harmony. This wine was also enhanced by the food but didn’t require the food the same way that the Beaune did.
The third Pinot, Stemmler, was from a problematic vintage, 2011, but from the prestigious Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Being two years older it had a lost a little of its fruit but still had plenty of California lushness. Cherries dominated with a little more mineral notes than the younger Block Pinot and therefore a little more of the tart acids we experienced in the Burgundy being from a cooler Cali vintage. It seemed to merge the flavors of the other two, and yet showed off its own rustic potential and nuances. Each wine was someone’s favorite, but the Block 074 stood out as the most popular in general. All three paired almost equally well with the food.
We didn’t give scores, we didn’t have touchdowns, but we enjoyed our winey competition where no one loses, since we all got to try some great wines and converse like real experts. We were experts, experts of our own palate, which are all the credentials one needs. Here we had three wines made from the same grape, but they were quite different and truly represented the different potential based on location and vintage (terroir). Next time you have friends over, make it a mini wine tasting and create your own compare and contrast, you might be surprised at what you like best… if not, then there’s always football.
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter! @abcwineDanE