When I started down the wine appreciation road, it was a bit overwhelming. I was leading bike tours in Europe and a big part of being a guide was knowing your way around a wine list, with the ability to wax poetically about not only what was in the glass, but also what was printed on the label.
Even though I really only led trips in France, the challenge was considerable and daunting. At some point during my second or third summer leading trips, I received some great advice from the owner of the company: choose one region and learn everything there is to know about the wines and the traditions, in essence becoming an “expert” on the region. Once confident, I could then move on to other regions, comparing or contrasting those with that original area.
As many of you might have guessed, my first region was Champagne, which I chose due to my affinity for the wines but also since my boss, who was quite the œnophile, knew the least about Champagne and therefore would more or less leave me to my own devices.
Well, after emerging from my bubble-enduced bliss, I chose a second region that would not be much of a leap since it was not only geographically proximate to Champagne, but the two regions also shared the same primary grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Thus, Burgundy quickly became my second love, at times even challenging Champagne for the primary focus of my attention.
As the years passed, I added other regions to my repertoire, but for the most part, I have stayed true to those first two regions and the grapes that are grown there. In fact, when I travel out West to visit wineries, my first inclination is to visit Chardonnay and Pinot producers.
I recently received a few samples that underscored my contention that you do not have to travel to Burgundy (or pay the increasingly exorbitant prices for the wines) to drink high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Here are a few wines I have recently tried that supports that theory.
2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Retail $24. As a Pinot freak, there are several regions in the world that are near and dear to my heart. The first, of course, is Burgundy. While that region might be pricing itself out of favor, perhaps second on that list of favorite Pinot regions is the Willamette Valley–I have visited there a couple of times now and I have become smitten. While this is not the most introspective wine I have had from the region, it might be the one that I can get behind the most. Certainly affordable when it comes to quality Pinot, fantastic fruit, a bit of earth, and plenty of acidity. All that under a screwtop. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2013 McIntyre Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay: Retail $28. I love Chardonnay, and you should too. Why? Chardonnay has perhaps a wider variety of styles than any other, well, variety. And I am pretty sure I like all of the styles (except the “crappy” style). This is clearly on the “bigger” end of the spectrum with a nose of my grandmother’s lemon bars: creamy and tart, with a cookie biscuity-ness. That theme continues on the palate, but the tartness really comes through and drives the wine through the mid-palate all the way to the finish. Make no mistake, this is a big style Chard that harkens back to old-school California Chardonnays, but with a focused tartness and considerable verve. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Block 3 Pinot Noir: Retail $56. I say this about a lot of wines: I do not drink enough wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands and this is a prime argument to address that issue. Fairly dark in color with aromas of black cherry and cassis wafting out of the glass. Past the lips, this is a delight–plenty of fruit well into the mid palate where a bit of earthy tobacco takes over. There is a slight amount of heat (14.0%) on the finish, but I really don’t care. This is delicious. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay: Retail $40. Buttery and rich with a backbone of lemon meringue pie. Angular acidity buoyed by a slightly buttery depth with just a hint of oak with wonderful balance. Another wine that is certainly on the bigger side of Chardonnay. I waver between preferring the bigger and the more restrained styles of Chardonnay, but frankly, both have their place and I appreciate either end of the spectrum. When done well. And this is done well. Very well. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Napa Valley Pinot Noir: Retail $40. I am not going to lie: when I see “Napa Valley Pinot Noir” on the label, I get nervous. I think most would agree that Napa is just far too warm to produce a decent Pinot. Just the minimal amount of detective work (i.e., reading the back of the bottle) reveals a bit more information–the fruit comes from Carneros, which is the Southern part of both Napa and Sonoma counties. While a bit counter intuitive, that southern-most area is actually quite a bit cooler than the northern areas of the county. Delicate berry fruit, dominated by dark cherry. Wonderfully balanced with great acidity and a fine finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.