The eighth annual Pinot Days grand tasting visited San Francisco’s Fort Mason Festival Pavilion this past Saturday. This was my sixth year attending the event, and I’ve seen it shrink, particularly over the past couple years, from a two-day-plus extravaganza, featuring several seminars with winemakers in addition to the Sunday grand tasting, to now a single, half-day event on Saturday, without the winemaker seminars. Pinot Days claims to still be the biggest Pinot Noir festival in the world, with over 200 producers and around 500 wines. Nonetheless, this is not the three-day-weekend, wall-to-wall Pinot fest it used to be.
Selection Massale is a wine import company based in the Oakland area. The principals are Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard, who originally met when both worked at San Francisco’s Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar, where Guilhaume was a partner. They launched their new company last year, and it took months to get the licenses needed to bring their wines in through San Francisco’s port, but they’re fully in business now. The focus of their efforts is small, traditional producers, many of whom fall into the growing “natural” or “authentic” wine category. Most of their producers so far are in France–the Loire, Savoie, the Languedoc, Chablis–but they’ve also brought in some Sherries and Canary Island wine.
What possesses people to take a beautiful ingredient and obscure its deliciousness with extraneous flavors taken from much lesser material? Who would go to all the trouble to buy some of Burgundy’s great terroirs–monopoles where gorgeous, minerally fruit has been grown for centuries–and dump a load of woody material into the fermentation, thereby obscuring the special fruit characteristics of the precious grapes? I for one don’t get it. I’ve ranted about this rising trend before, and I’m afraid it’s time for another attempt to get the attention of those who don’t appear to love and cherish pure Pinot Noir fruit as much as others that what they are doing is, essentially, a crime. They are robbing Pinot Noir grown in some of the most favorable spots on the planet of its moment to shine. They are stealing pleasure from those of us who look forward to a new vintage from some of our favorite vineyards. In other words, WTF Bouchard??
I love minerally white wines. They are refreshing and delicious on their own, and the perfect accompaniment to a summer meal. The king of minerally white wines is Chablis, at least top premier cru and grand cru Chablises. I was therefore very excited about our monthly Euro lunch this month, with the theme of Chablis from some of Chablis’s great producers. And the king of kings when it comes to minerally white wines is the top grand cru of Chablis, Les Clos. Five of the 13 Chablises we sampled at this lunch were from the Les Clos Grand Cru.
So far, 2009s are showing expressive fruit and balance, with many producers having dialed back on the ripeness levels of two and three years ago. The regrettable trend that I wrote about last year, and that I’m continuing to see too many examples of, is high stem or whole cluster inclusion levels.
I wasn’t expecting much from 2008 Northern Rhones after reading about the heavy rains that fell there, especially in early September, and the predominantly cool and overcast weather that hung over most of the growing season. So it was exciting to taste these 2008s from two of the best producers in the Northern Rhone, Jean-Louis Chave and Thierry Allemand, who seem to have pulled some delectable rabbits out of rain soaked hats in 2008.
This was an exciting tasting. The wines–whites from indigenous varietals, an orange wine, and reds from Bordeaux varietals–are not merely well made. They have something I can only describe as an energy to them, a special vitality that makes them eminently drinkable and fascinating, so much so that the experience has stayed with me throughout the week since the tasting.