Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of drinking a lot of Pinot Noir, from California, Burgundy in France and Oregon. Frankly, not all of it has been memorable. Too many are thin and one-dimensional. Even some of those north of $40 or $50.
But my wine drinking buddies and I have endured the trials of mediocre vino to discover some exceptional wine. Some of the consistently thoroughly enjoyable Pinots come from producers such as Kosta Browne, Siduri, Loring, Talley, Kistler, and Aubert.
While these are always reliable, I like finding new stuff. Pinot Days, a gathering of Pinot wineries, happened on December 7th at the Skirball Center. There I discovered two new wineries (new at least to me).
The first is August West, a San Francisco (yes, based in the city) winery. The name comes from a Grateful Dead song, Wharf Rat. In the song, an alcoholic named August West proclaims about his life, “Other half found me stumbling around drunk on burgundy wine.”
Well, it wouldn’t be a bad half life to be crocked on August West Pinot. My favorite was Rosella’s Vineyard, a well-balanced Pinot with a beautiful bouquet. Ed Kurtzman, the winemaker, explained how he gets his wine to smell so good. He avoids the barnyard smell so many Pinots have by being selective about his yeasts, as this is the source of that off-putting aroma. He lets his fermentation go until he likes the way it smells, then it goes into barrels. He describes his wines as “aromatic, not too tannic, with a softer style.”
Ed makes about 2000 cases/year, carrying Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah, with the Pinots often getting higher scores from the critics. But he makes his wine the way he likes, not according to some critic’s palate. And from what I tasted at Pinot Days, he’s doing a fine job.
The other pleasant surprise was Reuling. Reuling has an elite background. Originally it was a vineyard that sold its grapes to two prestigious wineries, Aubert and Peter Michael. Wines from these guys start at $80/bottle and go up, depending on how well Robert Parker liked them.
In 2013, Reuling decided to make its own wine, producing an outstanding 2011 Pinot. It was delicious, spicy, with a strong current of blackberry holding it together. Considering that this is their first effort, the Reuling family has done quite well, with excellent potential for the future.
As anticipated, Pinot Days proved a good venue for discovery.