I attended the Pigs and Pinot event put on by Charlie Palmer and the Hotel Healdsburg. The annual event was a benefit for the Share our Strength’s, No Kid Hungry campaign. I can tell you that no one went hungry at this tasting, or thirsty. There were over 60 Pinot producers mostly from California but also a couple of standouts from New Zealand, Oregon(including the Lenné Estate 2010 Pinot) and even a French Burgundy or two.
There was plenty of incredible food to match the plethora of wine, most of it pork based. I always hope to hit the holy grail at a tasting like this, find some incredible gem that turns my perception of Pinot Noir upside down, brings me to my knees and makes me have a religious moment. Of Course this never happens for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is incredibly difficult to really ascertain wine’s quality in a taste. The chances are improved if you are tasting it blind with producers from the same region and the same vintage. When you are comparing Pinot Noir’s from such disparate regions as Russian River and Burgundy it is nearly impossible to make any definitive judgements about one wine being better than the other. This is even more true when you are tasting 60 wines(I probably tasted 40 and spit the first 30).
But the other thing that struck me is that the real holy grail with Pinot Noir was right in front of me; the holy grail were the wines as a whole. Collectively it is astounding how Pinot Noir has evolved in the United States. My guess is that if you took any one of the wines(at least from about three quarters of the wines there) and went back 30 years in time, that wine would have become a cult wine. Today the wine is just more of the same.
Pinot has come a long way and that is true in California and true in Oregon. Thirty years ago I used to taste Oregon Pinot Noir and think, “so this is the mecca for Pinot Noir?” Back then only about 2 out of 10 wines intimated that the chalice of American Pinot Noir would be found in Oregon. Today I don’t question Oregon, it has become the mecca for American Pinot Noir along with the Sonoma Coast Appellation and a few other areas in California. With so many good wines, the trick now for consumers is deciding which ones to buy. But as wines become better so are the consumers drinking them and I hope more will discover real terroir in wines. It’s blended out of so many wines but there in others if you learn how to find it.
Regardless, there is no denying that the state of Pinot Noir has never been better.