Pinot Days Chicago 2009

Pinot Days 2009Another autumn day in Chicago, enjoying not only a fabulous Indian summer, but also some Pinot Noir.  Pinot Days occurred on the lakefront, in Navy Pier, an awesome venue for any event.  With such great weather in the city, people were strolling down the pier, fishing, shopping, and sitting while admiring the view of our lake and skyline.  I enjoyed the view as well, like I always do, while strolling to try Pinot Noir from over 50 different producers.

So Pinot Noir has quickly become one of the world's favorite varietals, and there is much to like about the grape.  It produces wines that can be easy drinking, with light and vibrant red berry fruit, bright acidity (which helps with many food pairings), and can also have many spice components, and earthy/mushroom qualities, though mostly (but not only!) found in European versions.  The color can go from translucent and light ruby to light deep purple, and the tannins as well can vary from light to grippy and firm.  These wines can also age, and show many more complexities with maturity.

The producers at this event were here to impress.  I started off by visiting Tim Olsen of Olsen Ogden Wines in Sonoma'sOlsen Ogden Russian River Valley.  I've met Tim before, and not only is he a great guy, but he makes outstanding wine.  He introduced me to two of his Pinots, which demonstrated extremely different styles.  His 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has deeper color, more tannins and weight.  It also has dark fruit flavor and spice.  On the other hand, his 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is lighter, full of red fruit and bright acid, and has more earthy complexity.  These wines illustrate two basic styles of Pinot Noir.  I was also lucky to try both a Syrah/Grenache blend, and the Unti Vineyard Syrah.  Love the body and peppery spice with those wines.

Next I was on to Inman Family Wines, a small winery in Sonoma, with some great wines, especially their estate organically grown Olivet Grange Vineyard Pinot Noir.  This wine exhibits much depth and flavor, and will age well.  The tannic structure is much more intense than many other Pinots, and I guarantee you will enjoy it.  They also feature a few other Pinot Noirs made with fruit from other vineyards, and a Pinot Gris.

I also found another one of my favorite Sonoma Pinot Noirs, the Keller Estate Precioso.  This is made from the estate's best select barrels, and aged 15 months in oak.  This wine is not only full of rich fruits like raspberry and pomegranate, but also exotic spice, and depth.

A few other California wineries I enjoyed:

  • Demetria.  Family owned winery making biodynamically grown grapes, and a great Pinot in the Santa Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara.

  • Belle Glos.  A Sonoma producer with three single vineyard Pinots: Taylor Lane, Clark and Telephone, and Las Alturas.  This family has a long history with California wines, so watch out for these wines!

  • Goldeneye.  This label was created by the Duckhorn family, with a vision to create world class Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.  They now make excellent Pinots from four different estate's fruit.

  • Papapietro.  A family owned Sonoma winery not only making great Pinot Noir, but also Zinfandels.

There was also some Pinot Noir from Oregon, my favorite state for the varietal:

  • Domaine Serene.  A historically acclaimed producer, making world class Pinot Noir from three estate vineyards in Dundee Hills, north Willamette Valley.

  • Le Cadeau.  A Willamette Valley producer making excellent Pinot from a volcanic microclimate.

  • Stoller.  Not only making world class wines, but also the nation's first LEED Certified winery, a mark of not only true sustainability, but also a commitment to being "Green".

There were also some German Pinot Noir, also known as Spatburgunder, represented.  The style is traditionally lighter in body, tannins, and color, though bigger versions are being produced in seasons offering longer summers and more intense sunlight.

All things considered, this was a great tasting event, with not only some extremely enjoyable wines, but also some nice food and olive oils.  Looking forward to Pinot Days 2010!

Napa Valley Stop #1- Duckhorn Vineyards

After renting a Dodge Caliber in San Francisco, the Windy City Wine Guy and wife drove up to Napa Valley.  It was a hot September day and the views along the way were well worth the short trip.  After passing through St. Helena, we arrived at Duckhorn.  Started by the Duckhorn family in 1976, they have been producing Bordeaux varietal wines for over 30 years.  The entire company was sold to GI Partners in 2007 and still holds up to great wine standards. 

After entering the Estate House, we were introduced to their entire current vintage portfolio by Danny Rodriguez.  Danny's pride and knowledge for the product was almost as incredible as the wines themselves.  After our tasting we were taken on a tour by Ryan Moore, Retail Operations Director and a former Windy City dweller.  We walked through the vineyards surrounding the house, which were recently harvested Sauvignon Blanc vines.  A few grapes were left behind so we sampled them- what a treat!  Our next stop was to the winery- juice was fermenting in large stainless steel tanks waiting to be put into new 100% French oak barrels for at least 16 months aging (20 months for estate wines).  If you ever get a chance to smell an aging room then go for it- the smell of oak and wine is amazing. 

Here is a list of the wines we sampled:

  • 2007 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc- great tropical fruit and body from 20% new oak and sur lie aging.  Contains 25% Semillon. 

  • 2005 Napa Valley Estate Grown Merlot- this is a full rich style from an excellent vintage.  Earth, tobacco and leather accompany spice on the nose while silky fruit and berries flow on the mouth.  Also blended with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

  • 2005 3 Palm Vineyard Merlot- a bit more tannin, earth, and more prevalent chocolate and toast.  Not as silky but great finish.  A higher % of blending varietals involved in this wine.

  • 2005 Howell Mt. Red- Over 90% Merlot makes this a juicy and smooth wine.  The flavors are more compex with herbs, dark fruit, and minerals. 

  • 2005 Napa Cab- ageworthy with strong tannins, grippy dark fruit, and long finish- asking for beef!

  • 2005 Patzimaro Vineyard Cab- great minerality, acidity, and tannin.  The deep dark fruits mingle with mint and pepper.  Good amounts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the blend.

  • 2005 Monitor Ledge Cab- dark dried fruit, cocoa, baking spice, and vanilla make this a delicious wine.  Merlot and Petit Verdot for deep color added to the blend.

The wines can be a bit pricey, but they are collectible and always garner great scores.  Have them shipped or look in your local wine shops.  Also keep on the lookout for the other wines which fall under the Duckhorn Company- Goldeneye and Migration Pinot Noir, Paraduxx Zin/Cab blends, and Canvasback Rhone/Cab blends. 

I want to thank Ryan, Danny, and Duckhorn for making our first morning in Napa a memorable experience!