Category Pinot Noir

Carneros Pinot Revisited and Re-appreciated – James Melendez

 

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Carneros is a magical AVA that straddles both Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Many of my earliest memories of visiting Napa Valley was going through Carneros. Carneros is a gateway to Napa Valley for many visitors—especially those coming from San Francisco on the 101.

Carneros gave us the first cool climate Pinot Noir – the response is obvious – what hot climate Pinot Noir was the norm? Louis Martini planted Pinot Noir at Stanly Ranch in the late 1940s. Carneros Pinot Noir is thought of as lacking “richness, body and finesses” as Steve Heimoff says in Carneros: A Reflection. He states that since September 1, 2012 only 8 Pinots from Carneros had ranked above 90 points out of 173 – “…a pretty dismal showing” he says. The article is relatively negative and he ends with talking about his last six month score of 90 point and above Pinots… felt like a conciliation prize for Carneros and Pinot Noir.

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Some people I know have been equally hard on Carneros especially the Pinot Noirs.   Basically the overall message is that Pinot Noir and Carneros are a mismatch. There have been excuses for why “Carneros doesn’t do Pinot Noir well” and it has come to soil conditions. But the soil content is not uniform and wouldn’t explain that reasoning and also significant sloping and draining patterns.

When I have tasted Pinot Noirs—and especially if I have them on my tasting table and I am tasting many Pinots I am going to bring together regions and not mix and match. The reason is simple. Wine regions as it relates to Pinot Noir differ—I don’t want to be tasting Oregon and Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs at the same sitting or any other region. I think sometimes taster get influenced by one style and it may be at the subconscious level…. Perhaps someone has a preference for fruit intense wines versus leaner styles. As a wine reviewer, I do believe it is paramount to recognize style and to not punish one region over another. I do think it is essential to make the distinction. For me and over time I have truly enjoyed many Pinot Noir and have rated over 90 points not sparingly so but with true merit.

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I have been searching for the reasons of Carneros differences for Pinot Noir might not just be soil but more than that—anecdotally every time I visit and especially during growing season there is an noticeable cool breeze—that cool breeze is from the San Pablo Bay. Russian River Valley doesn’t have a San Pablo Bay. Carneros is sunny but cooler than many Pinot Noir growing regions in California. Most Pinot Noir regions have a connection with the Pacific Ocean and that is the evening’s cool down treatment. Carneros has the cooler temps in day as well as evening. I do think this is particularly influential to the region. Please read into this that I never put down one region in favour or another—that would be a wine reviewers quick demise. I still love Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Santa Rita Hills, and my palette lives in the best of all worlds—enjoying all wine regions.

I thought it was about time to write a piece in defense of Carneros Pinot Noir—I do believe now more than ever Carneros producers are doing a very good job with their materials and brining to the market place a point of difference Pinot Noir. Give Carneros Pinot Noir a try—and when tasting use a different lens. I harken back to earlier memories of Carneros and think of the beauty, quality of light year round is amazing. I sometimes on my way back to San Francisco I go down a road to see and feel Carneros when most people are on a rush back to get to the City—it is magical.

Salute,

James

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Kelowna, British Columbia: A Delightful and ‘Must Visit’ Wine Country – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Kelowna, Okanagan Valley

Kelowna, Okanagan Valley

Some wine countries are developed as you might expect–all the amenities and much more.  Other wine countries lack and ‘…only if they had more restaurants… more resorts, spas and stores.’  But each wine country is different and it would be dull if they were exactly the same.  Clearly all wine countries are on their own trajectory.  And that is okay as that helps to define character.  Many wine countries have potential—and many if not all work hard to stay where they are and develop further.

Kelowna is at the centre of Okanagan Lake–a pristine lake that is much larger than what you might see in a picture – 135 kilometers (84 miles) length and 5 kilometers wide (3.1 miles) at it’s maximum.  But it is more than just metrics–it is a scenic beauty that is graspable and appreciable–unspoiled and a clear ambiance of beauty and having all of the amenities I crave and need.  I was in Kelowna in June of this year (2013) and I was so looking forward to my visit and I told people around me and each was surprised that Canada had a wine country.  I replied that Okanagan Valley is one of two major wine countries in Canada.  Most people thought it was too cold for Vitis vinifera.

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Okanagan Valley and the lake chains (Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos Lake) and the desert (most northern tip of the Sonoran dessert) enter into Canada.  Each of these geographic features set the stage for the right circumstances and conditions for wine grape growing.  The lakes moderate temperate–not too hot, not too cold.  Like other wine countries often a valley is another great condition–can optimise temperature and depending on their formation have some ideal soil types.  The only downside might be lesser acres/hectares available to grow wine grapes while others would argue this is exactly what is needed.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Summerhill Pyramid Winery

My excursions to Kelowna was to start off at Summerhill Pyramid Winery founded in 1991 by Stephen Cipes.  The winery is located in Kelowna facing west and proximate to Okanagan Lake.  The Cipes family is quite involved with their winery from leadership to dynamics and permaculture.  I began my tour from the stunning lake view side–the June sun bright and splendidly warm on my face.  I listened to Ezra Cipes talk about the winery’s organic, biodynamic and permaculture approach to their winemaking.  And walked up the hill to the Pyramid with winemaker/viticulturist Eric von Krosigk –I was excited to see the interior of the pyramid which is 1:8 ratio of the smaller of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.  Unlike the Egyptian pyramid you can see the full interior (i.e. the Egyptian pyramids are a stone structure outside and in).  The geometry allows for a small amount of outdoor light–is made of wood and concrete and this great Pyramid of Summerhill has copper along it’s central support beams.

I then enjoyed a meal at the Sunset Organic Bistro prepared by Chef Jesse Croy.  The five course meal was paired with Summerhill wines.  In my expectation for good not great food–locally sourced, beautiful prepared and plated and matching quite nicely with Summerhill wines.  I was surprised to see so many local items plated so early—the strawberries were gorgeous.  And this was my first time to taste Elk–much more mild than I would have expected—very nice.   A misconception on my part is that there is a later ripening seasons for fruit and vegetables.

Here are the courses and wines paired with each:

Course 1

Shoots & Roots – Radish, Sprouts, Beans and Quinoa

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Cipes Brut NV

Course 2

Scallops & Grilled Okanagan Valley Strawberries

Summerhill Syrah Rosé 2010

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Course 3

British Columbia Salmon

Summerhill Riesling 2012

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Course 4

Elk Medallions

Summerhill Cabernet Franc 2009

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Course 5

Chocolate Duo

Chocolate Gelato Ice Wine Float & Raspberry Dark Sacher Cake

Summerhill Estate Riesling Icewine

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The lingering sun going down much later than my usual northern California sunset was a great way to close the evening–orange sunset accented by deep blue colours from Okanagan Lake and with backdrop of the mountainside.

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A View from Manteo Resort

I stayed at the Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel and Villas –nicely situated on the lakefront.  Staying in a Villa is a great option if you want to stay in a place that you are centrally located to downtown Kelowna and wineries.  I liked the full kitchen including washer and dryer, comfortable bedrooms, garage, and living room–ideal for a family but good for a couple as well.

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The next day I visited Tantalus Vineyards–a gorgeous and clear day and warm and gentle June sunlight warming the vineyard.  Tantalus is the mythological figure who was near fruit and yet it evaded him when he reached out–surrounded by water but each reach for a drink of water flowed away.  Tantalus is a gorgeous site of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay situated on gentle hillside facing west in nine blocks.  There are old vines of Riesling which some may find surprising given that Vitis vinifera has only recently been planted in mass.

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Breakfast is a necessary meal but rarely do I ever find it to be a stellar meal until my breakfast at Tantalus Vineyards prepared by Chef Mark Filatow.  Mark Filatow’s restaurant is Waterfront in Kelowna is focused on superbly fresh, perfectly prepared, local ingredients.  My breakfast was a waffle, house made yogurt, fresh fruit, honey, granola, potatoes, and house cured bacon was something I still dream about today.  This set the stage for an ideal breakfast–easily in my top ten of all time–wonderful view and paired with Tantalus sparkling wine, Riesling and Pinot Noir–thought it was morning it felt so natural and welcoming to take a few sips of Tantalus superb wines.

(L) David Patterson – Winemaker; (R) Jane Hatch General Manager

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Helen Kennedy – Arlo’s Honey Farm

After breakfast Tantalus winemaker David Paterson gave a wonderful tour of the vineyard site.  The old vine Riesling was planted in 1976; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier was planted in 1985 and more recent planting of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was planted between 2005 and 2009.  Walking down slightly on the hillside we stopped to see beehives tended by Helen Kennedy of Arlo’s Honey Farm.  Tasting fresh honeycomb and hearing Helen’s love for bees and beekeeping was a special treat.  This visit to Tantalus was a total senses experience of Kelowna, Okanagan Valley and Canada.  I recommend a visit to this pristine site; superbly nice staff and outstanding wines.  Tantalus shows a full capability of growing it’s grapes to create and sculpt gorgeous wines–the sparkling wines, rosé, Pinot Noir and Riesling show how Okanagan Valley creates world class wines.

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The next stop stop I made was to visit CedarCreek Estate Winery to taste Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Ehrenfelser, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from the estate.  Syrah, Merlot, Shiraz Cabernet, Cabernet Merlot, and Meritage are sourced from the southern Okanagan Valley in Osoyoos. CedarCreek is divided in two labels CedarCreek and the Platinum Series.  CedarCreek winemaker Darryl Brooker gave a tour of the estate.  Darryl has a full pedigree of experience in New Zealand, Ontario, and Australia.  Darryl talked about the totality of vineyard management, the people who care and pick the grapes workers from Mexico to the soil profile, clonal expression and favorable growing conditions.  The winemaking approach is to create wines that are fully in touch with Kelowna and Osoyoos and letting the fruit craft what Okanagan Valley does best.  Ehrenfelser is the curiosity grape that is a combination of Riesling and Silvaner developed by Dr. Heinrich Birk; Okanagan Valley is the only place beyond Germany where you will find this grape.  This grape was created to handle shorter growing period–Darryl says the result is that Ehrenfelser ripens at the same pace as Riesling.  Regardless it is a delightful wine; one to certainly pair with seafood or to start any drinks party and this wines name will certainly be a conversation starter.

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While the climb at the CedarCreek Estate was steep there was a reward of appetizer paired with Platinum Series Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; outstanding vistas and wondrous nibbles.  Then another reward of walk down to outdoor seating terrace to enjoy pulled pork sliders with CedarCreek Merlot and Cabernet Shiraz both 2011 vintage.

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Kelowna’s food and wine experience was a perfect way to start my wine tour of Okanagan Valley.  Outstanding wines, food, and people who are deeply committed to producing wines of any worldly palette.  A compelling landscape supporting ideal growing conditions, climate that is optimum and finally felt to put to rest this land “is too cold”–rather this land is rich to support a great variation in wine grapes, fruit and vegetables.   A land that confirms great accommodation and all of the amenities any sophisticated traveler might want.  I give a hearty recommendation to visit.

Website Links:

Summerhill Pyramid Winery (www.summerhill.bc.ca)

Tantalus Vineyards (www.tantalus.ca)

Tourism Kelowna (www.tourismkelowna.com)

Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas (www.manteo.com)

About Arlo’s Honey Farm (www.arloshoneyfarm.com)

Cedar Creek Estate Winery (www.cedarcreek.bc.ca)

Waterfront Restaurant (www.waterfrontrestaurant.ca)

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¡Salud!

http://www.jamesthewineguy.com

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

Read more of my wine reviews:   WORDPRESS

© 2013 James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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Hawks View Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir – 2010 – 9.4 (94/100 Pts) – James Melendez

9.4

This is all estate fruit.  This wine spends 12 months in 33% new french oak, 40% once filled french oak and 27% neutral french oak. A signature of Hanzel, Wadensvil, and Dijon Clones.

Scent of a Douglas fir forest, stone fruit orchard in autumn, pine cone, fallen leaves, and freshly stacked cedar wood.

This wine presents with balance, elegance and lyrical touch;  capture of bright acidity and luxuriant texture.  exhibiting notes of Tayberry, raspberry, definitive red rose petal lavender, hint of Ethiopian coffee, graphite and finishing off with delicate nots of thyme and cardamom.

¡Salud!

http://www.jamesthewineguy.com

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

Read more of my wine reviews:  

© 2013 James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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Bergström Cumberland Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – 2011 – 9.3 – James Melendez / James the Wine Guy

9.3

Dense, lush Pinot Noir, exhibiting a continuous and nuanced spice tone.

Exhibiting characteristics of Marionberry, blueberry, hint of game, smoke, fennel, cardamom and rose petal.

¡Salud!

http://www.jamesthewineguy.com

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

Read more of my wine reviews:

© 2013 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Bergström Dundee Hills Pinot Noir – 2009 – 9.2 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Notes of lavender, fennel, dusting of chocolate, violets and tart cherry.

¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Cornerstone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – 2009 – 9.1 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Clones: 115, Pommard

Notes of delicate rose petal, Montmorency cherry, hint of white mushroom, pepper and smoke.

¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Von Holt Suacci Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – 2008 – 9.2 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Delicate and nuanced notes of  cherry, rose petals, white truffle and pepper.  Scent of lavender, cedar wood pile, and moist earth in an orchard.

¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Von Holt Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – 2009 – 9.0 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Rose petals, roasted cranberry-tart cherry, fennel and sweet spices.

¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Rack And Riddle Blanc de Noir – NV – 9.0 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Varietals:

–       92% Pinot Noir

–       8% Chardonnay

Notes of fresh strawberry, currant, just baked biscuit, pine nut and essence of rose.

¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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Fog Crest Laguna West Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – 2009 – 9.0 – James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

Roasted plum-cherry-cranberry, red floral notes; slight game and Eucalyptus.

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¡Salud!

***

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

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© 2011 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez — All Rights Reserved. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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