Selections for September 2016

California’s Original Pinot

2012 WATERSTONE PINOT NOIR – Carneros

Pinot Noir has been hanging around California for ages, but the casual consumers only began to take notice of the varietal about twenty-five years ago.  No wonder:  Their awareness not-coincidentally coincided with California’s winegrowers finally getting it right and making more attractive Pinot Noir.  Until the late eighties / early nineties this varietal didn’t deserve to go mainstream. 

. . . And the first site-specifically-named Pinots we heard of came from Carneros:  Before anyone had heard of Santa Rita Hills or Santa Lucia Highlands . . . before the Anderson Valley showed up on the radar . . . even before the Russian River Valley made its mark.  Carneros, occupying the southern parts of both Napa and Sonoma Counties, was the first California appellation identified not with political boundaries but for its proximity to San Pablo Bay.  It was one of California’s original ideas for the now-popular concept of coastal viticulture; locating vines near temperature-moderating water masses.  In addition to yielding bright and lively Chardonnays, cool but not freezing-cold Carneros would keep fickle Pinot Noir’s delicate fruit from burning up OR over-chilling.       

When Carneros rose to prominence it was largely planted to the Swan and Martini clones of Pinot Noir.  While providing marvelous complexity, these clones tended to produce lower-colored, lighter–bodied wines.  Therefore – with Carneros carrying the flag - the mainstream’s original impression of California Pinot was one of delicacy.  A fine strawberry / cranberry perfume encouraged one to slow down to a more patient perusal or, conversely, to quickly reject the wine as too “light.”  The experience in the mouth further confirmed either opinion:  Arousing with citric anxiety and cherry pit bitterness.  Those used to the comforting effect of riper “cocktail” wines with bigger alcohols had some reckoning to do, for this new California Pinot Noir was certainly a more nervy, protein-needy drink.

Carneros has more recently been planted to other clones of Pinot which confer more darkness of color and fruit to their wines, so now you’ll see bigger wines from there.  This Waterstone sticks to Carneros tradition, however, with the effect described earlier.  For Yours Truly it’s a nostalgic reminder of my original California Pinot impression, and I understand it far better now than I did then when most of what my palate fathomed was more monstrous (ZIN!) in size.  In body it is half the wine of the Baker Lane Pinot we recently brought you.  In character – for those who carefully consider their wines – it is at least its equal.

They Voted for This

2013 NEVERLAND CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Santa Barbara County

We rarely source this area for Cabernet, so there’s less of a general idea as to what Santa Barbara Cabernet should taste like.  Certainly, you have indulged in “Sideways Country” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - and perhaps a Rhone-inspired blend or two - but how many Bordeaux varietals have you seen from here? 

Fifteen years ago we would have protected you from this wine type.  Southern Central Coast Cabernets and Merlots were just too “green” to be popular.  Root and cruciferous vegetable aromas and flavors ran the show; qualities which are downers for the general palate.  Better vineyard practices have changed that story mercifully, and young winemakers such as Andrew Jones are also instrumental in delivering a more broadly appealing Santa Barbara Cabernet.

Smell this:  Witness the generous fruit sauce and baking spice qualities.  Also note the subtle nod to SB County terroir:  You might sense the nuance of earth clinging to roots; not at all unattractive in its low proportion to the whole impression.  There is great purity of unfettered (barely-oaked) fruit in the mouth as well, then a final “snap” of tannins.  I showed this to a few different Stewards hovering nearby, wondering aloud if that last effect disqualified the wine for your fruit-loving club.  The consensus:  The big jammy fruit NEEDS those tannins to keep the mouth engaged and interested.   Basically, they were saying, “Jim, you’re being too analytical!”  Indeed, when I get out of “wine autopsy mode” and just drink this stuff it is unavoidably attractive.

“Neverland” brings to mind the old Michael Jackson retreat hidden in the hills of this area.  Andrew Jones swears he had another allusion in mind when naming the wine.  This nurseryman-turned-winemaker realizes he’ll probably never afford vineyard property of his own in this now too-famous area, so he buys this fruit from several trusted sources, naming the wine for the land he’ll never actually acquire.

We hope you enjoy this rare visit to one of California’s southernmost (and deliciously unique) expressions of a well-known varietal, for less than today’s price of an e-ticket ride!