There was no evidence of leakage in the neck of the bottle, and despite the wine’s age, when I drew out the cork, it remained intact.
Next came the moment of truth: smelling… yes, definitely still alive. No hint of vinegar, or diluted or cooked fruit aromas. Now, the taste…
Well, the 1972 Inglenook Pinot Noir (left over from a large private collection I bought years ago in Cleveland) was not made to be California’s greatest Pinot ever — and it still isn’t — but, at age 41, it showed a balance between fruit and acidity that revealed the winemaker’s modesty and intelligence. Balanced wines last, and keep on pleasing. It wasn’t overly oaky, tannic, thick, or alcoholic. It was pleasurable to drink — perfect with our roast turkey sandwiches.
These are all descriptions that in recent years many people seemed to find missing in examples from the state where four of every five U.S. wines originate. Yet, as Jon Bonne in his New California Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2013) insists, classic attributes are finally being discovered (and rediscovered) at a few California wineries.
Now, I apprenticed at a famous Napa winery that pioneered “Big Flavor,” as Bonne derisively calls California’s fascination with heft and hedonism, dependent on grape varieties from cooler climates in Europe that, in desert heat, reach astonishing levels of ripeness (and alcohol levels). And, I’ve been turning my back on my tutelage ever since leaving in 1987. I much prefer Old World wine ethics. Powerful wines can be fun, but, at the expense of gracefulness, always boring. Indeed, I find the general California style of the last 25 years — as a chef on the Provençal coast once put it to me — “soupy.”
Bonne, wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, promises some new players realize that certain attributes are classic for good reason.
Yeah, yeah, yeah — give me some names, right? Among others, says Bonne, watch for these producers: Arnot-Roberts, Birichino, Broc, La Clarine Farm, Dirty & Rowdy, Donkey & Goat, Lioco, Matthiasson, Sandhi, and Scholium Project.
Small Biz Buzz Best Buy — Manoir du Carra 2013 Nouveau (Beaujolais, France). Bursting with plummy, red-fruit flavors, yet snappy with acidity, personable, and versatile, this was my favorite release from the annual French Beaujolais release rite in November. $11. Interestingly, Jon Bonne documents how a few wineries, using Gamay Noir grown in the higher elevations of California’s Sierra Foothills, are on track to challenge Beaujolais as notable producers of a variety that perhaps best of all symbolizes Old World charm, with its fruity, non-tannic, never-boring red wine.