I was disappointed by Eric Asimov's article in today's (April 2, 2008) NY Times trashing California Pinot Noirs. He starts off by confessing to us that he doesn't drink much California Pinot Noir with their "prevailing thick, fruit-and-oak-drenched style". He explains that Pinot Noirs should be "light, elegant, graceful and refreshing".
Before responding, my disclaimers- I don't consider myself a wine expert in any way shape or form. My credentials lay in having tasted thousands, and thousands of wines over the past few years as the owner of Tucos, including hundreds, if not thousands of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Oregon, and California. I don't consider myself a California-centric wine person- I love wines from all over the globe.
What a Pinot Noir Should Be- Disclaimer out of the way, I'll begin with my view on a definition of "what Pinot Noir should be" (or any other wine for that matter). Is there only one valid style of suit, sports car, coffee, wine, etc.? Is a simple Bourgogne from the same producer, same vintage, the same as its Grand Cru sibling? No. The Grand Cru is always a bolder wine. So which is it lighter or bolder? Both, as long as they're both delicious.
California Pinots- Rich, Powerful Reds That Work Better as Cocktails- Asimov is doing his readers a disservice describing California Pinot's as working better as cocktails. Who's going to want to go out and explore any region's wine after having it described this way by such an important source as the NY Times ? If Asimov were just another Joe writing his opinion about a wine, OK, but his article in the Times represents so much more. In my tastings over the past few years I've seen a range of lighter to fuller styles in Pinot- but not just in California- in Burgundy too and by some of the biggest names (Leroy, Perrot-Minot). I've also seen this range in styles, not just in Pinot's, but in Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and not just from California but from France, Italy, Oregon, Washington, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina- you get the picture. There are different styles, some work, some don't work, but when they do they are delicious and wonderful contributions to our wine world. Some pair better with certain foods others don't. Wine hopefully will never be a one-size-fits-all venture.
Representative Validation Tasting of California Pinot Noirs- To test his view Asimov puts together a tasting of California Pinot's with a group of "local experts".
-Asimov chooses to focus the tasting on only one of California's several premier (and distinct) Pinot Noir growing regions- the Russian River. While the Russian River produces some of my favorite Pinots on the planet, what about the wonderful, world-class, Pinots of the Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia, Santa Barbara, or Mendocino? Each with different characteristics, but equally fun and delicious and together provide a better sample of California Pinot's.
-Next Asimov selects representative Pinot's of the region- De Loach, Mia's Playground, BearBoat, Lynmar, Porter Creek, Russian Hill, Freeman, Emeritus, David Bruce, and One Thousand One. Nothing against these wines, I'm sure they're well made, worthy wines, but they are not the first names that would come up on my list to sample as representative wines of that region. Asimov blames this on not having access to other highly-allocated Pinot's. Hard to believe that the NY Times could not find willing producers to provide samples for the very important business of informing and educating their readers.
-The one producer that would be on my list was disqualified, Paul Hobbs Lindsay Estate 2005, $101 retail. Asimov found the wine "harsh and hot". Before sentencing this wine as Asimov did with his written comments in the NY Times, I would have tried another bottle to eliminate the very real possibility of having a bad bottle. Every producer in the world suffers from bottle variation. We open and pour thousands of wines a year at Tucos and experience this bottle variation on a very regular basis.
In closing Asimov throws California Pinot's a bone by finding the wines exceptions to his "super-saturated fruit bomb" view, though he credits this to his selection of cooler vintages where "it is beyond human and technological control". He finishes by categorizing them as possessing "tepid tameness", yum, let's run out and buy some.
By the way, I'd like to think that I would have been equally disappointed and written this response had the article been written about wines from any other region of the world. This type of unfair and untrue bashing of a region's products (wine or other products) does harm to us all- not just the producers who lose revenue but us consumers too who miss out on such wonderful products. I have no bones to pick with Asimov , the individual, sharing his opinions with friends, maybe after tasting a few too many wines, but a written article in the NY Times? Sometimes, when one finds it difficult to create substantive content for one's newspaper it's better to just leave the space blank that week- a decision that should have been applied to today's California-bashing article which amounts to not much more than wine-discrimination.