Happy birthday to us! Twenty years ago today, I sent out the first edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor, a short item titled 30 Second Wine Tasting Tip: Eyeballing wine.
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That first edition went out to exactly 89 subscribers. If any of you reading this today were among them, I’d love it if you would let me know. A week later readership had jumped to 337 for the second issue; and on March 3 we had crossed the 1,000-subscriber point. Just over a year later, on Feb. 28, 2000, we went over 10,000 readers. Such a pace couldn’t last forever, of course, but we’re still ticking along nicely at a fairly stable 25,000 subscribers, new readers keeping pace with those who drift away.
It’s been quite an experience, and we’ve covered quite a range of wine-related topics – many of the more complicated subjects more than once, it goes without saying. Over time publication has ranged from once weekly to three times a week, to five times a week for a short, energetic period, back to the more deliberate pace of two issues monthly that we’ve maintained in recent years. It all adds up to some 2,000 columns, and you can still review them all in our archives, which begin here with our reviews through April 2015, with links onward to earlier editions.
A lot about wine has stayed the same over all those years, and further back still: I launched WineLovers Page.com (then Robin Garr’s Wine Bargain Page) in 1994. I was a system operator for the old CompuServe Wine Forum from 1985. And all this began as a surprisingly young wine columnist for the late Louisville Times in 1980.
Heck, a lot about wine hasn’t changed all that much since the Romans were dosing their Falernum with salt water and worse things more than 2,000 years ago. You squeeze grapes, let them ferment, drink and enjoy. Sometimes I think it’s healthy for us to keep that in mind, when we get too tied up in the minutiae and details.
But some of the minutiae and details can be interesting, educational fun, and that’s what makes us wine nerds or geeks. Consider, for example, Pinot Noir, the varietal topic for this month’s WineLovers Forum Wine Focus: Back to basics with Pinot Noir.
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Enjoy a Pinot for our birthday!
As I wrote in a 2003 article about California wine maker and Pinot pioneer Josh Jensen, “Pinot Noir is arguably one of the world’s greatest wine grapes, so much so that ‘Burgundy,’ the name of the historic French region that may have been the first place in the world to require its wine producers to use a specific grape – has earned a dictionary listing as a synonym for ‘red wine’ in general.”
Indeed, some 20 years before that, when I was learning about wine while writing about it at The Louisville Times, Pinot Noir was frankly not highly regarded outside Burgundy. At that point, the conventional wisdom was that Pinot Noir was a difficult, even mysterious grape, requiring a very specific terroir and viticultural and winemaking knowledge that no one outside Burgundy had yet mastered, nor was anyone particularly likely to do so. Sure, a lot of California producers made a Pinot Noir at the time, but it was perceived as a modest wine with little or no resemblance to the great wines of Burgundy.
Jensen sought to change that with his Calera winery near Mount Harlan in San Benito County, about 90 miles south of San Francisco, one of the highest and coolest vineyard locations in California, with limestone-rich vineyard soils that Jensen’s research told him bore some kinship to Burgundy.
His wines succeeded, but as he pointed out, they were nothing like the rich, bold, dark New World reds that were becoming popular at the time. “These are not ‘smash-mouth footballs,’ but wines of subtlety,” he said of his wines. “In the rush toward ‘monster’ Cabernets, if you put this wine between Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate, it would probably get crushed. But this is a wine of subtlety and elegance.”
Fair enough. I liked his wines, and did see in them hints of Burgundy, or at least the Burgundies that I could afford.
Now, 20 more years onward, many would still argue that Burgundy is the ideal place to look for the greatest Pinot Noirs. But no one is saying that it’s the only place, with quality Pinot coming from just about every wine-growing region in the world. Some of them are as subtle and elegant as ever. Some, particularly from California’s warmer regions, are, well, “smash-mouth footballs,” and if the critics love that, well, more power to them, but I probably won’t buy.
We’ve come a long way, Pinot. What’s your favorite style? Pull a cork or unscrew a cap or two this month, and drop by the WineLovers forum or, if you like, check in at our WineLovers Facebook page and tell us about it.
Here are my notes on a couple of French Pinots, a very affordable generic Burgundy and a pleasant, modern Vin de France.
Today’s Tasting Reports
Joseph Drouhin 2016 “LaForêt” Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($15.99)
Ruby, clear yet dark almost all the way to the edge, where it meets a pale reddish-violet rim. Good young Pinot Noir aromas, red fruits with a pleasant, characteristic hint of tomato skin. The fresh, acidic flavor adds subtle spice, with light but perceptible tannins becoming more evident along with light notes of raspberry and blueberry in a long, tart finish. Moderate 12.5% alcohol stays in the background. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC. (Dec. , 2018)
FOOD MATCH: Wine maker Veronique Boss-Drouhin takes note of its versatility, suggesting “grilled chicken, pasta with pesto … simple things, a sign of the times.” We enjoyed it with a simple Southern Italian pasta dish, lenticchie, a mix of lentils and broken bits of linguine with tomatoes, onions and garlic.
WHEN TO DRINK: Enjoy over the next three to five years, assuming cool storage; don’t try to cellar it longer.
This English-language fact sheet on Drouhin’s web pages contains a good overview, with links to more detail.
See this page from U.S. importer Dreyfus-Ashby for more information.
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The Seeker 2016 Pinot Noir Vin de France ($12.99)
Clear dark reddish-purple, with bright ruby glints against the light. Distinct cherry aromas, a mix of fresh red cherries and dried cherries, with a back note of warm brown spices. Bright and mouth-filling, luscious cherry fruit fills the mouth, nicely structured with zippy acidity and a touch of soft tannic astringency that builds into a very long finish. Good wine, if a bit “New World” in style for a French Pinot Noir. The label claims 12.5% alcohol, and declares the wine vegan, made with no animal-sourced products. U.S. importer: Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y. (Jan. , 2019)
FOOD MATCH: The high fruit suggests more hearty meat, bean or cheese dishes than a more subtle Pinot might require. The winery also suggests, broadly, pizza, pasta, and barbecue. It made a lovely match for us with cassoulet.
WHEN TO DRINK: There’s no rush to drink it up in the next year or two, particularly thanks to the metal screwcap, but it’s not intended as a cellar keeper and won’t benefit from extended aging.
Wine-Searcher.com’s $13 average retail matches my local price. You won’t find much good Pinot Noir for less.
Here’s The Seeker’s concise fact sheet on its Pinot Noir.
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Compare prices and find vendors for The Seeker Pinot Noir Vin de France on Wine-Searcher.com.
More affordable wines
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!
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