Long before the 2004 movie ‘Sideways’ brought the battle of ‘camp Merlot’ vs ‘camp Pinot Noir’ to popular culture, wine lovers have had strong and firm opinions about Pinot Noir. At the very high end, Burgundy pinot noirs like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have been considered some of the finest expressions of wine ever made. A front cover of a 2010 issue of Wine Spectator hailed DRC simply as “Heaven on Earth”. The French have also steadfastly cultivated the idea that the terroir of Burgundy was peerless for the production of Pinot Noir wines.
The Pinot Noir grape itself is considered difficult to grow and challenging to vinify. It is easily susceptible to rot and fungus and additionally needs cooler climates with less temperature variation to thrive. This leaves fewer regions in the world where Pinot Noir is grown well and made into notable wine.
In the late 70’s, Oregon, having an ideal climate for Pinot Noir started to have considerable success in producing fine Pinot Noir wines; at one point out-performing some of France’s finest Burgundies in blind tastings (in France!). This started to nurture, though slowly, the general idea that with the right climate and skill, fine Pinot Noir wines could be produced outside of Burgundy.
Around the same time period, California was experiencing success with Pinot Noir but mostly along the cooler coastal areas of Sonoma. Vineyards in the “true Sonoma Coast” are planted just a few miles inland from the rugged Pacific Ocean cliffs, but can manage the stronger sun above the fog line.
Though less famous than some of their Oregon cousins California Pinot Noir wine can be very highly rated and satisfying.
On a recent outing for dinner I paired a 2014 Flowers’ Pinot Noir with an excellent grilled Berkshire pork chop.
The Flowers’ estate vineyards were some of the first planted on the “extreme” Sonoma Coast in 1991. Their vineyards are just two miles up from the Pacific Ocean at elevations of 1,150 to 1,875 feet. Coastal breezes and fog cool the vineyards during the heat of summer and allow the fruit to mature fully to help produce some very excellent wines.
The 2014 ‘Sonoma Coast’ Pinot Noir was classic in its nose with a mild smoky cigar box aroma combined with faint earthiness and cherry fruit. It had medium acidity and medium tannins that settled nicely within a few minutes of opening. The palate was primarily red cherry with hints blueberry and even some floral notes. The wine was medium bodied and a little bigger in general than a classic French Pinot, but it paired perfectly with the grilled pork and root vegetables.
Overall this is a very good example of a California Pinot Noir – it is thoroughly enjoyable with food, but could easily be enjoyed alone.
There is a very interesting note on the Vineyard’s web site – In 1999, Flowers’ had the distinction of being served at a White House for a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of NATO. Ironically the order had come on April 1st and the winery was initially convinced that the request was a prank.
The WH called back the next day to place their order.
The Flowers’ 2014 has ratings from 90 (W&S) to 93 (WE). It retails in the $50 range and is quite a good value given its numbers.
By Richard Arebalo
OTL Features Editor