Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving feast features diverse Pinot vs Rhone Wine Approach

Thanksgiving feast features diverse Pinot vs Rhone Approach to Wine Pairing

Thanksgiving dinner was held at son Ryan's and Michelle's for a gala family gathering of seventeen. Ryan and I both sourced some special wines for the event, taking two divergent approaches to accompany the dinner feast. Ryan served two Rhone wines while I brought two California Pinot Noirs. Both were ideal accompaniments to the delicious festive turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy.

From the Northern Rhone, Ryan served Guigal Saint Joseph, and from the Southern Rhone, he served a Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape. From California I brought a Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir and a Ninety Plus Cellars Sonoma Pinot Noir.

Rhone Valley Syrah

I admit we've missed out on Northern Rhone Syrahs which is tragic given our fondness for Syrah/Shiraz, and considering how much we collect and drink this varietal. We do hold a collection of (Southern Rhone) Chateauneuf-du-Papes which include Syrah in the blend, but our focus has been primarily on Australian Syrah/Shiraz with an occasional Californian and once in a while, one from Washington State.

Son Ryan has discovered Northern Rhone labels and has been preaching their virtues and brought them to our attention. These are the original old world Syrahs, after all, and deserve attention of fans of the varietal.

Readers of this blog might recall our visit to the legendary Napa Valley Syrah producer Lagier-Meredith, where Carol Meredith is a plant geneticist. I asked her about the relationship between the Shiraz and Syrah varietals from the Rhone Valley, California and Australia. She indicated that at the end of the day, they're all related and essentially from the same lineage. So differences in labels from the various regions should be attributed generally to terrior, the distinct sense of 'place' from where the grapes are sourced - soil, climate, exposure, etc.

Tonight's Rhone experience showed two remarkable Syrahs or Syrah inclusive blends.

Guigal Saint Joseph Rhone 2009

Of course, knowledgeable wine folks know that old world producers (Italy, France, Germany) name or label their wines after the appellation or place where the grapes in the wine are sourced - Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Burgundy, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, and leave it to the consumer to know what grapes are associated with that growing area. New world producers, on the other hand, name or label their wines after the grape or varietal in the bottle - Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, etc., as well as the locale from where the grapes are sourced. One might argue that this may be due to the fact that New World wine consumers are less knowledgeable, but it could also be argued that there is less correlation between regions and the varietals grown there - such as Sonoma Cabernet (a Bordeaux varietal) as well as Pinot Noir (a Burgundy varietal).

Guigal Saint Joseph Rhone 2009

While not as complex in the blend as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which features Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, (hence the moniker 'GSM' given to some of this blend when from other regions), perhaps Cinsault, and may include several other varietals, this single varietal Syrah based wine still showed notable depth and complexity. This Northern Rhone label provides high QPR (quality to price ratio), especially compared to the CDP's and some of the named label Northern Rhones.

This was dark garnet and purple colored, medium full bodied, aromas and flavors of full, forward ripe black berry and black cherry fruits accented by a layer of cracked pepper, herbs, and tones of smoked meat, hints of creosote and smoke, with medium acidity, gripping but approachable tannins. 

RM 91 points.

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau 2009

A visit to this legendary producer was one of the highlights of our trip to Chateauneuf-du-Pape a few years ago.

This was one of the most expressive, vibrant yet balanced and polished Vieux-Telegraphs, or CDP's for that matter, that I recall having in a long time.

Bright garnet colored, medium-full bodied, lively, rich, concentrated, forward red berry fruits predominate, accented by some dark berry flavors with a pleasant flavorful punctuation of tones of white pepper and hints of clove on a long elegant complex but smooth polished finish.

RM 93 points.

Fitting the occasion of son Ryan hosting the holiday, I brought a Ryan Vineyard Calera Mt Harlan Pinot Noir along with a Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 125 Monterey County Pinot Noir for a comparison tasting.

Calera are one of the original Pinot Noir varietal producers in California dating back to the '70's. Their founding and ascent are featured in the entertaining and educational classic wine book "The Heart Break Grape", about the challenges of finding and developing a suitable site for the finicky Pinot Nor grape in the untested California wine regions. Calera, known for vineyard designated Pinots released the Ryan Vineyard label in the last decade with the 2004 vintage release.

Pinot Noir makes up a fraction of our cellar collection as I am not a big fan or collector of Pinot Noir, but we do keep a couple labels for suitable drinking to fit the cuisine and occasion. Hence, I tend to be less discriminating and palate trained in Pinot than I am the Bordeaux varietals, which I favor. Knowing Ryan was opening Rhone wines, I selected and brought Pinot Noir, also suited to traditional Thanksgiving fare cuisine.

Perhaps it is my lack of Pinot discernment that I found a $46 to be almost comparable to one costing less than half the price, however, as I've written often, Ninety-Plus Cellars and the negociant practice often feature quality releases at a fraction of their comparable value due to their sourcing of overstock or excessive inventory from acclaimed producers. Such producers' branding is maintained by their anonymity as they are indicated by their "Lot' designation.

Hence this comparison tasting between these two Pinots.

Calera Ryan Vineyard Mt Harlan Pinot Noir 2011

Translucent ruby red colored, medium light bodied, scent of dusty rose, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with a hint of cola and spice turning to tones of mushroom and smoke with fine grained delicate tannins on the moderate lingering finish.

RM 89 points.


Ninety Plus Cellars Lot 125 Monterey County Pinot Noir 2013

Similar characteristics to the Calera, albeit slightly less complex and less polished. While the Monterey County source for the fruit is unknown, it could come from the area close to or similiar to the Hollister Mt Harlan site of Calera. This provides good QPR (quality price ratio) with similarity to the Calera at a fraction of the price.

Garnet colored, medium light bodied, aromas and flavors of red raspberries and black cherry give way to tones of tangy clove spice and hint of cinnamon on the clinging tannin finish. 

RM 87 points.