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Tasting Pinot Noir from Monterey

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Whether you love or hate the character named Miles in the film Sideways, chances are you do have an appreciation for the Pinot Noir grape. So the question isn’t really if you like Pinot Noir, but a question of provenance. For example, this morning in my blind tasting session with other wine scholars, I received a glass of a wine I thought could be a Pinot, yet where was it from? Most fellow tasters thought Burgundy, and it turned out the wine was actually from Germany (yes, it was from Baden, a Duijn 2005).

Today, though, I’d like to talk about Pinot Noir from Monterey, which is increasingly its best selling varietal. Monterey is located in the enormous Central Coast, and Monterey alone includes 9 AVAs. Today at a special tasting organized by the Monterey Vintners and Growers Association, I had the opportunity to taste several different Pinots from the region.

So why Monterey Pinot Noir? Why now? People are starting to realize it is important to understand that quality Pinot Noir does not mean going to Burgundy or Baden. If you live in Los Angeles or San Francisco, you can find some of the best Pinots well within a day’s drive of your house. And though small amounts of Pinot have been planted in Monterey for decades, now producers are realizing the combination of the cool nights, sunny warm days, and fog that reliably rolls in each day creates top conditions for growing quality Pinot Noir.

As you may imagine, the color, nose, and palate of each Pinot varies depending on the winery and AVA. We started our tasting with the 2006 Irony Monterey Pinot Noir, one of the lighter and more delicate styles. It sells for only $15.99 and I really liked this style a lot. Lots of ripe, delicate raspberries and strawberries on the nose and palate, quite pleasant with poached salmon. Fruit was sourced from three different sub-appellations including Arroyo Secco, San Lucas, and San Bernabe.

J. Lohr’s Fog Reach Vineyard was more powerful, darker (a deep red purple), and made more of a power statement. It is grown on the cobbly, sandy loam soils in the cool and windy Arroyo Seco appellation of Monterey, and receives gentle, tender loving care in the vineyard and winery. The grapes are hand harvested, destemmed, and cold-soaked prior to fermentation. Then the must is punched down twice a day to optimize extraction. Once pressed, the wine is racked to fill Burgundian French oak for eight months of barrel age.

I also enjoyed the Lucienne 2007 Santa Lucia Highlands Loan Oak Pinot Noir, which is considered one of the ultra premium brands. The southeast facing slopes sit above the fog, allowing the vines to take advantage of the sun. The long sun exposure, combined with the cool temperatures from Monterey Bay, creates a longer growing season that increases the complexity of the fruit.

Monterey Pinot Noirs showcased the quality of the Monterey soil, the reliable weather conditions, and the determination of the producers to bring awareness for Pinot Noir from this region. Pinot Noir pairs great with poached salmon and duck, so next time you are in your favorite wine store, ask the clerk about the Pinots from Monterey and take some of the California sunshine home with you!

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  • VinVinoWine

    Excellent review of some very tasty and refreshing wines.

    Your reviews are always interesting: keep it up.