Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pinot Noir Project: A Look at 2010 Vintages in California and BC

Despite all the different varieties of wine I drank this year, I wanted to finish 2013 with my favourite varietal, Pinot Noir. North American wine regions have been known to offer some excellent New World Pinots: Oregon and California are the most popular regions, and both Niagara and the Okanagan are also producing quality wines from this varietal. I decided to focus on the 2010 vintages of Californian and Okanagan Pinot Noirs, to see how rough growing seasons affect the wines. The comparison was done via a 4-wine flight: two Pinots from California to start, and two from BC to finish.

Both California and Okanagan producers were faced with a challenging growing season. Spring arrived late in both regions, with record low temperatures and exceptionally high rainfall in May (BC). Summer finally arrived in California in August, and extremely high temperatures frequently broke records. Winegrowers that chose to expose their grapes by trimming the canopy (leaves) when sunshine levels were low in the spring, were now dealing with opposite conditions and sun burnt grapes. The low temperatures in the Okanagan continued through the summer, and higher than normal rainfall amounts were recorded in the first half of September. The weather finally turned favorable at the end of the month, and a long, dry Autumn settled in to save the crop. Despite the challenging growing season, both California and the Okanagan were able to produce quality wines due to a more meticulous sorting process, ensuring only healthy grapes were fermented. These healthy grapes showed a surprising vibrancy in both colour and flavour profile that translated into the final wines, with elegant structure and earthy tones characteristic of a good Pinot Noir.

The Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2010 is surprisingly complex, featuring a vibrant bouquet of rhubarb, red fruit, damp earth and a subtly steely minerality. Well structured with refreshing acidity and fine tannins, this wine is food friendly but also easy drinking on it's own. An ideal match for a summer BBQ, pizza and fun nights with friends.

La Crema's 2010 Monterey Pinot Noir shows even more complexity with a flavour profile that includes strawberries, white pepper, wet leaves and black olives. There is more earthiness in this vintage than it's 2009 counterpart, which was more fruit-forward thanks to the excellent growing season that year. It also contained the same level of acidity and fine tannins that the Kendall Jackson had, with more intensity. This wine is great for a dinner party and for relaxing the mind after a long day!

The Thornhaven 2010 Pinot Noir showed the highest acidity level of the four wines: a crisp, mouth-watering bite that doesn't overpower the structure and lasts well into the long finish. It has a similar flavour profile to the Californians, with aromas of raspberries, white pepper and forest floor. Smooth and seductive with silky tannins, it will pair well with a fireplace on a cold winter's night and when romance is in the cards! This is also a food friendly wine that would make a fine match for pork dishes.

Lake Breeze's Seven Poplars Pinot Noir 2010 was the most fruit-forward of the flight, with juicy notes of strawberries and raspberries. There was a subtle earthiness in both the nose and palate, but not as apparent as in the other wines. The wine also contains light, silky tannins and a lower acidity level than the others, making this Pinot easy to drink in the Spring or Summer and would pair well with chicken and berry salads.

I found that all four Pinot Noirs in the flight contained higher acidity levels and more earthiness than other vintages, which may speak to the damp earth the grapes dealt with for much of the growing season. There was also a subtle minerality in some of these wines that I haven't seen in other Pinot vintages, adding complexity to the palate. Each wine showed a vibrancy in the flavour profile, reflecting the great care each winery took to ensure the best quality of wine despite the growing season's challenges. With all of that said, each wine shone individually and all 4 are approachable, versatile and food-friendly, all at the mid-priced range ($20-$40 CDN) making them great value.

Just because a growing season is labelled as challenging by winemakers and experts, does not mean the wine will necessarily suffer. As long as great care is taken in the vineyards and during the winemaking process, a good wine can still come out of the surviving grapes-just like the Phoenix rising from the ashes!