PinotFest is held in November every year at San Francisco’s Farallon Restaurant and historic hotel in charming upstairs private rooms. Peter Palmer does a great job of rounding up wineries from all over the west coast to bring their latest and greatest pinots to San Francisco. This year’s theme was (apparently) “Women Winemakers.”
The intimate aquarium room at PinotFest was devoted to women winemakers. What a great idea! And some other women wine makers were pouring in the other rooms. And as always it so convenient to taste new releases of far away wineries – Oregon – at Pinotfest. Thanks to Pinotfest, an oenophile doesn’t have to travel to Oregon every year to sample new releases!
One of the great things about PinotFest is getting to taste wines that we wouldn’t get a chance at in our travels. Penner-Ash is a good example. Its Oregon location is 663 miles north of us. But once you’re in the neighborhood, it’s still quite a drive to get to them.
Penner-Ash featured Lynn Penner-Ash herself pouring a 2010 Estate Dussin Vineyards. The wine had mineral and gravel flavors but featured a spectacular butterscotch finish. We generally love Penner-Ash pinots and only wish we could afford to drink them more often.
Lynn has the classic winemaker background. From the Penner-Ash website: “Lynn’s interest in winemaking grew out of an early passion for the sciences. After a summer working for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., she studied Botany at the University of California, Davis, the birthplace of the American wine industry. In her junior year she changed her major to Viticulture. Then, after working the graveyard shift during crush at Domaine Chandon, she changed her degree again, from Viticulture to Enology.”
We discovered Archery Summit on our trip to Oregon in the summer of 2011. They were pouring a 2010 Willamette Valley blend which, frankly, was adequate but overpriced at $48. The 2009 Arcus Estate (Dundee Hills) was much nicer. Unfortunately, there is limited availability, so we won’t write an elaborate review.
In addition to Penner-Ash and Archery Summit, we liked wines from Lynmar Estate, Hartford, Siduri, Cambria, Littoria, Soliste (featuring pirates #1 and #2), Patz & Hall, and Failla.
Oh, the Elegant Hot Appetizers
Did we mention the food? Peter always has a heaping spread of artisanal breads, cheese and fruit in the anteroom. But what always makes us feel pampered it the hot appetizers. Wait-staff circulate through the rooms bearing trays of delicious and creative appetizers.
New Releases From Old Friends
of Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley
Lynmar Estate previewed their 2010 Freestone (Russian River Valley) pinot noir. It was the hit of the afternoon for us. This release blends two vineyards in the Freestone sub-region of the Russian River Valley: Zephyr Farms and Hawk Hill. The 2010 Freestone Pinot Noir exhibits a dark garnet color. Aromas of rose petals and plums greet you after a few swirls.
The wine opens with flavors of licorice and black cherry with a hint of spice. The firm tannins focus the mid-palate’s layered core of plum, fig, molasses, and sweet burnt caramel tones. The Freestone finishes with succulent elements of blackberries, allspice, bay leaf and cola. But don’t bother looking for this beauty: it’s only available to members of Lynmar’s Advocates club. We are fortunate to have been members for five years. 4 corks.
Siduri’s Adam Lee was once again hosting their table. He was pouring four pinots. The 2011 Russian River Valley blend gives dark rich brambleberry and rhubarb fruits, along with hints of rose petals, sandalwood, and incense. Lush and spicy on the creamy mid-palate, the wine glides to a long, balanced finish. 4 corks.
The 2011 Parson’s Vineyard begins with dark, rich berry and plum flavors, hints of cola, vanilla, and a full-body. The finish ends crisp and lively, a little more acid and some spice. 3 corks.
Their 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands blend uses grapes from the Pisoni, Gary’s, Sierra Mar, Rosella’s, and Sobranes vineyards. Not our favorite and not listed on the Siduri website. 2 corks.
But the 2011 Sierra Mar Vineyard more than compensated for the blend. My first reaction was an audible “Oh, wow.” This is a winner. Dark fruit, licorice and spice. Wonderful. 4 corks.
Failla didn’t enjoy the media and taster feeding frenzy we saw last fall at Pinot on the River. At Pinotfest 2012, they were pouring their 2010 Occidental Ridge (Sonoma Coast). It is on the savory side and not particularly to our taste. The wine opens with pecan and herbs. Brighter on the palate this vintage, with a juicy mouthfeel balanced by acidity and resolved firm tannins. If that’s the style you like, you can’t do any better than this. By the way, the winery and reviewers recommend cellaring it for up to 12 years. 3 corks.
We’re long-time members of the Hartford wine club. They were pouring the 2010 Velvet Sisters and Lands Edge Vineyard pinots. Both have lovely aromas but were disappointing on our palates. 3 corks apiece.
It happens that we also belong to Lynmar’s wine club. It’s a contest every year between Lynmar and Hartford for our award of “best pinot noir from Sonoma.” (We exclude Siduri because they don’t have a wine club.) This year Lynmar is the hands-down winner.
Pirates #1 and #2 (aka Claude Koeberle and Donald Plumley from Soliste were in full buccaneer mode. We tried their 2009 Sonatera Vineyard (Sonoma Coast). Very austere and French style. If you like that style, be prepared: the price at the winery is $75 and it’s on allocation. The 2010 Nouveau Monde is a Pommard-style pinot. Again, if that’s what you’re after, you can do no better than this wine. But both the price and availability are identical to the Soliste Sonatera. 3 corks apiece.
For those curious about the name, this is from the Soliste website: “About the name: In Burgundy, a winemaker often reserves a barrel for their family and friends. They call this special barrel Soliste. We hope you enjoy our wine with great food and in the company of those you cherish – just as we do.”
New Releases From Old friends
In and Near the Santa Maria Valley
Soliste is one of the handful of wineries started by refugees from the French wine industry. These folks know what they’re doing without exception. Tables Creek and R.N. Estate are two of our favorites in this category. Both are in Paso Robles.
Our friends from Cambria came up from the Santa Maria Valley and we sure are happy about that decision. Their Julia’s Vineyard pinot noir is year in and year out one of the best values available. The current release is the 2009 vintage with a bargain price of $25 at the winery. You can easily find it for under $20.
But they brought two of their single-vineyard pinots for us to try. The 2010 Clone 115 is a deep garnet color. Scents of cherries and blueberries open. In the mouth, there are ripe cherries, blueberries and vanilla flavors. The surprising cinnamon – nutmeg finish will startle those who are not expecting them. $52.
Cambria’s 2010 Bench Break is a bit of a monster. Lots of oak, but also with floral and spice. The flavors include cola, earth, sandalwood, cherries and strawberries. Don’t buy this one unless you’re prepared to wait five or more years. But at $34 it’s a bargain. 3 corks just because we’re impatient.
A few summers ago we visited the Santa Maria Valley and stopped at Cambria. They were tasting a “clone 2A” pinot which was interesting. But things got far more interesting up the road at Laetitia where we discovered another clone 2A. Both are reviewed in our June, 2009 article about the trip.
We tasted Littorai 2010 Cerise Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and 2010 The Haven Vineyard (Sonoma Coast). Both were very good. The Cerise was spicy with cardamom and red licorice. Either wait a few years to drink this one or find some good venison! The Haven Vineyard is another monster but with more berries: strawberries, specifically. Also notes of red and black licorice. But you don’t have to worry about cellaring these wines: according to the Littorai website they’re sold out.
Looking for New Friends
First, a caveat: these wineries are new to us. Some have been around for a while. We report them in years when we like their wine. As always, your taste and preferences are the only factor that should affect your buying decisions.
Skewis’s 2009 Salzgeber-Chan Vineyard, Russian River Valley is lighter with a translucent garnet color. Aromas of brambleberry and mineral are followed by plum and blackberry on the palate. The finish has surprising notes of spice. 3 corks.
This year Patz & Hall really resonated with out palates. They featured two 2010 vintages. The Chenoweth Ranch, Russian River Valley opens with aromas of ripe red fruit and chocolate. Unusual flavor elements include lavender and maple. 3 corks.
But their Jenkins Ranch, Sonoma Coast knocked our socks off. Spicy aromas are followed with a lush mouth feel and a long, complex finish. 4 corks.
Apparently we looked like pinot professionals. We were treated to Patz & Hall’s 2006 Pisoni vineyard from their library. What a treat! Aromas of red apple and raspberry with a hint of spice are followed by flavors of raspberry, blackberry and strawberry. We hesitate to call any wine priced at $80 a bargain, but this comes close. 4 corks.
At this point, it was getting late. That reminded us of another charming aspect of PinotFest: the late afternoon light. Ah, pinot noir is the sexy wine. Time for a romantic dinner downstairs at the Farrallon restaurant perhaps?
Farallon is actually on the first floor of the Kensington Park Hotel just off Union Square. If you’ve never been to the restaurant, it’s a lot of fun and has great food. For those unfamiliar with the California coastline, the Farallones are a group of islands west of the coastline. “Latitude 37.698572, longitude -123.002207. Lying 28 miles off the coast of San Francisco, the jagged silhouette of the Farallon Islands disrupts the clean line of the horizon. This foreboding knot of rocks sits amid one of the most productive marine food webs on the planet and hosts the largest seabird breeding colony in the continental United States. QUEST ventures out for a rare visit to learn what life is like on the islands and meet the scientists who call this incredibly wild place home.” (from the home page of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Organization).
The main dining room at Farallon (the restaurant, not the rocks) is actually a former swimming pool from a now-defunct YMCA. The room is appropriately called the Pool Room.