Pinot Days 2014 at Navy Pier

May 08 2014 - 12:38 AM

Most of you who read my posts are well acquainted with my love affair with beer.  But I’m a serious wine lover as well, and my wine interest can be traced back to one single sip of Pinot Noir.  Years ago, at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Chicago, I was first introduced to Pinot by my friend, Terri, who ordered a glass of the then-mysterious red wine.  Curious, I asked her for a sip, and an instant love affair was born, not simply with Pinot but with wine in general.  The next year, Sideways dropped and ushered in an outright Pinot craze.  The elusive red wine became widely available, which afforded me ample opportunity to sip many different styles of the wine and, accordingly, cement my love of the grape.

At Pinot Days 2014 at Navy Pier, I was able to renew my Pinot oath, as 65 vintners offered their takes on the grape during the Bay Area Wine Project’s annual event.  Representation ranged from larger producers such as Willamette Valley Vineyards, J Vineyards, and Sanford, to smaller outfits such as Dutton-Goldfield. Most vintners’ stations offered 2 to 4 vintages of Pinot.  Occasionally, attendees could find a sparkling wine or, in the case of several of the Oregon wineries, a Pinot Gris.  These wines offered a pleasant contrast to the myriad reds, not to mention a useful palate cleaning.

But, expectedly, this was a Pinot Noir show and it delivered the goods.  Most of the offerings fell within a similar range.  They trended toward the bigger side, with large cherry and strawberry, and sometimes dark-berry flavors, and with modest acidity and subtle minerality.  There were some standouts.  McEvoy of Marin describes their stylings as Burgundian, and they certainly rejoin many doubts regarding such lofty promise.  Their 2o11 Evening Standard clocked in at a modest 12.9% ABV and its delicate style heightened the focus on its terrific earthy characteristics. Its gentle, sleek tannins intertwined quite well with its sharp acidity.  I really enjoyed this one. For a long time, J Vineyards has been among my favorites.  Delivering on most of the elements that demonstrate my love for Pinot, their 2011 Robert Thomas shook your senses with a devastatingly tantalizing nose, and embraced the palate with a silky texture.

I thank my friend, Chris, for directing my attention to Inman; she’s long-time member of their wine club.  Their 2011 vintage should encourage mass subscriptions from other California Pinot lovers, as it proved to be an event highlight.  Demonstrating great structure,  its subtle layers unfolded on the palate.  Thanks to the winemaker’s careful eye for restraint, the wine’s mineral underpinnings and bright acidity effortlessly pinpointed the heart of the palate.  Then there was Davis Bynum.  Owned by Rodney Strong, they truly rocked my world with their Jane’s Vineyard, a dark, silky, structured partition with a beautiful nose.  This might have been the wine of the day.  Sojourn’s Sangiacomo and its Gap’s Crown vintages were also worthy contenders.

One of my main regrets was getting to the event later than I wanted, and not spending enough time talking shop and tasting with the smaller producers.  Next year, my plan will be to focus on engaging these emerging vintners on their techniques.  Perhaps the most rewarding wines of the day owed to such fledglings as Dutton-Goldfield.  These vintners poured far more conservatively, but you only needed a thimbleful of many of these wines to realize their blissful impact.

On this note, regarding the small producers’ presence at the event, a friend of mine who works at an excellent, local wine shop offered an interesting perspective.  The larger producers, he opined, are offering too many bigger, overly juicy Pinots these days, since there’s less incentive for them to cut yields given the enormous prices they’ll fetch for even less-than-outstanding bottlings.  That opinion is at least somewhat consistent with the wines I tried at the event.   While there were outstanding wines aplenty, the smaller-vintner productions were the true rock stars.

One of the best elements of Pinot Days, though, was the outstanding people I met.  I chatted with plenty of very cool oenophiles and made some new friends.   Wine gets an undeserving rap for being stuffy and pretentious, and there are some wine appreciators out there whose snobbery towards wine neophytes feeds that stereotype.  But a great aspect of a public tasting, such as Pinot Days, is always the pronounced lack of pretense.  Those who are more knowledgeable are generally happy to share their insights with you, and all of the vintners and pourers seemed delighted to answer the most basic questions.  It was truly a democratic affair.  I also thank my friend, Laura, and her iPhone for taking photos.

– M. Sheppard