Recapping Pinot Days 2015 at Navy Pier

April 03 2015 - 12:15 AM

For Pinot Noir freaks, Chicago’s Pinot Days at Navy Pier continues to be the best, local, large-scale event showcasing the mercurial grape. Pinot Days offers an opportunity – and always delivers on it – to sample outstanding American Pinot Noirs, with a few New Zealanders in the mix, to meet some of the winemakers behind the red beauties, and to mingle with other Pinot Noir lovers.   Having been to this event about half a dozen times now, I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest enjoyment is in interacting with the vintners, particularly the small producers.  They always look so proud when they can tell how much you enjoy their wines.  And for them to learn that you have actually, by chance, visited their California or Oregon property stuns and delights them.  Being around such industry people, as well as other Pinot appreciators, is fertile groundwork for cultivating a terrific event.

Pinot Days 2But the quality of the wine always takes things to the next level.  One surprise was seeing that Papapietro Perry had a tasting table.  I visited this Russian River Valley producer in 2006 for purposes of trying their Zinfandel.  I came away from there with a bottle of their Pinot.  Nine years later I was still impressed. Their Triple Seven Clones Pinot (i.e., Clone 777 of the grape was the basis for the wine) was medium bodied with perfect mineral balance.  The Russian River bottling exploded on the palate.   Crafted from organic estate-grown grapes, McEvoy’s The Evening Standard stood out for its purity and clean flavor.

The Uncarved Block’s Dijon Clones had that “unfolding” characteristic which seems to mark high-quality Pinots, in that it progressively releases itself on the palate, revealing several different layers of flavor.  First cherry, then leather tantalized the palate courtesy of this bottling.  Davis-Bynum, as usual, delivered.  Clone 667 offered lively acidity, but came on strong with a deep reservoir of mineral flavors while showing terrific fruit restraint.  Small producer Valdez was a favorite.  Founded in 2004 by famous Sonoma vintner Ulises Valdez, this winery’s 2011 RRV Pinot arrests the palate with enormous fruit but is checked by the proper acidity level to keep things elegant.  Deer Meadow and Waits-Mast poured impressive offerings as well.

Pinot Days 3It was nice to take a couple of breaks from all of the rouge and enjoy a white or something “other than red”.  J Winery has been a long-time favorite Pinot producer but their rose of Pinot, with its stony flavor and stinging bubbles, was a refreshing departure for my palate, which by then had become saturated with cherry and strawberry flavors.  Davis Family’s rose of Pinot provided similar relief.  But Pinot Noir would soon thereafter return to my glass.

Overall, it was great to see an increasing number of American vintners taking their foot off the gas, using restraint, and relying more on terroir and mineral structure to drive the Pinots and less on overwhelming, oppressive fruit expressions.  Things are looking up in the New World of Pinot.

– M. Sheppard