Hi everyone. Last month was most pleasant and interesting for two very important reasons: 1) a trip to Pismo Beach to attend the World of Pinot Noir, and 2) my very first trip to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii for a brief but beautiful vacation. Let me explain.
This annual event is held in Pismo Beach, California, and combines educational seminars with extensive Pinot Noir tastings, and offers many opportunities for food and wine pure enjoyment in a stunning seaside setting. Sounds OK, doesn't it? Usually Scott Smith and I attend for purely professional reasons, but this year Biba also came along. It was her first WOPN event but it won't be her last. Although she did not attend any of the seminars, she did enjoy the wine tastings, meeting and chatting with winemakers, the side trips to San Luis Obispo, and the food and wine experience.
We arrived at the Cliff's Hotel mid afternoon on Thursday March 1, 2012 after a long, somewhat boring drive from Sacramento, with a requisite stop for lunch at McPhee's Grill in Templeton (lunch at Artisan Restaurant in Paso Robles or at McPhee's Grill is a must). Just after sunset we went off to the Stephen Ross winery/tasting room for an informal wine tasting and dinner with a few other guests. Stephen Dooley, owner/winemaker of Stephen Ross, and wife Paula, were gracious hosts and made us immediately feel at home. And, of course, the Stephen Ross Pinot Noirs were outstanding. The surprise of the evening were two exceptionally luscious Stephen Ross Chardonnays from 2001 and 2002, still fresh and vibrant. Who said California wines don't age well?
The next two days were pretty intense. Each morning we attended a seminar. I will briefly describe the Technique versus Terroir panel discussion held at Chamisal Vineyards on Friday March 2nd. This discussion centered about The Cube Project involving three wineries/winemakers (Bouchaine in Carneros, Anne Amie in Oregon, and Lincourt in Santa Barbara County). Each winemaker made wine from grapes grown in his or her own vineyard, and, in addition, made wine from grapes grown in the other two vineyards. For example, Lincourt made Pinot Noir from grapes grown in its Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County) vineyards as well from grapes grown in Carneros and Oregon. Thus we were able to judge the influence/effect of terroir (where the grapes were grown) in addition to the influence/effect of the winemaker. Opinions varied but I felt the terroir effect came across strongest. But then, who am I to judge? However, all three wines were excellent. For more info, check "The Cube Project" Facebook page.
Friday and Saturday afternoon wine tastings under the tents were well attended with an unbelievable array of outstanding Pinot Noir from California, Oregon, New York, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. We enjoyed seeing old friends and tasting new vintages of our favorite Pinots. The Pinot Noir from Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Bonaccorsi, Ken Brown, Cargasacchi, Dierberg, Fiddlehead, Foley, Hitching Post, Laetitia, Melville, Pisoni, Sea Smoke, Sinor-LaVallee, Stephen Ross, and Talley never disappoint. Some new wines, at least for us, included Bruliam, Larry Hyde, Meiomi, R2 Wine Company, Rusack, Seagrape Wine Company, and Sequana. We could not even attempt to taste the more than 200 wineries, and I know I have probably omitted some excellent wines. It was pure Pinot Noir heaven.
Saturday night dinner at The Neon Carrot in San Luis Obispo was truly memorable. Megan Loring, chef/owner of The Neon Carrot, operates a catering service primarily, and this small, cozy restaurant is open only on Fridays and Saturdays. The food and wine pairing, the guests, the presence of winemakers - well, it all made for an exceptional night. Dungeness crab appetizer with Anne Amie Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris; grilled radicchio and French lentils with Stephen Ross Chorro Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009; braised pork belly with Sequana Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley; prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin with Zotovich Pinot Noir 2009, Sta. Rita Hills. You get the picture. No complaints from anyone.
Thanks to Karen Steinwachs, Winemaker at Buttonwood and owner/winemaker of Seagrape, and Chair of the Board of Directors of WOPN, for making this event so special.
Biba and I enjoyed a few days of pure, unadulterated vacation. Although we have been to Hawaii on several occasions over the years, this was our first stay at Waikiki Beach, and we loved it. The weather was perfect, the surf non-threatening, the water warm, and the restaurant scene exciting and eye-opening. We especially enjoyed an evening at Alan Wong's restaurant. An unpretentious setting, great food, excellent wines. Perfect vacation for us. Best of all, we missed several days of heavy rain in Northern California. We shall return.
Well, that is all for this month. Remember, when we taste wine, we sniff, swirl, sip, and spit. Don't overdo it. Wine in moderation, especially with food, may be healthful. Wine in excess may be harmful to you and others. Ciao.
For April 2012
Russian Hill Estate
Pinot Noir 2008, Estate Vineyards
Russian River Valley
It is only fitting that we choose a Pinot Noir as Wine of the Month for April after our visit to the World of Pinot Noir last March. Established in 1997 by the husband and wife team of Ed Gomez and Ellen Mack, Russian Hill remains a family owned and operated winery. In a beautiful setting just a few mile west of Highway 101 and north of Santa Rosa, Ed and Ellen, along with Patrick Melley, winemaker and Ed's nephew, have developed a solid reputation for quality, consistency, and food friendly wines. Several bottlings of Pinot Noir are produced each year including a Russian River Valley blend as well as two vineyard designated Pinots, Leras Vineyard and Tara Vineyard. Chardonnay and Syrah make up the rest of their wine production.
The Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir is perhaps their flagship wine in terms of annual production and is the subject of this review. Medium dark in color, a rich wine with aromas of plum, dark cherry, pepper, and spice, well balanced with a velvety texture and smooth mouthfeel, and a nice touch of acidity and lingering finish, this is a versatile and very food friendly wine. As is our custom, we recently enjoyed a bottle with lamb shanks and it was perfect. Congratulations Ellen, Ed, and Patrick.
For the entire month of April 2012, we are offering this Russian Hill Estate, Pinot Noir 2008, Estate Vineyards at the reduced price of $60 per 750 ml bottle. If you are longing for a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, you won't be disappointed.
The winery tasting room, located at 4525 Slusser Road, Windsor, CA 95492, is open daily from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Just to be sure, telephone ahead.
Tel: 707 575 9428. The web site is: www.russianhillestate.com
I recommend a visit to Russian Hill winery. It is beautiful country and the wines are great.