Late in 2009, I spent time travelling in the USA: it was a wine and food-lead tour so we found a few restaurants. Some were reviewed.
On the subject of pinot noir; every by-the-glass smooch which had Oregon as the state of origin just kept on getting the ticks.
There was the odd Californian but most seemed too muscular for the dishes and food genres we tried; Oregonians finished with minerality and fineness while the Californians gave out tannin, sweetness and high-toned oak.
So to recount if that was still the case, local Brisbane, Queensland restaurateur from Two Small Rooms -Peter Willumsen – threw a dinner tasting which heralded some US pinot.
First starter was a porcini tart. The pair of starting wines selected were the Oregons: because they are expected to be leaner and more friendly towards a simple tart of mixed mushrooms, deliberately meant to make the dish fungal, just as the variety can be.
Cristom Sommers Reserve 2007; Willamette Valley, Oregon, (USD 90); 13.9%; +++1/2; looked good with its lightish colour which means pinot colour, smells of sap and mushroom, but it is stalk city (winemaker practice of including grape stalks in the making), oodles of whole bunch ferment smells so there was a lot of winemaking going on, and it is 44 months old; so a monster made and staying like that for a while.
Pinot in tights. Has 53% new oak, native yeast used.
Scott Paul La Paulee 2006; Willamette Valley, Oregon, (USD 84); 13.9%; ++++; deep colour which gets a bit alarming! But ok, big stuff, lots of oak chunk and char from barrel, done over with many winemaking ideas, though the notes say only 20% oak and ten months aging. The wine has plenty of volume yet no restraint, in the red berry mould, sweet black fruits too, so the palate flows on with lots of texture and length, be it the chunky style.
Pinot always means earing duck so Peter W did not let us down with the next flavours: grimaud duck breast, pinked, Spanish onion as a tarte, duck liver as a parfait and jus gras. This is pinot pressure.
Clos du Val 2007; Carneros, (USD 30); 13.5%; +++; fairly plain nose, sappy not bright, has a mineral palate, very soft and pushing out the acidity towards the shrill end, but very much in the composed, light textured end of the pinot market with lots of approachability. 12, 384 bottles made.
It’s partner Kistler Cuvee Catherine Occidental Station Vineyard 2005; Sonoma Coast, (USD 150); 14.1%; +++1/2; a massive nose of chocolate, questioning how this related to pinot, palate, big, big, big, sweet and rich and leathery, a lumberjacks’ drink to really top the subtle sweets of duck flesh.
The last pair of Donums were supplied by Two Small Rooms owner Peter Willumsen’s brother who works at the company in 24520 Ramal Road, Sonoma.
Pairing was with Milly Hill lamb rump, semolina dumplings, sherry braised shallots and pink peppercorn sauce. The sauce drew the lamb protein and wine flavours together.
Donum 2007; Russian River, (USD 65); 14.4%; ++++; has heaps of colour, a great nose integrating oak and fruits, then lots of texture and forest floor aromas which transport into flavours, solid wine but a little mouth hot.
Donum 2007; Carneros, (USD 65); 14.4%; ++++; was speaking to the dinner table in aromatic tones, very floral as pinot is sometimes, lots of winework (soaking before ferment), long barrel age flavours, lots of oak dryness and extra tannin, finishing hot.
In the end, my traveller’s feelings stay the same; Oregon pinot can be fine yet also very boisterous, Californian generally are brutally big with the odd gem (finer wine); in this tasting it was the Clos du Val.
Peter Scudamore-Smith is a Brisbane-based Master of Wine, winemaker and educator www.uncorkedandcultivated.com.au
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