Pinot Noir is one of our favorite wine varietals. We always look forward to the annual arrival of the San Francisco Pinot Days which celebrates of all things Pinot. And we especially look forward to the pre-event dinner that The American institute of Wine and Food (www.aiwf.org) organizes as a fund-raiser.
We began this special event by attending new restaurant. Not only did we want to taste the wines, but we were very excited to check out the restaurant.
Then, after recovering from an evening of 12 free-flowing wine from six producers, we spend the next afternoon at the Grand Tasting, where we sampled hundreds of different wines from more than 80 mostly artisanal producers. Although Pinto Days is primarily a celebration of Californian wines, we also enjoyed a nice sampling of wines from climes including Oregon, Burgundy and New Zealand.
This year, the American Institute of Wine and Food’s (AIWF.org) pre-event dinner was at Jonathan Waxman’s brand new restaurant called Waxman’s. It had all the allure of a new restaurant by a star chef, combined with a number of premier Pinot Noirs that carefully paired with each Cal-Italian-inspired dish. The winemakers attend the event and move around from table to table with each course so that everything gets a chance to talk to each winemaker and to ask questions.
We began the evening with a walk-around tasting of eight premium current releases and library pinots and complementary whites from producers from New Zealand (Mount Beautiful), the Central Coast (Blair Estate) and Santa Barbara County (Pali Wines). All were accompanied by passed appetizers including sautéed mushroom bruschetta and cheese arancini. We walked away with definite wine favorites: The Mount Beautiful 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot and 2013 Pinots from Blair (Reserve Pinot) and from Pali (Santa Rita Hill’s “Summit”).
We then sat down for dinner where we were treated to a four-course dinner, at which we got to taste two different wines with each course.
- The appetizer was wonderful pork meatballs stuffed with goat cheese with marinara, pesto and fonduta, paired with two other nice 2013 New Zealand pinots: a Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot and a Martinborough pinot from Palliser Estate;
- The pasta came with two Oregon Reserve pinots from Stoller Family Estate: a 2013 and our favorite of the evening, a 2005 SV Reserve;
- The Main Course was, for us at least, a disappointment. The JW chicken (salsa verde, arugula with wood roasted spring vegetables) sounded and looked promising—and it was a signature dish. Unfortunately, it was less juicy and tasty than we had expected (Joyce says it was simply overcooked, which dried it out). Then to add insult to injury, the winemaker with the two promised, and widely anticipated Burgundy’s that were to be served with the dish (a 2013 and a vintage library Mazoyeres-Chambertin Grand Cru from Maison Ilan) was missing in action. Since the promised wine was a no-show, the intrepid AIWF event organizer quickly recovered by substituting two wines from the restaurant’s own list: St. Innocent Willamette Valley Pinot Noir “Villages Cuvee,” Oregon 2014 Pinot Noir and Bethel Heights Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir, Oregon 2013 Pinot Noir
- Dessert, which ended the meal on a very pleasant note, was a warm nectarine and blackberry tart with brown butter filling and topped with crème fraîche ice cream.
In spite of the chicken, it was a great event and we had a very nice time. Plus we got a great deal at the silent auction and walked away with some Blair wines.
Pinot Days Grand Tasting
And then the next day is the main event: the Pinot Days Grand Tasting. How do you taste several hundred wines over the course of a single afternoon? I don’t know how you do it, but we don’t—not if we want to be able to walk afterwards. We instead rely on a combination of our own established favorites, reviews, suggestions from friends and growers who know these wines much better than do we, and by exploring other producers and wines that happen to catch our fancy.
Although we’re sure that we missed dozens of wonderful bottles and many bargains, we did come away with a number of personal favorites, many of which we will actively search out. Among our Pinot preferences were:
- Belle Glos 2014 Clark & Telephone Santa Maria Valley
- Bernardus 2014 single-vineyard Santa Lucia Hills’ pinots from Gary’s, Soberanes and Sierra Mar;
- Expresssion 2013 Amity Hills from Oregon;
- Failla 2013 Sonoma Coast’s Occidental Ridge;
- MacPhail 2012 Gap’s Crown, also from Sonoma Coast;
- Pali 2013 Sangiacomo Family Roberts Road and Santa Rita Hills’ Fiddlestix Vineyards;
- Patricia Green 2014 Dijon 115 Clone;
- Philo Ridge 2012 Marguerite Vineyard;
- Siduri 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands and Pisoni single vineyard;
- Sojourn Cellars 2014 Rodgers Creek and Sangiacomo;
- Stoller Family 2012 Reserve Pinot;
- Testarosa 2014 Doctor’s Vineyard;
- Trombetta Family 2012 Gap’s Crown;
Nor can we forget a French Burgundy distributor who pulled out a number of library wines, where we particularly enjoyed a 2003 Domaine de la Vougeraie Pommard Les Petits Noizons that was priced at only $45.
And, we could buy many of these wines at the event, with some vendors offering free (or inexpensive) shipping. A win-win for wine lovers.
Although our Pinot weekend consisted of only two events (and a lot of wine!), Pinot Days also had a few other events that we did not attend. These included a seminar/tasting based on the theme of diversity in pinots and a series of “Producer Spotlight” tastings at two K&L wine stores.
We are already looking forward to the 2017 event.