The very first wine that got me thinking more seriously about what wine actually could be, how interesting and complex it could taste, was a 1987 Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir. I don’t remember exactly how it tasted – I certainly had no detailed aromatic vocabulary, back then, and I wasnt’t the worst for it. However, I do remember the impression of having opened up a new doorway and stepped into a larger, more spacious and luxurious room.
This was also the beginning of my love for California pinot noir and pinot noir in general – although it took me quite a bit longer to hit something comparable in Burgundy, in terms of fireworks, of tasting impressions.
In California, my next big thunderbolt kind of moment was tasting Josh Jensen’s Calera pinot noirs. Maybe I shouldn’t say thunderbolt, though, since the wines are so much more characterized by subtlety and freshness than by the “bigness” that so many Californian winemakers aim for, even with pinots.
Calera’s pinots are generally light in color, almost delicate, very clear and fine. But in a precise demonstration of how color and darkness is not necessarily an indication of quality or depth, they have a precision, a purity of aromas and flavors and a great varietal character, with more complexity as you go up the list from the “generic” Central Coast stuff to the single vineyards.
With the Thanksgiving turkey, this year (Canadian Thanksgiving – I’m giving American readers a head start, here), I pulled out a Reed Vineyard 1998 Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir. Nobody complained.
The wine was a clear and light garnet color, showing some signs of evolution but no fatigue. The nose was quite striking from the get go: a clear, vibrant aroma of cèpes, the best porcini mushrooms, along with a bit of cigar box and leather, above which gradually rose a still remarkably fresh dose of red cherries. Pure pinot, with a clean mouthfeel and great length. Ripe, yet not rich, with a touch of roasted flavors seemingly coming from the barrels. It was just one of those wines you’d wish you’d have another bottle of in the cellar.