Periodically, I’m grabbed by the urge to pull a bottle out of the cellar, unplanned and by itself, not for a meal or special occasion. That’s how I wound up pulling out a 2005 Savoy pinot noir by Radio-Coteau, Eric Sussman’s winemaking operation in Forestville, California.
Sussman, who started Radio-Coteau in 2002, learned the trade in Washington State before heading to Bordeaux and especially to Burgundy in the mid-1990s. After four years at Dehlinger, he started collecting 90+ scores from just about every wine writer of influence. Descriptions got me so excited that I even ordered a case for myself all the way out to Quebec. A costly proposition, just counting the import taxes. But it was worth it, especially for the La Neblina, which remains one of the finest, most subtle and well-focused California pinots I’ve had.
Beyond providing a satisfying drink, the Savoy, sourced from a vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, also provided a clear example of what I’m aiming for with the theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South.
The Neblina and the Savoy I’ve had are two wines from the same vintage, same variety and the same producer, the only difference being vineyard location – and perhaps the farming practices in each vineyard – single vineyard for the Savoy, two different ones for the Neblina, one in Annapolis, and the other one along Gravenstein Highway, west of Sebastopol.
A quick look at a map will show you that the Neblina is sourced from vineyards further south than the Savoy. Yet the Savoy has a warmer feel to it than the Neblina, with a higher alcohol level (14.8% to the Neblina’s 14.4%). Less fog and cool sea breeze comes from the Pacific in the closed end of the Anderson Valley than on a West Sonoma vineyard, especially one in Annapolis, very near the sea.
It had very pure fruit, with good length, but more on the cherry jam side than on the fresh cherry that I remember distinctly from the Neblina. It also showed more spice, and… more heat from the alcohol.
Both wines showed a lovely, clear garnet color – no excessive extraction here – and velvety tannins. But the Savoy is definitely richer, showing a bit of caramel, a while after opening. It still showed enough acidity to give it some lift, and when we finished the bottle with some friends, nobody complained about the wine being too big. It’s ripe and rich, but not over the top.
My preference still goes to the Neblina, which I found more subtle and pleasant, with better drinkability and focus than the Savoy.
There’s also a matter of winegrowing – and perhaps winemaking – choices. On my trip to California, last October, I tasted several pinots (and some awesome chardonnay, too) made by Ted Lemon at Littorai. Two of those, the Roman vineyard and the Cerise vineyard, were from the Anderson Valley. Even though the Cerise, from a warmer part of the valley, showed a bit of caramel and a certain richness, neither of them felt as rich as the Radio-Coteau Savoy. Better balance, overall, and a lot more nuances and elegance. But I’m comparing between very solid wines.
Coming back to the Radio-Coteau comparison, if you equate “South” with “heat”, then the Savoy is the more southerly wine. But that, of course, is not in tune with the realities of geography. One more question about the meaning of North and South, in the world of wine.