Carl Kanowsky: The World of Pinot Noir

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.
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So, if you wanted to learn more about pinot noir, or, if you thought you knew all about California pinot, but you failed to experience The World Of Pinot Noir (aka “WOPN”), then either you lost the best educational tool available to appreciate pinot or your expertise is somewhat limited.

WOPN is an amazing event. More than 250 wineries from around the world (mostly California, but also Washington, Oregon, France (Burgundy and Alsace, among others), Argentina (a surprise there), New Zealand, and so many more, gather for two days at the exquisite Bacara Ritz-Carlton to pour their take on pinot.

Some folks believe (probably rightly so) that pinot is extraordinarily finicky, that the grape almost fights the vineyard manager and winemaker in offering up pinot’s potential. And there are a lot of wineries that sell pinot at nowhere near what it can be. Too often the wine is thin, heavily tannic, quite acidic, not at all enjoyable. Or, the wine is simple, one-dimensional, not memorable but missable.

That’s probably why pinot is not my favorite. Got to kiss too many frogs to find a princess. Too many disappointments from unjustifiably expensive wines. But having said this, one of the most extraordinary, delicious wines I’ve ever had was a 50-year-old red Burgundy, so pinot has amazing potential.

Before the Grand Tasting began, I interviewed three representatives from highly regarded wineries: Don Schroeder of Sea Smoke; Mark Pisoni from Pisoni Estate (they make Lucia and Lucy wines); and, James Hall of Patz & Hall. They will be the subject of three future columns. But, for right now, I will discuss some of the great wines (besides these three) that I sampled last Saturday.

Rebecca Work is the owner of Ampelos Wines. 
Photo courtesy of Carl Kanowsky

There were two estates or winemakers that stood out for me: Ampelos (who also does much of the work in creating GoGi wines, Kurt Russell’s winery) and Blue Farms from Sonoma.

As they say in their web site, “​In 1999 we purchased 82 acres in what would later become the Sta. Rita Hills appellation (Santa Rita Hills in California is legally Sta. Rita Hills), and named it ‘Ampelos,’ the Greek word for vine.” We, as in Peter and Rebecca Work. Not a large producer, but they take their time in fashioning their wine. The 2016 Lambda rests in barrel for two and a half years and then a year in bottle before it is released. The resulting wine reflects this time and care. It is outstanding. Immediately enjoyable with an excellent balance, and solid red fruit (especially raspberries) comes through. And if it sells for the same price as the 2015 does online ($35). That’s a major bargain. The 2015 Infrequent is a single-clone pinot and is a blockbuster. Delicious with more body and strength than the Lambda, it’s not to be missed.

Blue Farms from the Sonoma side of Carneros also stood out in a sea of pinot. Anne Moller-Racke is the winegrower and proprietor. She poured the 2017 Anne Katherina and the 2016 King Ridge. The King Ridge was very pleasant, almost the epitome of pinot noir, light color, strawberry fruit, and berry aromas. Excellent. Its source of fruit was from the Fort Ross-Seaview, an AVA in the Sonoma Coast region. The star was the 2017 Anne Katherina, all estate fruit. Outstanding, with great fruit. Heavy, brooding berries yet creamy and quite smooth. A real find.

You know that these must be really unique wines if, after tasting more than 50 pinots, these two stood out. Unfortunately, likely, with the coronavirus it will be a while before similar large tastings are held. In the meantime, get yourself some Ampelos and Blue Farms to ride out the wait.

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