Pinot Noir is my favorite varietal of wine. There, I’ve said it. Along with that designation though, comes scrutiny. I’m very critical of pinot noir.
It is not easy to craft good pinot noir. It is equal parts art and science. This delicate, thin-skinned grape needs a balance of sunlight, and cool breezes, the right soil, and just enough water.
When vinified correctly, pinot noir is like the work of the French actress Julie Delpy: sensual, complex and layered; a quintessentially moving, elegant experience.
Pinot Noir’s versatility is due to its medium body and balanced kiss of acidity. It can just as easily be paired with grilled chicken as it can elevate chocolate mousse.
It’s like having the equivalent of Dave Brubeck or Myles Davis performing for the palate.
After the success of the movie Sideways though, Pinot Noir has certainly seen an uptick in its popularity. It has become the darling of pseudo wine aficionados everywhere. To catch up with demand, the market has brought a lot of new pinot. Much of it is of inferior quality.
The market is now flooded with either flabby, HUGE bodied, oak bombs, more Zinfandel than Burgundy-or thin, acidic, and flat wines that insult the Burgundian lineage and my palate.
Petito Split Rock 2008 is a Pinot Noir that exemplifies all of this varietal’s best attributes.
Wine Spectator agrees with my assessment, to the tune of a 91-point rating. (High for a California Pinot in this price range)
The success of this wine starts with the wine maker, and the setting.
Thomas Petito teamed up with Chris Nelson, of Insignia fame to bring his vision of the true Burgundian Pinot, full of detail and character to life.
Lush red and strawberry fruit, layers of mineral, flint and spice, leading to a silky elegant finish is no accident.
It all starts with the vines, and the setting.
Split Rock vineyard features rocky soils, with winds coming from the Petaluma Gap that together create a challenging and rewarding growing environment.
While 2008 was a challenging year for wine production in Sonoma due to springtime frost; this led to some interesting opportunities.
Petito simply reduced the yields, and picked the best grapes and felt he got the very best juice this way.
(Lowereing the yield imparts the most flavor and mineral to the grapes-think of all those minerals in the soil and energy in the atmosphere being divided amongst fewer grapes.)
“The layering is achieved through planting and blending 7 Burgundian clones where most vintners will stop at 3.” notes Petito.
For the layperson: In viticulture, a clone is single vine that has been selected from a "mother vine" to which it is identical or similar. Basically copies of the French vines that made wine with desired qualities.
So, more clones=more flavors.
In order to balance and settle all those gorgeous nuances and flavors the juice is aged in French oak (40% of it new) in order to give it the faint “air kiss” of oak on the finish.
Upon opening a bottle and smelling the aromas of berry and cocoa, and mineral, I am immediately transported to the sunny California vineyard.
Upon first taste, the finished product is a masterwork. Neither too full bodied nor too thin, not shy but not gaudy.
Layered with strawberry cherry, sage, smoky anise and spices, it delivers structured tannins, nice acidity and concentration and a very long fruity finish.
I love this wine so much; in fact, I am serving it at my Valentine’s Day Chef’s table event and pairing it with a Gianduja Chocolate brick.
My wife agrees: “Keep the flowers and candy just give me that ridiculously good Pinot Noir.” She said.
After all, I can’t argue with her taste.