Friday, July 23, 2010

Pinot Way!


I found a $10 Carneros Pinot Noir. And it's good.

I know what you're thinking, and I'm fairly certain I have neither lost my mind nor jumped the shark on this one. As many of you are no doubt aware, $10 Pinot Noir that's decent is hard to come by, and one that's downright delicious is practically unheard of. There are two factors accounting for this.

One is the fact that Pinot Noir is a tricky grape. It's tricky to grow, being extremely sensitive to sunlight levels (too much sun will fry the stuff - no hot Syrah climates for this baby), cropping levels (the flavors inherent to the grape are so delicate that anything above the lowest yields results in bland, insipid wine), and soil (it requires chalky clay to truly thrive, none of the volcanic rock or gravel that gives Cabernet Sauvignon such character). It also doesn't grow on what might call "robust" vines; its delicate structure and thin fruit skins make it highly susceptible to any number of hideously crippling vineyard blights. It's tricky to vinify as well, being extremely sensitive to yeast strains and fermentation techniques. It's also highly malleable by the soil, which can drastically affect the direction of the wildly varied flavor profile.

The other is what I call the Paul Giamatti Factor. Let's face it, Sideways was a huge movie. I admit, I love it. But if the movie damaged the reputation of my beloved Merlot ("If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!"), it did twice as much good for Pinot Noir. The price shot through the roof and demand made a rare wine even rarer. Two harvests after the movie was released, vineyards in the state of California crushed almost twice as much Pinot Noir grapes as they did in 2004, when the movie came out. Producers struggled to keep up. Cheap, low-quality Pinots started flooding the market.

Enter the Caviste Pinot Noir.

Now, I can't help but notice that in 2007, the vintage of this wine (the only vintage I can find of this wine, bottled by one of my favorite Napa wineries, Acacia), the tonnage of Pinot Noir dropped off sharply from that 2006 peak I mentioned, only to regain its former girth in 2008 and grow even MORE in 2009. This makes me wonder ... what was wrong with the 2007 vintage? Was it not a good year for Pinot? Did something happen to affect the size and/or quality of the harvest? Perhaps that's why this bottle is sold so cheaply. Maybe their stuff just wasn't good enough for their ordinarily outstanding Acacia Carneros bottling.

Whatever, I'll take it. Because while the Caviste Carneros Pinot Noir isn't worth $20, it's certainly a mark or two better than the majority of the $10 stuff out there, and a great cheap Pinot to put in your face.

The color is a stunning deep clear ruby. It's a pleasure to gaze at, truly. The 14.2% ABV shows on the nose ... it comes off a bit hot, but I wouldn't say it burns. Just a sort of port-like quality in with the black fruit like bing cherry and dusty, brambly blackberry, as if they'd been soaked in said.

The palate is honestly surprisingly complex for such an inexpensive bottle. I spent a long time swirling, sniffing, and sipping this one, and I still couldn't quite define each flavor. There was a lot of spiced plum up front and mint-infused blackberry chutney. There was a lot of exotic spice on the finish, like chai: flavors of black tea, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom, with a lovely floral, rosey quality. Certainly a great bargain for the $10. I paired it with a chicken/sweet potato curry, and the pairing was beautiful. The Indian-spice flavors of the wine complimented the meal perfectly, and the heat of the high alcohol content disappeared under the bombardment of rich flavor from the food, getting nicely out of the way for a lovely match.

Date: 7/17/2010
Wine: Caviste Carneros Pinot Noir by Acacia
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2007
ABV: 14.2% 
Origin: Carneros, Napa Valley, California
Color: beautiful clear ruby - great legs!
Nose: brambly blackberry, raspberry, bing cherry, port
Palate: complex! spiced plum, blackberry chutney, mint. clove, tea, exotic spices, more going on, can't quite define. rose?
Price: $10

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