Friday, November 10, 2006

A "Masculine" Pinot

Some wine makers and wine writers describe Pinot Noir as "masculine" sometimes. I don't know how to interpret this, or how to recognize it when I taste it. Does that simply mean its a big wine? If so, then most Pinots that are indelicate are "masculine," and not my style, for that matter. But both Oregon and Burgundy wines that are called "masculine" can be lovingly reviewed - there must be something good doing on here.

I probably I have a bias toward delicacy and elegance in Pinot Noir, towards red fruit and earthy grace, perfume and light texture. I had a wine over the past two days though, that makes me understand the "masculine" descriptor. I have tasted many St Innocent wines, but never the Anden Vineyard bottling, which I read is a "masculine" wine. I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, and by how well it went with food (simple turkey burgers, broccoli rabe, roast russets with romano cheese).

Folks, if you like Pinot Noir and you have not yet tasted the wines of St Innocent, do yourself a favor. You can read about Mark Vlossak the winemaker on the site, but I will add that he was the winemaker at Panther Creek through the 1999 vintage, another Willamette Valley winery with a solid reputation. And that he has somewhat of an ornery reputation as a producer who doesn't jump through hoops to please the press (or the public). Kind of a legend in the Willamette Valley.

The thing that I respect the most about St Innocent though, is that even though his wines are as delicious, as well reviewed, and as rare as any Oregon producer, Mark Vlossak refuses to jack up his prices. He sells one of his single vineyard wines, Temperance Hill, for about $25, and White Rose, the most expensive one comes in at about $45. Mark says that his benchmark wine is from the Seven Springs vineyard. Anden vineyard used to be part of Seven Springs - it was the part at the lower elevation. This is probably why the wine can be darker and richer than other St Innocent Pinots - the grapes at lower elevation receive more heat.

The 2003 St Innocent Anden Vineyard Pinot Noir, $28, is a masculine wine. Unlike any other St Innocent wine I've tasted, this wine is dark purple and smells of black fruits, herbs, and musky earth. On the first day it tasted primarily of black fruit with some brambly and foresty tones. But on the second day with proper air time, the wine achieved a perfectly balanced state. There are tar and spice smells to round out the blackberry, sappy sweet cherries and brawny pine on the palate. This is the first time I have had a dark and powerful Pinot Noir and loved it.

The label says that the 382 cases of this wine complement rich foods such as prime rib or cassoulet. Makes sense. I thought of rainy nights, comfortable sweaters, and bowls of hot beef stew - things not known for their delicacy. This was an eye opener for me. And it probably would have improved for years with cellaring. 2003 was a hot year and I assumed that like many other wines from 03, this one would have low acid and high alcohol, and not be ageworthy. I was simply wrong. I am finding that the best producers craft good wines during tough vintages - that's one of the things that makes them great producers. So I guess I will hold onto my 3 bottles of St Innocent Shea Vineyard for a while...

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