Best Of The West: Has Pinot Noir Found A New Spiritual Home In West Sonoma Coast?

Vinted on August 25, 2011 binned in California wine, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road

Burt Williams might speak softly and have a relatively unassuming appearance, but when it comes to age-worthy, elegant Pinot Noir he is one hundred percent deadly Jedi Knight.

That much was clear during the recent West Of West festival in Occidental, CA (I attended as a media guest), where Littorai’s Ted Lemon interviewed Williams to kick things off.  It was tough for me to pay attention, because a) there were Sonoma Coast Pinots sitting in front of me ranging from `96 to `01, and I was ready to geek out, and b) I found the entire event confusing, because I’m an anal Right Coast guy who requires exposition and purpose stated clearly up-front, and the WoW Fest proceedings launched without much detail on either.

Fortunately, possessing a formal plan is not a prerequisite for making great wine.  In fact, to hear Williams tell it, very little about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was planned in the early days when he first starting making Williams Selyem wine in his ‘spare’ time. “We got a call from an ATFA agent,” he mentioned, “who basically told us that we should get bonded before we got arrested; so, we got bonded.”

Williams also told us that “if the wine is balanced… if you pick the fruit before it’s really ripe… I know Sonoma Coast [Pinot Noir] can age!”  Proof is in the vinous pudding: the 1996 Williams Selyem Riverblock Pinot Noir (about $100 if you can find it, and an ‘A’ rated wine if I’ve ever had one) is delicate, earthy and svelte, with cherries, plums, spices and hints of game meat. The finish could accurately be described as gorgeous; it’s a wine that doesn’t smack you over the head, but seduces you.

And it’s in drinking wines like that 1996 Pinot – wines which seem to be made at a more-than-expected frequency in the West Sonoma Coast area – that you say to yourself (if you’re me, anyway): F*ck Napa Valley Pinot – this is where it’s AT!”

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This Just In: I Join A PLCB Advisory Group. Also, Hell Freezes Over. Sort Of.

Vinted on August 24, 2011 binned in going pro, PLCB, wine shipping

Last week, after I spoke out against NJ Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan publicly dissing his own wine-buying constituents, I received quite a bit of feedback (comments and e-mail) about something I wasn’t talking about.  Namely, not reporting from the battlefield of the wine shipping fracas taking place among the rolling hills of my home state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (one of – if not the – worst control states in our fair Union).

In response, I can offer two tidbits as potential justification:

1) Blogger Lew Bryson is doing a fine job of detailing all of the latest PLCB debacles and on-again/off-again satutus of PA’s move towards Privitization, and I’ve little to offer above-and-beyond Lew’s excellent and opinionated coverage. For a pertinent example, check out Lew’s tirade about the state’s failed automated wine kiosks – turns out the PLCB knew that the kiosks had little chance of succeeding before they deployed them (I had a similar view of their potential success published around the same time).

2) I’m anticipating the potential for a lot more insider coverage coming soon on the PLCB and the drama of the changing state of alcohol distribution in PA, since I’ve agreed to be on a focus group for a PLCB Wine Advisory Council member.

Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve been hand-picked by a member of the PLCB’s Eastern PA Regional Advisory Panel to join a cabinet/focus group, which has as one of its priorities advancing the pace of change to improve the currently (very) sad state of wine distribution affairs in the Commonwealth…

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Art Vs. Artifice In The Search For Natural Wine

Vinted on August 22, 2011 binned in book reviews, wine books

“That’s just… man, that’s just… NOT right!”

The above quote is from a friend of mine, in reaction to learning that some of his favorite wines – and, in fact, probably most wines – are made with grapes purchased from growers. As in, grapes that did not come from a patch of land directly behind a winery building on a farm somewhere, tended with care by the winemaker’s own hands.

Imagine how he would have felt if he’d seen the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s list of “Materials authorized for the treatment of wine and juice.”  While it’s not quite as bad as the list of additives that are used to “enhance” our processed foodstuffs, it certainly feels a lot more “McDonald’s” than “Old MacDonald.”

As consumers, lacking evidence to the alternative we have a tendency to assume (naively) that what we consume is fundamentally natural, or that a “natural” product is somehow a superior one.  This premise – that the natural is always the better – serves as a driving force behind award-winning wine journalist Alice Feiring’s new book, Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally ($10 eBook, or about $15 in print – I received an advanced review copy).

Feiring is a self-proclaimed polarizing figure in the wine world, and if her intention with Naked Wine was to solidify her controversial status, she could hardly have chosen a better cement than the topic of “natural wine”…

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