Is there room in the US pinot noir market for real cool climate pinot noir? Will racier, lighter New York and Ontario grown pinot noir ever establish itself as the alternative to the warmer climate versions?
I hope the answer is yes, but that may be wishful thinking in the near future. The only thing I can be sure of is that northeastern growers and winemakers are making better pinot noirs every year thanks to finding the best sites, planting the right clones, meticulously managing vineyards and using obsessive sorting methods in the winery.
With the hopes that we could get a taste of some of the best east coast cool climate pinot noir available, my friend and I opened three bottles of the good stuff. Each wine has won major awards or has been praised by wine writers. Each is around $35-$40 in price and are relatively small production examples from the 2007 vintage.
The first bottle we tasted was the Heart & Hands Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes. Sourced from three different vineyard sources in the region, this wine won best pinot noir at the 2009 New York Food & Wine Classic and received rave reviews on the New York Cork Report.
In the glass it's ruby red in color with aromas of raspberry, cherry, chocolate and vanilla. As it opened up it took on what I lovingly describe as a birthday cake aroma that reminds me of fruit filled cake with butter cream frosting…very vanilla. Where this wine showed best was its fleshy mouth-feel and round structure. It had a graceful balance and finish. Not terribly complex in aroma and flavor though as we didn’t get much funk, earth or spice.
The next wine tasted was Freedom Run’s 2007 Estate Pinot Noir which recently won a double gold medal at the American Fine Wine Competition. Made from young vines in the Niagara Escarpment AVA, this wine was the first effort from the winery. There were only 95 cases produced. I have been working with this winery for three years now and this has given me a unique perspective on pinot noir in the Niagara region.
In the glass it shows a deep red hue with aromas of dark cherry, cranberry, spice and forest floor. On the palate this one shows a full body mouth filling texture reminiscent of Sonoma versions. Its voluptuous mouth-feel and deep flavors show the masculine side of pinot noir while still clearly showing the complexity of a Burgundian style. With this riper style comes a lack of racy acidity that prevents this wine from being bright which could alienate some drinkers.
The last bottle tried was from Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara, Ontario, a Vincor-Boisset venture that is only making pinot noir and chardonnay. They are clearly obsessed with terrior since they make all single vineyard wines with wild yeast vinifying them the same across the board. The winery has received great press from Pinot Noir writers that have tried their lineup but their wines aren’t currently available in the USA. The bottle we opened was from the Claystone Terrace Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench.
With a crimson red color, this wine shows aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, chalk and spice. It had lively acidity on the palate with the red fruit showing particularly strong. This wine felt very tight still as if was wound up in a coil about to lash out. I'm not sure what a mineral core is but this wine would be the first I'd use that description with. The finish was the most impressive of the three with firm yet chalky tannins. Overall this wine just left an impression of sophistication.
These three wines revealed a number of similarities and differences. All are fine examples of how pinot is improving in the northeast as each had fresh fruit flavors without any sign of overripe notes. Alcohol was never an issue in any of them and they all had enough acidity to keep them balanced.
While I don’t think any should be marketing or pushed as Burgundian, Californian or Oregonian, they should be recognized as being cool climate wines. I wouldn’t be ashamed to pour these along with the finest west coast pinots to show the direction we’re heading with pinot noir in the northeast.