While it isn’t a safe bet that all “pinot” wines are great wines, one can certainly extoll the virtues of well-made Pinot Noir and its mutant clone offspring Pinot Grigio. Since the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir really hasn’t been quite the same, with so many of us yearning for its complexities and more rarified nuances. Pinot Grigio, too, has enjoyed a continuing surge in popularity, demonstrating an expansive range in flavor dependent on where it is grown. Despite its Italian name, Pinot Grigio’s viticultural history lies in Burgundy just like Pinot Noir where it was known as Pinot Gris. These days New World winemakers embrace both varietals like long-lost friends, coaxing new attributes that indeed give a new twist to these old-world wines. What wonderful wines to experience as we face spring head-on with thoughts of summer’s heat looming around the corner.
Banshee 2011 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County
Described as a Pinot Noir that “speaks to our Burgundian sensibilities,” this vintage of Banshee’s comes from a cooler-than-usual vintage in Sonoma for 2011. A wine that benefits from decanting or aerating, it presents as a lovely ruby elixir with a noticeable cherry influence even on the nose. The palate finds a jammy mix of sweet and tangy cherries mixed with strawberry, rosehips and plum. Silty tannins introduce a depth that enriches the wine throughout an evening of sipping. This is an accessible, yet rich and powerful wine that will only improve with aging. Pair it with some garlicky rosemary chicken fresh off the grill or Portobello mushrooms stuffed Italian herbs ands sausage.
Charles Smith 2011 ‘Vino’ Pinot Grigio, Columbia Valley, Washington
Known for his flamboyant winemaking style, Charles Smith continues his reputation with this bold Pinot Grigio. This is not your typical Washington state white wine. It evokes cut summer grass and brings forth clear flavors of nectarine, honeysuckle, summer melons, and white anise with keen mineral undertones. Its acidity adds enjoyable complexity as well. This is a crisp, refreshing wine whose minerality will help it stand up to the summer heat. The perfect brunch or appetizer wine, it pairs perfectly with a cooling salmon mousse, a zippy shrimp diavolo or a citrusy grilled chicken Caesar salad.
It includes the official start of spring, but the weather rarely feels like spring has sprung despite new birds chirping, the daffodils and crocus dotting our lawns and the calendar saying that winter should be over. We hunch over on cold, windy, sleety days, wondering when the sun will shine and warm us again. It’s a tough adjustment as we’re eager to put away the rich wool sweaters and bring on the sandals and short sleeves.
Fortunately, Hinsdale Wine Cellars and its Inspired Wine Club will help ease you into the real essence of spring this month. A meaty Argentine red and an engaging Spanish rosé are just the things to help you say, “Adios” Winter and “Bienvenida” Spring.
Luca 2010 ‘Laborde Double Select’ Syrah, Mendoza
This 100% Syrah is a lavish, dark purple wine that emanates the ripe earthy scent of a spring forest trail thawing from a winter’s freeze. The brainchild of Laura Catena (who Sean met on his wine trip to Argentina in 2009), this wine was the beginning of an artisanal movement in Mendoza. It is a lush, juicy wine made from Rhone-originated, 80+ year-old Syrah vines and is reminiscent of cigars, leather and smoked meat. Look for blackberry jamminess with hints of tea, black pepper and maybe rhubarb with a nice long finish. This is the perfect wine for your first grilled steak of the season or to ward off the final winter chills alongside a well-seasoned rabbit and chanterelle mushroom stew.
Alpha Zeta 2011 Rosato of Corvina
Rosé is the perfect sipper as the weather warms up, and this 100% Corvina wine has a refreshing fruitiness and acidity typically associated with this varietal. Unpretentious and accessible, it is a wonderfully dry, zesty wine that begins with a nose of ripe red fruits. It finds balance with a delicate structure and a vibrant finish. Like its Provencal counterparts, it pairs marvelously with a lamb-infused couscous Royale, but it is equally showcased with seared Yellowfin Tuna or even a handful of ripe olives.
From its start by Italian immigrants growing Cinsault grapes to its present day expertise of nurturing complex flavors from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and so many other varietals, Washington State has exploded beyond Walla Walla and brought forth some of the United States’ most interesting wines today. Tamarack Cellars is a perfect example of its finest wine pioneering. A family-owned winery based at a renovated firehouse located in a World War II Army Air Base, Tamarack Cellars was even named 2009 Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine.
So, in honor of Washington Wine Month, we inspire our wine club members with two of our favorite Tamarack Cellars wines: a complex red blend that seems to appeal to everyone and a sophisticated chardonnay that says it’s ready to embrace these cooler days leading to Spring.
Tamarack Cellars 2011 ‘Firehouse Red,’ Columbia Valley
Ask wine lovers about Tamarack Cellars and they will undoubtedly mention award-winning Firehouse Red, a blend that maximizes the best features of 8-9 varietals to create a robust, complex, earthy red wine. Built on a base of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the winemakers have added Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Petite Verdot and Carménère to produce a very dark, rich red wine that recalls cherry and forest berry flavors enhanced by vanilla and leathery, spicy notes. This is a well-balanced wine with tamed tannins and a jamminess that is utterly pleasing to the palate. Many would even describe it as juicy. Aged in 40% new oak barrels, the wine also provides a smooth, long finish and a bright, natural acidity. Lovely for sipping in front of the fireplace, but equally marvelous with a steak au poivre and creamy rosemary potato gratin.
Tamarack Cellars 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley
After so many red wines during the winter, this is a perfect white to welcome in Spring. With 100% Chardonnay grapes and primarily aged in used French oak barrels, this wine doesn’t overwhelm with oakiness. Instead, it is light and bright, evoking hints of mojito and exotic kiwi on the nose and bringing forth flavors of peach, passion fruit and tangy Granny Smith apples. It offers a long, smooth finish with a subtle butteriness that balances the tart apple notes. Overall, this is a complex wine with a surprising creamy, yet exotic experience. Another great sipper or one that pairs perfectly with a carefully roasted apricot-ginger glazed game hen.