Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir can compete with premier cru Burgundy on quality and price.
That was the conclusion of a seminar hosted by the drinks business and The Californian Wine Insitute in March this year, which saw Gerard Basset MS, MW, OBE; Vanessa Cinti; Claudia Schug-Schütz and Keith Isaac MW discuss the character of Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir.
“California has an image of being very expensive but personally I think Pinot Noir from California is very good value,” said Basset, who is a sommelier, commentator and owner of Hotel Terravina in England’s New Forrest, speaking at the event, which was held in London during the Californian Wine Institute’s annual UK tasting.
Having discussed a price band of £20 to £50 for good quality Californian cool-climate Pinot Noir Basset added: “If you wanted a quality example from Burgundy at village or premier cru level, that’s what you would pay, so for me Californian Pinot is good value.”
Speaking about the natures of wines, he continued, “The wines display a lot of elegance and character, and they have a great image.”
He also stressed the reliable quality from California. “They are very consistent in what they propose, so it is very rare that you take a bottle from a good producer and find something disappointing.”
Rex Pickett addresses the room from the big screen.
Rex Pickett, author of Sideways, also offered his views via video link-up, and for him, Californian Pinot is moving in a positive direction.
He drew attention to wines that are lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, and in general showing more elegance. “We are seeing wines with more finesse, less interference… a more Old World style,” he said.
In terms of location, he picked out the wines from the Sonoma Coast close to the ocean, west of Highway 101, as well as those from the Santa Ynez Valley in the Central Coast region.
For another presenter during the seminar, Keith Isaac MW, it was important to stress what defines cool climate in the Californian context.
Isaac, who is general manager at Patriarche Wine Agencies, which, despite its Burgundy bent, imports wines from Monterey’s Hahn Winery, began by stressing the particular traits of California’s coastal climate.
According to Isaac, it wasn’t altitude or latitude that was the main influence on creating cool-climate Pinot in California, but fog and wind. Considering the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, such moderating influences mean the area is a Region 1 climate on the Winkler Scale.
“The wind in the Santa Lucia Highlands often reaches speeds of up to 30mph in the afternoon causing the vine to shut down,” he recorded. “Like drought conditions, it thinks it must save energy, and this means a longer, slower ripening.”