Napa’s ‘less is more’ Pinot Noirs

Robert Sinskey

The wines of Robert SinskeyRobert Sinskey farms 200 acres of premium vineyards in the Carneros and Stags Leap districts of Napa and Sonoma Valleys and each vineyard is certified organic. These are some of the most ethereal Pinot Noir wines tasted. These two wines are from Sinskey’s Carneros fruit:

Robert Sinskey 2010 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros ($38)

This medium ruby wine, 100% Pinot Noir, has deep aromas of red and black cherries with beautifully integrated spice notes and an earthy quality that finishes with a touch of black pepper. The wine is rich without being overly saturated. It is fresh and lively. The wine was aged for 10 months in French oak, 30% of this being new oak.

Robert Sinskey 2010 Four Vineyards Pinot Noir, Los Carneros ($60)

A 100% Pinot Noir made from fruit grown in the Vandal, Capa, Three Amigos and Scintilla vineyards with deep, plum and dark cherry flavours. This is a tangy wine with medium plus acidity; a young wine, best to open in a few years. The wine was barrel aged for roughly 14 months in 100% French oak, 40% of which is new.

The Drinks Business spoke with winemaker, Jeff Virnig, who had just concluded his 26th vintage at Sinskey this autumn. He and his team have worked with the same vineyards since 1988.

Jeff explained that back in the 1980’s, in order to achieve quintessential ripeness in Pinot Noir (and all the other varieties they produce) out of the Carneros region, you had to invigorate the soil through organic means. The idea was that if you could create balance in the field, and allow vines to grow without using artificial or synthetic products, you could achieve balance of flavour, and structure at lower potential alcohol.

Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir“It was my belief at the time”, Jeff states, “that we as an industry were continually trying to achieve physiological ripeness through hang time, because we were negating nature’s balance in the farming process.” The Sinskeys, Jeff says, allowed him leeway, agreeing that continued over-use of toxic rescue chemistry in farming was negating nature’s sense of order.

Asked how the winery achieves such depth of aromas and flavour, Jeff gives the vineyard sites the credit. “There were 28 individually fermented lots from 13 clones/massal selections from six of our organically and bio-dynamically farmed vineyards in the 2010 Los Carneros Pinot Noir. We believe that the essence of Pinot Noir is closer to the red fruit spectrum. This is where we see the subtle nuances of Pinot Noir.”

“Such nuances”, Jeff lists, “of cherry, strawberry, fresh plumb, floral (violets, and rose), cinnamon, clove, fresh tobacco are lost in riper, warmer vintages, and/or if one is pushing the ripeness curve to achieve plush round wines.”

The Robert Sinskey Pinot Noirs are picked between 22.7 and 24.2 brix, Jeff explains, “as we believe there is balance of flavour and structure at these numbers specifically in our vineyards. Wine making and barrel selection is not heavy handed, and we can achieve balanced extraction of colour and flavour using small open top fermenters and employing cap irrigations. We pay close attention to the nuances of terroir in each block and vineyard as well.”

Jeff concluded by adding, “The ripe plush style has been promoted as the California style and garners high scores, but is generally not our preference for the dinner table, and what we think of as classic Pinot Noir.”

To taste what Napa Valley can do with its Pinot Noir, you need only taste the wines from these three producers. Great Pinot Noir can be produced here.

The top Pinot Noir picks from the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintner Tasting Panel as reported in the St. Helena Star by Tiffany van Gorder:

2009 Ceja Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir ($40)

2010 Domaine Chandon Carneros Pinot Noir ($35)

2011 Laird Family Estate Carneros Pinot Noir ($55)

2012 Napa Cellars Pinot Noir ($22)

2011 Paul Hobbs Winery Carneros Pinot Noir ($75)

2011 Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir ($36)

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