Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

It's a funny thing, but when a producer makes one varietal so well you can often overlook the fact that they even make other wines. A couple of cases in point are Varner and Windy Oaks.

Now Bob and Jim Varner are justly famous for their excellent Chardonnay. From the Spring Ridge vineyard in Portola valley make the "Bee Block", "Home Block" and "Ampitheater Block", as well as a blend under the Neely label. However they also make a small amount of Pinot Noir. I tried the 2005 Neely Pinot Noir earlier this year, and frankly wasn't all that impressed. Then one evening last month I was looking through the cellar for something to pair with a stuffed pork chop and spotted a 2005 Varner Hidden Block Pinot Noir that I'd picked up. I decided I may as well quaff it, after all it was nothing special.

The colour didn't give much away; it's so amazingly light, I've seen darker Ros├ęs. If you drink a lot of Burgundy then you're no doubt used to it, but Californian winemakers (with a few notable exceptions) seems to prefer their wines much darker. And the nose wasn't much of a clue at first - dusty oak and some white flowers. But on the palate I was surprised - wave after wave of rich, sweet fruit; cherries and redcurrants, together with mixed spice and more. The depth was amazing and it just got better with air. Highly recommended.

On the other hand, Windy Oaks are best known for their Pinot Noirs. They have around 14 acres of Pinot planted down near Corralitos, together with one acre of Chardonnay. Yet that one acre makes some amazing wine. I've tried both the 2005 and 2006 recently; they each had flavours of lemon meringue pie, pineapple and custard. Overall I think the 2006 has the edge. Again, a highly recommended wine.

While on the subject of Windy Oaks I'd like to mourn the passing of a bottle of their 2006 Proprietor's Reserve Pinot Noir. I intended to open an older vintage to impress a good friend from France. Unfortunately the 2006 had just arrived and I picked the wrong one. If you own any of these babies I implore you to please let them rest; they need at least 3-5 years of beauty sleep before they are ready.


Wes Barton said...

There are 3 Varner made Pinots from the Neely's Spring Ridge Vineyard.

The Varner is all Hidden Block, which is planted to the Dijon 115 clone. The Neely "Holly's Cuvee" you had is a Hidden Block/Picnic Block blend (55%/45%). Just released is the Neely Picnic Block, which is planted to Dijon 777 clone.

I agree with you on both wines. the Varner is wonderful, and the Holly's Cuvee seems simple, showing dark fruit and structure. I'm sitting on one bottle for a few years to see if it's hiding anything.

Considering its effect in the blend, I expect the Picnic Block to be even darker and ungiving. Considering how different they are, perhaps the blend is less than the sum of its parts? Hopefully I'll get a chance to try this, as I don't want to craddle rob something I expect to be unpleasant young. I would like to see how it ages, too, though.