March 2012

Pinot on the Ritz

photos by John Curley

Even though we were tasked with tasting 15 different Pinot Noirs blind, our senses were captivated: From our focused noses and palates exploring the wines from our mystery suppliers, to the mesmerizing impact on our eyes and ears as we marveled of the pounding waves of the Pacific against the shores of Half Moon Bay, this was a feast for the senses. The classic song may suggest that Park Avenue is the place for finery, but sitting in the cozy ENO Wine Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, we couldn’t have been happier to Pinot on the Ritz.

Our gracious host was Ian Cauble, TOP/SOMM of the Guild of Sommeliers and Wine Director at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, and we were joined by a panel of prestigious somms, wine buyers and distributors for our exclusive invitational SPEED TASTING.

The Panel    
First, our esteemed panel blind-tasted 15 Pinot Noirs. Then, one-by-one, each brand’s supplier faced the panel and revealed their brand, with five minutes to educate us on what we had tasted. The descriptive notes below were all written during the blind tasting portion of the event.
Clockwise from Top: Ian Cauble, our event host and Wine Director at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, led the fray; Jai Wilson, Sommelier, Jardinière Restaurant, San Francisco; Christopher Gaither, Sommelier, Spruce Restaurant, San Francisco; Ted Glennon, Wine Director, Restaurant 1833, Carmel; Peter Estrada, Sommelier, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay; Bill Brandel, Wine Manager, Southern Wine & Spirits of CA; Geoff Kruth, MS, Wine Director, Farmhouse, Russian River Valley, Sonoma; Meridith May, Publisher/Executive Editor, THE TASTING PANEL Magazine.

Terlato Family Wines winemaker, Brian Parker.



Terlato Family Wines 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($60)
Terlato Wines International

The Russian River’s cool climate and morning fog are steps one and two in bringing about this wine’s character. The volcanic ash over layers of eroded bedrock form a sandstone of loam known as “Goldridge soil,” which is yet another key to the minerality and density that spears through the wine. Just 286 cases.

“Deep and dense with blue/red notes on a white-peppered nose. Jasmine notes linger —a nice mid-palate clean quality.“ —Ted Glennon

“Complex, velvet-textured and fragrant.” —Bill Brandel

“Ripe and polished.” —Chris Gaither

Jennifer Scott, DWS, is the Luxury Brand Development Manager
at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.



Villa Maria 2007 Taylors Pass Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($44)
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

Villa Maria was the first winery in New Zealand to go corkless. “Everything about us says sustainability,” notes Jennifer Scott, DWS, is the Luxury Brand Development Manager at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Good drainage from silty loam soils on the north bank of the Awatere result in expressive dark fruit and a grainy-texture mouthfeel in this hand-harvested wine.

“Powerful aromatics (olives, sage, rhubarb) with a lighter palate (meat, mushroom and tobacco) equate to an exotic wine.” —Ian Cauble

“Nice balance and beautiful texture combines bright fruit and a brooding inner core.” —Jai Wilson

Mark McWilliams manages the day-to-day operations at Arista Winery.


Arista Winery 2009, Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($56)

Arista Winery was founded by the McWilliams family in 2002 and they presently craft 14 different Pinot Noirs. The family’s philosophy is that “wines carefully cultivated in the vineyard are well behaved in the cellar.” While most of the Arista Pinots hail from the Russian River Valley, the Anderson Valley specimen poured at our event is a style “out of the box” for the family. 250 cases.

“Not restrained at all, this is a big, big, delicious wine with cooking spices and velvet tannins.” —Ted Glennon

“Deep color—almost electric. Baked cherries, baked apple skin, exotic mandarin orange and a heady vanilla spice continue to add character to this heavy hitter.” —Chris Gaither

Steve Wyngard of Oyster Bay Wines.


Oyster Bay 2010 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($20)

This Marlborough Pinot Noir, made from fruit from the Waiwara and Awatere Valleys, sees a long growing season, averaging a month longer than Napa. The locally owned winery—not part of a conglomerate—has with a separate Pinot wing. The family has been farming grapes since the 1940s and Pinot Noir for the past 15 years.

“A fragrant, fresh nose with a rosy-hued juiciness and just-ripened red berries.” —Meridith May

“Subtle and subdued. A little patience reveals a mushroom sous bois element with building layers of complexity. “ —Jai Wilson

Susan Reed is the winemaker for Gary Farrell Wines.


Gary Farrell 2009 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($42)
Vintage Point

Long-term relationships with growers have allowed the Gary Farrell Pinot Noir to enjoy continued success. Winemaker Susan Reed explained that the 2009 vintage produced small yields after a cold, wet spring. “But we also experienced ideal growing conditions in the Russian River Valley just the same,” she says. With a focus on elegance, Reed points out that they pick earlier than most. “We aim for refinement.”

“I love this wine; rich and silky-textured without being heavy. It has a smooth and integrated tannin structure for a fleshy mouthfeel. Exotic island fruits leap from the glass.” —Jai Wilson

“Sexy and lush, driven by sharp, tart fruit. Never out of balance.” —Ted Glennon

“A crowd pleaser, ripe and oaky. Classic Cali Pinot.” —Ian Cauble

THE TASTING PANEL, 6345 Balboa Blvd, Ste. 111, Encino, CA 91316
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