Blind Muscat can report a recent, amazing wine experience: a high end California Pinot Noir that actually tastes like Pinot Noir.
This shouldn’t be newsworthy, but with the recent trend toward bombastic, Syrah-like Pinot from too many California producers, it is, and good news at that. The point of wines from this grape, even in the balmy New World, should be delicacy, sprightliness, verve, even a bit of provocation, and never brute force. It should overpower you with understatement. It’s supposed to be more of a Fiat Spider convertible than a muscle car.
What I enjoyed most about this wine is that the grapes come from Marin County, the affluent, New Age-y suburban redoubt north of San Francisco known more for its upscale wine drinkers than its vineyard expanses. But everything I’ve tasted from the couple hundred acres in Marin—admittedly, not a lot of wines—has been a breath of fresh air. The vineyards, including this one, tend to be close to the ocean, fog-shrouded, wine blown, quite cool—on the margins of where wine grapes can successfully be grown. Grapes like these give a careful winemaker a fighting chance to produce wine that resists the California trend toward overdoing it.
Marin County: add it to your wine map.
Sure, the alcohol comes in over 14%. But Willowbrook winemaker Joe Otos still delivers a wine with an edge to it, with treble notes, not just bass notes, with things going on in the glass other than primary fruit flavors. The winemaking notes describe it as being like an Oregon Pinot Noir—I love it when Californians cite Oregon as a model!—and that’s about right. The Willowbrook Marin isn’t as fat as a nouveau California, but it’s not as angular as a Burgundy, either.
I served this bottle for a couple friends with a casual dinner, a cold salad of chicken and noodles with a bottled Sichuan Peanut Sauce. There were smiles all around.
At $38, this wine is, of course, not cheap. But you can easily do a lot worse for twice the price in the currently inflated Pinot Noir marketplace.
Price: $38. Alcohol: 14.4%. Points: More than I’d give to some of those over-heated Russian River and Santa Lucia bottles. Full disclosure: Freebie sample.