By The Glass
Ampelos hits refined notes with pinot noir
Last year I was visiting the Santa Barbara area and stumbled upon a sample of pinot noir that was striking. While many California pinots can be extremely ripe, sometimes overextracted and high in alcohol, this one had very ripe fruit but carried itself elegantly and refined like a great French pinot noir.
It comes from a sub-appellation of Santa Barbara called Santa Rita Hills, one of the trendiest places producing pinot noir.
Although relatively new, this area is producing outstanding quality. A lot of small artisan wineries making top-notch pinot noir -- such as Cargasachi, Sea Smoke, Melville and Brewer Clifton -- are making wines in Santa Rita Hills.
Ampelos Cellars is one of the newer vineyards in the area. After tasting the wine last year, I contacted Lindsay Schroeder of the winery immediately after I got back to my office. We were able to secure a small allocation of five cases of their very first vintage, 2004. We sold out quickly and our customers kept asking for more. Some even made the trip to Ampelos Cellars because they were so enamored of the wine.
Brian, one of our salespeople, visited Ampelos Cellar earlier this year and reports that the constant in all of Ampelos' wines is a sense of balance and solid structure that displays the character of the various varietals without going over the top. His conclusion is that the vintage just released, 2005, is even better than the previous one.
If you are a fan of California pinot noir, or pinot noir in general, keep your eye on Santa Rita Hills and Ampelos Cellars. At Vintage Wine Cellar we are closely monitoring this area for future finds of interesting wine.
2005 Ampelos Pinot Noir Lambda($36.99): Bursting with rich cherry notes and the underlying flavor of cola, this pinot shows us what one more year of growth can do for vines.
The aroma offers a hint of milk chocolate and blueberries. The wine needs about 30 minutes of air to open up. When it does you will see that it is packed with fruit -- cherry, cranberry, stewed tomato -- and comes across your palate as very delicate, smooth and silky.
I love drinking this with any kind of duck dish -- confit, Chinese roast duck, peking duck, duck breast, duck ragu, smoked tea duck ... you get the idea.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org