By The Glass
Pining for a good pinot? Wait a year
For two years I've touted pinot noir from California's Santa Barbara area. The 2004 and 2005 vintages were lush and ripe -- and the really good ones also had a delicious edge.
Greatly aided by the hit movie "Sideways," they certainly created a sensation and developed a real following among wine drinkers.
What about this year? Buyers beware, as there will be a shortage of quality pinot noir from the 2006 vintage.
For the most part, Santa Barbara pinot noir grape production was greatly reduced in 2006, creating a shortage of fruit statewide. The '06 prices will be higher than those for the 2005 vintage, that's for sure. Don't hesitate too long about purchasing some, as they won't be available long.
What about the 2007s? Many winemakers are already raving about the incredible fruit quality of this vintage. Take for example Jason Drew of Drew Family Cellars, who is working with fruit from the Anderson Valley area: "The color, mature tannins and flavors have all arrived at a lower sugar level and higher acid level. I've never seen anything like it! This vintage is going to be off the hook. I'm serious! I'm talking one in 20, maybe 100. I'm consistently trying to keep calm."
Brian Loring of Loring Wine Co., who buys pinot fruit from many parts of California and Oregon, said California's yields were 40 percent below normal, but that's not a bad thing. "It's just that the berries were extra-small. The resulting wines should be deep and rich. It was fairly cool, so the alcohols should also be in check again -- just like 2005 and 2006."
In Oregon, though, rain caused ripening issues, he said. "Look for lower alcohol, lighter-style wines. They should be fairly tannic, so 2007 Oregon Pinots will probably need a bit of cellaring."
The 2007 pinots, however, are at least a year away, and prices are likely to go up again.
To help tide you over, a good source for quality, food-friendly pinot is, surprisingly, Germany.
The 2005s from Weinhaus Heger & Dr. Becker (still available locally for $20) are ultralight in color and body, feminine, delicate and have great finesse but also wonderful perfume. They are superbly amiable with a wide range of foods.
Another good option would be French beaujolais, which can be quite an affordable alternative. The good ones are all about deliciousness and are food-friendly. But don't settle for mediocrity. Search out the really good ones.
Two of my favorites are Domaine DuPeuble ($17) and Domaine Chignard ($22). Their 2006 vintages are absolutely delicious and work well with a wide range of foods.
A tiny bit of Domaine Dupeuble's handcrafted, au naturale beaujolais nouveau comes into our state. The 2007 is as delicious and food-friendly as beaujolais gets. Interestingly, the 2006, with its additional year in the bottle, is now even more food-friendly because of its harmony and seamlessness. It would be worth your while to search out either.
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the Sansei restaurants.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org