It’s a relatively rare occurrence for Waits-Mast to do public tastings, so it’s hard to believe that we participated in three tasting events in the past nine days. All of the opportunities to pour were impossible to pass up, even though Brian was out of town for two of them (and crestfallen of course). It was quite a treat, since we always enjoy sharing our wine with others and, of course, hope that we’ll create a few fans along the way. But, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to pour in public because everyone’s palate, taste preferences, and opinion is unique and not everyone is going to love our wines as much as we do.
Thankfully the feedback from the crowds at all of the events was overwhelmingly positive. But, of course, it’s the silent tasters, vague comments (“this one’s more savory”), and borderline negative remarks that keep us (well, Jennifer anyway) awake at night. It’s complicated to put yourself out there (“have a taste, tell us what you think”), because you are inviting both accolades and critiques, even though it’s so much more fun to hear glowing remarks over criticism.
The incredibly personal nature of taste is something that Brian and I have both been thinking a lot about, especially after seeing Eric Asimov’s recent article, “Finessed and Light: California Pinot Noirs with a Manifesto,” in the New York Times. In the article Eric Asimov writes:
“From Mendocino and Sonoma through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Arroyo Grande south to the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County, a rebellion is brewing. The dominant style of California pinot noir remains round, ripe and extravagant, with sweet flavors of dark fruit and alcohol levels approaching and sometimes surpassing 15 percent.
But on a recent trip through these leading pinot noir areas I was thrilled to find a small but growing number of producers pulling in the opposite direction.
Instead of power, they strive for finesse. Instead of a rich, mouth-coating impression of sweetness, they seek a dry vitality meant to whet the appetite rather than squelch it. Instead of weight, they prize lightness and an almost transparent intensity.”
These lighter styles of Pinot Noir aren’t necessarily the favorites of big name critics. We’ve even experienced that on a smaller scale when sending our more “elegant” 2006 Hein to a blind tasting. We didn’t get any descriptive feedback on the wine, but heard that it didn’t “score” well. After taking a look at its competition, we realized that it had no chance against the bigger wines that it was being pitted against.
At the book chat at Omnivore Books today, Passion for Pinot: A Journey Through America’s Pinot Noir Country author Jordan Mackay confirmed that trend, pointing out that creators of lighter-style Pinot Noir aren’t sending wine to critics since they know that in the current critical climate it won’t score well. He also added that he personally doesn’t believe in scoring wines, but admitted that wine scores play a huge role in selling wines on a “big scale.”
In his blog for La Rochelle Winery, Steven Mirassou points out that wine style trends come and go (often fostered by celebrity wine critics), everyone has personal preferences, and that there’s room on the shelf for a range of styles. He argues that as a winemaker his goal is to remain “…true to the vineyard and to the grape…and, more importantly, …true to my winemaking philosophy.”
I kept these thoughts in mind when we poured our wines at Canyon Market, Wine 2.0 and at Omnivore Books. During the tastings I heard lots and lots of opinions about the wines. At Wine 2.0 we poured three: the 2006 Hein Vineyard (Anderson Valley), and the 2007 vintages of Wentzel Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and La Encantada (Sta Rita Hills). When people were faced with three wines to try, they typically came up with a clear favorite. It varied by person, with all three wines making it into the top position at some point in the evening. But what was really interesting to me was that the same wine can elicit polar opposite opinions.
In particular, the Wentzel received some over-the-top love, with one man saying that it had the best balance of the three. The same taster then said, “this is the best wine I’ve had all night” and remarked that it gave him faith in American winemaking. Yet, the same wine caused another taster to flatly proclaim, “this needs a lot longer.” Brian reminded me that I shouldn’t necessarily take that as a negative (even though I did), especially since we both agree that the Wentzel is going to age really well. But, still….It’s amazing that so many enjoy the Wentzel right now, while others don’t.
In terms of the La Encantada, many people commented on the beautiful aroma (one guy at Pinot Days in Chicago in November joked that he wished he could bottle the scent and have his wife wear it as a perfume) and Jordan Mackay said that compared with the Wentzel it had “heavier spice and darker fruit.”
But, perhaps one of the best compliments of all was Jordan saying that he thought our wines (he tried the Wentzel and La Encantada) represent their respective regions well. Cool. Especially since he just happens to be a huge fan of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Passion for Pinot photographer Robert Holmes was equally complimentary about the Pinots coming out of Sta Rita Hills. We couldn’t have been in better company for our tasting today.
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