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SATISFYING SATURDAYS
05/14/2011
Satisfying Saturdays
Pinots Finished--Head Still Above Water

By Charles Olken

Just got an email asking if our panel survived our encounter with 40 Pinot Noirs, and I am happy to say that we not only survived but that we enjoyed the experience. Pinot Noir is simply less physically challenging than other reds. Its tannins are lower, its texture is less challenging, its flavors reveal themselves in comfortable layers, and frankly, they are simply very good.

The range of styles runs from firm, tight and promising to rich, accessible and mouthfilling. The lighter, higher acid models make happy mates to salmon, tuna, veal and lighter steak preparations. The deeper, richer wines will be fine accompaniments to dishes ranging from standing rib roast to braised short ribs of beef. We have put aside a bunch of our favorites to serve to our friends tonight with New York pepper steak (the kind with pepper corns, not green peppers and onions) in a cognac sauce.

Lately, California Pinot Noir has come in for tons of criticism. It used to be that Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon were the poster children for the "unacceptable" California style. Now, the boo-birds are attacking Pinot Noir. It makes no sense to us. The wines are deep, balanced, uniquely supple in the way that only Pinot Noir can be. Our reviews of some 150 separate bottlings will appear on June 1, and without giving it all away, I can tell you that we found gorgeous wines from dozens of wineries, mostly centered on the Russian River Valley but also from Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills and from both the established Pinot leaders and from newcomers alike.

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