Chicago restaurants offer an amazing selection of wines to go with your lunch or dinner. It’s fun to pick, but the choices can sometimes be overwhelming. Cabernet sauvignon is my all-time top choice for wine with food. I’m even known to drink it – heaven forbid! – with fish and seafood. Oh, okay, with dessert, too.
But a second-tier favorite red is Pinot Noir. Good ones can reveal a rewarding complex of flavors. However, not-so-good ones are not uncommon. It can be much trickier to make a good Pinot Noir because it’s a much lighter, less forgiving wine. Here’s an interesting discussion of why Pinot Noir has to try harder than Cabernet Sauvignon.
When Chicago hosted this year’s Pinot Days 2014 at Navy Pier, a whole slew of wineries brought their wares here for tasting. It’s hard to pick which of the many delicious wines to taste. And it’s hard to make meaningful notes on the handsome-but-very-small scorecard issued to us that day. But I’m happy to refer you to Wine Spectator’s comprehensive listing of Pinot Noir wines with point ratings and approximate retail prices. So herewith below I share some of my notes along with info from Wine Spectator.
The best Pinot Noirs tend to be pricey - as you'll see below. But this year the Constellation Wine Holding Company also attended Pinot Days representing brands you'll more likely to see in your local Chicago grocery or wine store. More familiar names like Estancia, Kim Crawford, Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Mark West and Ruffino – a few wine choices under 20 bucks a bottle.
Fess Parker Wines participated this year and last year. They offer a wine club as well as maintaining an inn and spa on their grounds. Any of you old enough to remember the coon skin cap from television? Yes, that’s how the Fess Parker name was originally known – he starred as Davy Crocket on the Disney program back when I was a little ‘un. Look for Santa Barbara County Bienacido Vineyard 2011, Santa Barbara County Bienacido Vineyard 2010, and Sta. Rita Hills 2010, and Sta. Rita Hills Ashley’s 2010. Prices range from $30 to $55 a bottle.
Brooks and Jessica Friedeman, long-time former residents of Chicago, moved out to Napa to operate their family-run Friedeman Wines vineyard in Sonoma County. Total production is 800 cases, and this is only their second commercial vintage (used to make wine for personal use). Latest vintages are two 2012 Pinot Noirs and two 2012 chardonnays.
Keller Estate wines are grown in the Petaluma area of Sonoma.
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast El Coro 2010 88 $52
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast La Cruz Vineyard 2010 88 $45
J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines showcased some beautiful wines. They said the vines grow in the higher part of their vineyard and get more wind – conditions that lead to deeper flavor in the grapes – and then by applying the right winemaking techniques, the grapes are turned into richer, silkier wines.
Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco Fog's Reach 2011 87 $35
Pinot Noir Monterey County Falcon's Perch 2011 84 $17
Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Bench 2011 86 $35
MacMurray Ranch brought a delightful pair of wines from its Russian River Valley vineyards. They have a wine club and also make Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2010 88 $27
Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Winemaker's Block Selection 2010 - 91 $60
McEvoy Ranch in the Marin hills of California – sunny and warmer and with more fog than Napa and Sonoma – practices sustainable growing in the Tuscan manner: they interplant their grapes with olive trees to extend the grape ripening season and maximize the use of the land.
Sojourn Cellars makes a wide variety of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets. They brought a delicious collection of Pinot Noirs to the 2014 fest. Below are Wine Spectator’s listings.
Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2011 89 $42
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Gap's Crown Vineyard 2011 88 $54
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Ridgetop Vineyard 2011 88 $59
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Rodgers Creek Vineyard 2011 88 $48
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Sangiacomo Vineyard 2010 91 $48
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Silver Eagle Vineyard 2011 88 $59
Trombetta Family Wines makes its Gap’s Crown Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast – a nice 2011 vintage.
Suffice it to say, you can learn a lot about Pinot Noir wines at Pinot Days. And you'll get to taste some wonderful wines that might work for very special occasions.