My Top 5 Pinot Picks at San Francisco’s Annual Pinot Days

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I attended my first Pinot Days in San Francisco this past weekend and truth be told, I’m not a huge Pinot lover. Trust me, I’ve had some amazing Pinots and they have blown me away but the problem with Pinot for the most part is that they’re hit or miss….and it’s hard to find a fabulous one that will knock your socks off on most American restaurant menus. Unless you’re in Oregon that is….

While the Pinot fans (and snobs) at the event assured me that there was no finer wine, I still like my reds (almost regardless of what I’m eating – I did say almost), a little bolder. That said, a good Pinot can give you goosebumps if you have the patience for discovery.

I scanned through my 40 page Pinot Days leaflet I picked up at the “trade” desk and while I recognized a number of wineries, I wasn’t familiar with their Pinots. It wasn’t entirely hit or miss however, since I did have some recommendations and scoured the place for winemakers and trade people who would be gracious enough to pass along their suggestions for who made “bouncier bold Pinots.”

You want bold for a Pinot? they looked at me dumbfounded as if A) I didn’t “get” wine or drink it very much and B) I most certainly didn’t ”get”  Pinot.

“Getting” a wine means spending time with it and frankly I just haven’t spent as much time with Pinots as I have Cabs, Zins, Merlots and Syrahs…and even Shiraz. (remember how much time I spent in South Africa).  This wine can be delicate so after a few “misses”, I gave up even after having some lovely moments in Oregon where a few bottles got more than a serious rise from me.

And so, I pleaded regardless of the “you amateur look” some of the serious trade folks gave me, “yes, where do I go for a little bolder Pinot in this place?”

I got lucky. A few “understood” and sent me to bigger bang winemakers. Rest assured, there are some bigger Pinots than others. Perhaps let’s say it another way – a Pinot with great body with just a few legs is the perfect lighter alternative to your bolder Cabs, Merlots & Zins, particularly when a meal just doesn’t call for something as big. Food pairings do matter.

The event was held in San Francisco’s Fort Mason. Deemed the “Grand Festival,” I had attended the Zinfandel Festival (aka ZAP) earlier this year in the same location. Imagine a massive “hall” where vendors are set up in aisles and there’s little else but wine to sample, so you better have your program “down.”

While I did notice a few clothing and chocolate vendors, aisle after aisle were all wineries and wine makers and I discovered a few from Oregon and New Zealand that were unique enough to give me one of those ‘aha, ooooh interesting’ moments.

And so I got out my booklet, asked my colleagues for a few suggestions and off I went. While I didn’t have time or the energy frankly to sample as much as others in my circle, I did come up with my top five list. Bear in mind that the top five list is based on my palette and preference which may not be the right choice for those who love lighter less bodied wines and are simply okay with a light Chianti with their pasta. This is so not me. (exception – when I’m in Tuscany).

Here goes:

  • Scherrer Winery in Sebastopol, CA: Meet Fred Scherrer. (above). When he learned what I was after, his eyebrows raised and he poured me an ’09 that took my breathe away. Yum!  Body yes, but oh so very much still a Pinot.
  • Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA. Guy Davis is behind this one. Spicy and fun and yes, bolder than most.
  • Domaine Serene in Dayton Oregon: Owners Ken and Grace Evenstad and the winemaker is Erik Kramer. Their reserve was so worth the wait. (there was a long line at this one).
  • MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, CA: Winemaker is James Mac Phail. Not as lush and smooth as Fred or Erik’s Pinot, but it makes the list.
  • Pence Ranch in Pacific Palisades, CA: Winemaker is Jeff Fink. While this one didn’t bowl me over, I had a special moment with it. Flexible, I thought it was just a “nice drinking” wine that could go with a lot of dishes.

Another one worth mentioning just because it was so interesting was Papapietro Perry Winery. Winemaker is Ben Papapietro and they’re based out of Healdsburg, CA. One other thing to note – they forgot to bring food. An empanada vendor showed up late and were out of food within the hour. Food stalls could have made a killing here. Great wine goes with great food, does it not? C’mon Pinot Days marketing folks – sort it out for next year.

Here’s more for our San Francisco wines / Bay Area wineries / Napa Valley wineries / Sonoma wineries and more on food/wine in general.