Passionate About Western Pinot Noir? This Might Be For You...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Here's another one of those things I come across and think "man, this is targeted right at me!" It's no secret I've gotten stuck (in a good way) on California Pinot Noir. Every time I stray into other categories and taste a wine I'm not thrilled with I scurry back to my comfort zone.

PinotReport focuses its coverage on Western Pinot Noir - which translates to mostly new world wines outside of Pinot Noir's traditional home of Burgundy. The publication is put out by former Wine Spectator Senior Editor and President Gregory Walter who lives in Sonoma. His coverage of nearby producers is extensive, but he also devotes time to Oregon, New Zealand, and other areas known for Pinot Noir production.

Seeing that there was a publication out there devoted exclusively to new world Pinot Noir was intriguing to me. Unlike other categories it's not exactly clear which professional critic's voice is most authoritative in new world Pinot Noir.

I follow James Laube from Wine Spectator closely, but he only covers California Pinot Noir and has a lot of other categories to cover as well. Harvey Steiman covers Oregon Pinot Noir for Spectator, and has turned me on to a lot of great values, but Oregon Pinot Noir has been disappointing to me. I always looked at Robert Parker's reviews of Pinot Noir as half-hearted. As in: If it's outside of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Napa, it's second tier. Antonio Galloni has picked up coverage of California Pinot Noir along with seemingly everything else for Wine Advocate so I doubt he'll have much time to focus on the category.

Burghound does cover California Pinot Noir but I'm predisposed to suspect it's through the lense of how well it exudes Burgundian character. The Prince of Pinot looks promising even though he doesn't score wines. I'll have to take a closer look at each of these.

But PinotReport is uniquely positioned in this space.

I reached out to Gregory last fall and asked for a trial subscription for the purposes of writing this review and I've been following along with new issues since.

Each issue starts with opening thoughts which usually focus on the current vintage or the state of the Western Pinot Noir market at large. The bulk of the content follows a format that should be familiar to Wine Advocate readers whereby the winery's story is told along with some editorial thoughts on the quality of the current releases. Tasting notes for each wine reviewed along with prices and numerical scores on a 100 point scale follow. A typical issue is around 10 pages long and features wines from a half dozen producers. New issues are published about once a month.

I'm a big believer in blind tasting so it's encouraging to read that "All wines were tasted blind and scored before knowing anything other than that the general region they were from." I think this is particularly important when assessing various bottlings from a given producer. If any reviewer is presented wines in ascending price order I can't help but think they're going to be predisposed to liking the more expensive wines more.

PinotReport seems to navigate the situation successfully. For example, here's his note on the entry level Sojourn appellation bottling. Assuming the first sentence is what was written during blind tasting and the second sentence is his thoughts after revealing the labels it makes me take special note of the favorable rating of this more affordable bottling:

Sojourn Cellars
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2010

Medium-deep ruby color; deep, earthy cherry and spice aromas; deep, complex cherry flavors with many layers of spice, anise and earth notes; silky texture; great structure and balance; long finish. Complex and many-layered Pinot that is a testament to the fact that an appellation blend in the hands of the right winemaker can as good or better than a vineyard designate.

925 cases made $39 Score: 95

Print and online subscriptions are available. Each new issue is announced online with an email to subscribers which contains a link to download the content as a PDF. Back issues are also available for download. Search capabilities could be better, but full PinotReport tasting notes are available on CellarTracker under Professional Reviews for subscribers.

I'd love to see the content delivered as a gorgeous interactive eBook. I always enjoy reading the latest issue of Spectator with a glass of wine. I'd like to extend that experience to other publications but a PDF doesn't quite have the same feel as a glossy magazine. Maybe reading it on an iPad would help (I don't yet own one but I'm tempted).

Walter's enthusiasm for the subject is evident which in turn makes reading each newsletter enjoyable. He has a wealth of knowledge yet never talks down to the reader. My sample size is small but I think he tends to be more generous with the big scores than some other critics. Once you account for that his palate seems very well calibrated with mine. Your mileage may vary of course!

Overall I'd rate PinotReport 92 points. Content so laser focused it's hard not to like. Expertise and experience on the subject delivered in a warm likeable tone. I get the feeling it would be a ton of fun to go wine tasting through Sonoma with Greg, and I think PinotReport provides a window into what that would be like.

So check it out: PinotReport.com

You can also find PinotReport on Facebook: PinotReport
And follow him on Twitter: @PinotReport

Question of the Day: Who is your most trusted source of new world Pinot Noir reviews?

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