Wine Talk With Alice Swift
California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir: A Tasting of Balance
This month I attended a special event that focused on California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The primary moderator was Jason Smith, Master Sommelier, and Director of Wine at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In addition, David Lynch co-moderated the event, who is the contributing wine editor of Bon Appétit, and co-owner of St. Vincent in San Francisco.
The tasting was accompanied by four panel speakers, representing multiple aspects of the wine business. Steve Matthiasson is the owner/winemaker of Matthiasson winery, who also co-wrote the California manual of sustainable vineyard practices. Matt Licklider is the co-owner of LIOCO wines, who sources wines from very unique and high quality regions of California. Jasmine Hirsch is the Sales and Marketing Director for Hirsch Vineyards, and is the daughter of David Hirsch, owner of Hirsch Vineyards. Last but not least, Rajat Parr is the co-founder of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi, and co-writer of Secrets of a Sommelier.
Hirsch and Rajat also represent the co-founders of the non-profit organization In Pursuit of Balance IPOB, whose goal is to produce a balanced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California, similar to the Burgundian style of Pinot and Chardonnay in France. Since opening in 2011, IPOB now has 33 member wineries, who undergo rigorous selection by a panel of third party wine professionals. California Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are the sole focus of IPOB based on the passion and interest of the founders, although many of the winery members do make other varieties as well. They recently conducted IPOB tours internationally in Japan, then back to the U.S. to Houston, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
During the event, the big question was asked: How do you define the term “balance”? Here is a summary of their responses:
David Lynch: There’s been an evolution of Californian wine, from traditional wines in the mid-1900s, classically styled and similar to old world Europe and Bordeaux. The 80s and 90s showed an increase in size and scalability. In contrast, we have a smaller scale of production, bringing back the “old days” of Napa viticulture, with a fresher style of Chardonnay, to show a different side of Chardonnay.
Steve Matthiasson: Balance [in wine] is just as important as balance with your life. [With wine, you] need balance of alcohol, balance of food and balance of consumption. Freshness, and refreshing feeling/taste is also important.
Rajat Parr: Freshness. Vibrancy. Balance. Wine is not a cocktail and cannot be compared. It’s a refreshing beverage you can have before a meal, during a meal or after a meal.
Matt Licklider: Balance is difficult to explain, which is why our organization is “in pursuit of” balance. Balance exists everywhere: cooking, architecture, dance, ballet, music. It’s the same thing with wine. It’s very hard to put our finger on it, but there’s something visceral that happens, if we’re paying attention to what we’re smelling and tasting, when we experience balance, we know it.
Jasmine Hirsch: I want to make wines that have character, that are individual. Often that means wines that express a place. What’s required is transparency, like in life. [This transparent balance of style] comes from my father. [He] fell in love with wine from Burgundy, and was all about wines with a sense of place, with character. Real wine is an agricultural product, and you should be able to taste where it comes from, who made it, and what year it was grown… and that requires balance.
After an informal poll of the audience, it was clear that most people were not used to drinking Californian wines made in the Burgundian style. However, it was a refreshing change that appealed to many of the audience members. For those who are interested in the wines tasted, here is the lineup in order by producer.
1. 2013 Hirsch Estate Chardonnay
2. 2012 Hirsch “San Andreas Fault” Estate Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
3. 2012 Hirsch “Reserve” Estate Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
4. 2013 LIOCO Chardonnay, Hanzell Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
5. 2012 LIOCO Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley
6. 2014 Matthiasson Chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard, Napa Valley
7. 2011 Matthiasson Merlot, Red Hen Vineyard, Napa Valley
Keep an eye out for a future article featuring In Pursuit of Balance. In the meantime, to learn more about the company and to join their mailing list, go to http://inpursuitofbalance.com.
Until next time, Cheers ~!