This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20110128.php.
Looks generic. Tastes artisanal
Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't judge a wine by its label. The ancient wisdom about literature works about as well for modern wine consumers, in my experience.
Consider, for example, the witty latter-day wisdom that one should never buy a wine with an animal on the label, counsel based on industrial-made, mass-market wines adorned with kangaroos and penguins and the like.
This may explain why Château Cheval Blanc leaves its namesake white horse off its old-style Bordeaux label. But follow the "no animals" advice to the letter and you'd eschew such experiences as the Piemontese reds of La Spinetta with their woodcut rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer.
As we look past the stark, generic-product label of today's wine, The Pinot Project California Pinot Noir, to find a surprisingly good and moderately priced Pinot under the cork, don’t lose sight of the fact that the adage advises us not to judge a wine by its label.
Let's decipher that brief, generic label:
* The wine comes from an outfit called The Pinot Project, which a Google search reveals to be a project of New York wine distributor Michael Skurnik wines, whose import portfolio I consistently admire.
* The Pinot Project "vinted and bottled" the wine, which means, basically, made it from purchased grapes, not grown by the producer.
* The Pinot Project is located in Calistoga, Calif., in the northern end of the fabled Napa County; but the "California" appellation on the label means that the grapes may have come from anywhere in the state, most likely not from Napa, although we don't have information to tell us more.
The back label (and the Skurnik Website) gives us the pitch: "Finding fabulous quality Pinot Noir at an affordable price. This will be an ongoing 'project' which is made possible by a) our wonderful contacts in the prime growing regions of California b) our winemaking contacts and c) the soft economy, allowing for some amazing deals in high quality grapes and juice at lower prices than we have seen in a decade or more!"
This all may very well be true. Given Skurnik's reputation - and my favorable take on the wine - it probably is. But from the consumer's standpoint, bear in mind that the vintage, production and appellation information on the front label of any wine is legally controlled. The advertising spin on the back label, not so much.
Never mind. It's a very good Pinot Noir at a very fair price, even at my local $15 toll, which is near the high end of its range. My tasting notes follow.
Today's Tasting Report
The Pinot Project 2009 California Pinot Noir ($14.99)
Very dark ruby with a clear edge. Good Pinot black cherry with a touch of clove on the nose; on the palate it's dry and mouth-watering, black plums and cherries and snappy acidity, with a distinct note of tannic astringency lingering. Simple but appealing; the tannins and acidity make it better at the table than for sipping alone, not that there's anything wrong with that.
FOOD MATCH: A versatile food wine for red meat, wild salmon, mushroom, cheese and egg dishes, such as my pick, the ridiculously easy and remarkably delicious spaghetti with garlic-scented olive oil and fried eggs, a 1999 column from Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist" column in The New York Times, fondly recalled in Bittman's final column last week.
WEB LINK: Frankly, it's a darn good Pinot value even at my $15 local price, but shop around, as Wine-Searcher.com shows it around the U.S. at prices ranging as low as $9.99.
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