Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Patz & Hall v. the Pisoni Factor

Tonight I cracked the 2008 Patz & Hall Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir ($80) from Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. It's really good, and I expect nothing less from Patz & Hall, a tremendous winery based out of an industrial park in southern Napa Valley that sources grapes from a number of excellent single vineyards throughout California. I'm happy to report that I really liked it. It's full and flush with ripe, but focused lavender, cinnamon, blueberry, toast, plum, raspberry and cherry flavors and largely well-integrated oak and alcohol. It's a big Pinot, but it hasn't fallen off that cliff of over-ripeness. It's probably a fair manifestation of both the mostly cool 2008 vintage and the gonzo proclivities of Pisoni Vineyard. I'd put it firmly in the 92-93 point range, personally.

At $80 the Pisoni Vineyard offering is certainly one of their most expensive wines. In part, that's because Gary Pisoni is a real character, a real wild child, who's known for his high speed jeep tours and self medication with certain medicinal herbs. He's also a skilled grower by any standard, but his vineyard often tends to produce some pretty bombastic, heady, extremely ripe wines.

Pisoni Vineyard wines do often get great scores from Robert Parker and others, but to many other credible wine critics, they often seem a bit overripe. In some ways, they're also anomalous for the region. Santa Lucia Highlands has southern exposures and some wind protection, which makes it one of the warmer parts of Monterey County, but it's still a decidedly cool climate grape growing region. I've heard some people characterize it as "Too warm to make good Pinot," based almost entirely on their experience with wines grown by Gary Pisoni.

I often notice over-ripe notes in grapes from Pisoni Vineyard, and frankly, they're often not my favorite wines. This one, though, I like.

As much as I like the Patz & Hall 2008 Pisoni Vineyard, I sometimes wonder whether some vintners resent the reputation that a high profile, lets call him extreme, winegrower can bring to what really is a formidable Central Coast wine region where most of the growers march to a somewhat different drum.

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