Pinot Noir - aka 'the Heartbreak Grape'

In the viticultural fairy-tale land where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns as king, Pinot Noir would be the princess. With intoxicating perfumes of cherries, berries, earth and spice, this light to medium bodied red wine has the world clenched in her soft and silky grip. Ever since the merlot-blasting cinematic drama of “Sideways,” demand for bottles of Pinot Noir has shot skyward. Youthful palates praise Pinot's fruit forward, minimal tannin character while chefs and sommeliers mutually appreciate the acid driven, low alcohol style to pair with their lighter, subtle flavored dishes.

Our new 2013 Monterey Pinot Noir

Our new 2013 Monterey Pinot Noir

Although the wine dazzles the senses with sleek waves of liquid finesse, growing the grape is anything but smooth sailing. Due to its thin skins, tight clusters, and finicky nature, Pinot Noir is known as the ‘heartbreak grape’, widely accepted as the most challenging grape to grow. Highly sensitive to terroir, it requires cooler, dry climates and well drained gravely or chalky soils to achieve full potential.

Even after harvest, the grapes must be gently cared for. Pinot's glory is derived from its complexity and nuances therefore special attention must be given during winemaking to obtain and preserve the delicate flavors. Gentle punchdowns and minimal pumping helps to preserve the lustrous subtleties of the wine. Over manipulation in fermentation and pressing can over-extract tannins and destroy the prized, plush texture and mouth feel. It’s for these reasons Pinot Noir is considered the diva of the wine world.

Widely planted around the globe, Pinot Noir thrives in a few special corners of the earth:

Pinot Noir's food friendliness is perfect for a picnic

Pinot Noir's food friendliness is perfect for a picnic

Burgundy: The origin of Pinot Noir and home to the best (and certainly most expensive) Pinots in the world. The name translates Pinot (pine) for the pine cone shape of the cluster and Noir (black). The simple and rustic land in the French countryside is home to hundreds of small growers of prized Pinot Noir. The vineyards ownership is fragmented heavily and numerous growers will share small plots of vines. For this reason, 65% of wines from Burgundy are bought and blended by négociants to be bottled and sold to the world. Soils in Burgundy are layered on top of a bedrock of limestone. The wines from Burgundy will often portray less fruit and more earth and pepper than many new world style Pinots. Experience is priceless when growing this grape, and Burgundy is the veteran when is come to elite Pinot Noir.

Oregon: The moody, soggy land of Oregon is home to some serious Pinot Noir. While Oregon prides itself on how un-Californian it is, comparing Oregonian hipsters to French Burgundians is unavoidable. Bolder and slightly fruitier than wines from France, Oregon Pinot brings a new world touch to the sleek richness of Burgundian style. Iron rich soils lock in red fruit flavors and smokey nuance. Thinner in texture yet dense in complexity, these wines resonate with the misty mountain energy and distinct character of the Willamette Valley.

California: Sun drenched and rugged, coastal California offers an ideal climate for Pinot Noir to succeed. From Mendocino and Sonoma to Santa Cruz and Monterrey all the way down to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, Pinot Noir is omnipresent in the cooler coastal growing regions. The Pacific Ocean is hero in the west, moderating temperatures during the summer growing season. Vines cultivated in cooler areas provide wines with racy acidity with bright and lively fruit. Planted in protected, warmer pockets, powerful ripe flavors emerge with grip and intensity. California is notorious for wines bearing higher alcohol levels and Pinot grown in warmer appellations is no exception. As with most things in the golden state, diversity is the story, and California offers up a sampler platter of delectable Pinot Noir.

Our 2014 Eight Sides Monterey Pinot Noir comes from a collection of temperate sites within the Monterey AVA, cooled by breezes off of Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  The wine showcases soaring yet complex aromatics.  Both sweet and savory notes on the nose, pink flowers, dried cherry, chai spice, and a hint of cedar.  Layers of pomegranate, plum with rustic nuance on the palate. Firm acidity and a light lingering finish. Try pairing our Pinot Noir with roasted chicken with pan jus, or a grilled whole herb-stuffed salmon with a summer lentil salad.

Take some of our Pinot Noir on your next adventure!

Take some of our Pinot Noir on your next adventure!

Viognier - Your New Favorite White Wine

Chardonnay lovers, your attention please.  I’d like to introduce you to your new friend, Viognier.

Our new Eight Sides Viognier label, standing tall next to older cousin, Zin.

Our new Eight Sides Viognier label, standing tall next to older cousin, Zin.

A classic Chardonnay replacement, Viognier (pronounced ‘vee-ohn-yay’) hails from the northern Rhone river valley, in the south of France, where it is sometimes blended in with Syrah to give the local red wines a bit of lift.  It produces a voluptuous, highly aromatic white wine chocked full of aromas of peach, tropical fruit and lovely notes of white and yellow flowers.  Viognier can be aged in oak barrels for a bigger, more decadent style, or in stainless steel tanks for a crisper, more floral style.  

It’s hard to believe that in the late 1960s, the grape was almost extinct, surviving in just 40 acres of plantings in the communes of Condrieu and Chateau-Grillet in southern France.  The wine’s popularity surged as New World growers and winemakers took an interest in the grape in the 1970s, which continues on through today.

Viognier has taken to its new California home.  The warm sunshine of Paso Robles is similar to the warm summers in southern France.  In the New World, Viognier is typically vinified in a more fruit forward style than its old world relatives. We chose to create an unoaked version of the wine to make sure we didn't hide the fruit behind a veil of wood.  Our Viognier pairs beautifully with simply prepared scallops, lobster, shrimp, semisoft cheeses like smoked gouda, and can even handle a bit of spicy richness (i.e. try it with Mexican cuisine).     

We plan to release our 2014 Eight Sides Paso Robles Viognier in June, just a few short weeks away. 

We hope you like it! 

Cheers,

Nick 

What is Structure in a Wine?

In that fateful movie Sideways, which served to elevate Pinot Noir to new heights while simultaneously damning Merlot to obscurity in the minds of millions of American wine drinkers, there’s a scene where Jack tells Miles about his walk through the vineyard with his new girlfriend:

Jack: Then we ate Pinot grapes right off the vine. They were a little sour...but showing excellent potential for structure…

[Miles looks at Jack like he’s got no idea what he’s talking about, which he doesn’t]

Jack:…down the line, I think.. Stephanie, man. She really knows her sh*t.

So, let’s set out to answer that question today.  What the heck is ‘structure’ and why do we talk about it in wine?

Structure is about achieving balance, which sometimes means 'a glass of each'

Structure is about achieving balance, which sometimes means 'a glass of each'

Simply put, the structure is the backbone of the wine.  When you strip away all of the berry and fruit flavors, floral notes, hints of leather and spice, and soupçons of (whatever else is left in your bag of esoteric wine terms), what you’ve got left is the structure.

Structure is composed of 5 elements: sugar, body, acid, alcohol, and tannin.  Let’s take a quick look at each and determine what they mean for your wine.

  • Sugar – is the wine perceptibly sweet? Is it dry but ripe, or perhaps bone dry?  What you’re detecting here is the residual sugar that remains in the wine once fermentation is complete.  If you’re writing a tasting note, make sure this is the first thing you record when you take a sip.  Your sweetness detectors are on the tip of your tongue, so you’ll notice sugar levels first (and it gets harder to discern once the other elements of the wine get involved).
  • Body – does the wine have the texture and weight of skim milk, 2 percent, or whole milk?  This usually tracks lockstep with the alcohol and / or sugar in the wine. 
  • Acid – is the wine mouth-puckering, like a sip of iced cola or lemonade?  Acidity in beverages makes them seem more refreshing and help to clear the palate between bites of food.  That’s why sommeliers tend to favor wines with elevated acidity, as they make for easier matches with your meal.
  • Alcohol – is the wine boozy?  Or is it well integrated into the broader canvas of the juice?
  • Tannin – you know that mouth-drying feeling you get from a big, dark Cabernet?  That’s tannin.  They’re really helpful when you’re eating steak or something else extremely rich, since tannins cut through fat.  

A good structure in a wine is balanced.  Mosel Rieslings have searingly high acidity, but they have a touch of residual sugar to keep them in balance. A Barolo achieves its balance by turning everything except for sugar up high (tannin, body, acid, alcohol) and the structure serves as a base for one of the most food friendly, ethereal wines on the planet.  As you might imagine, there are many ways to achieve balance, which is where the skilled winemaking comes in.  We’ll save that for another day…

Cheers,

Nick