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The holy grail for winemakers

Against conventional wisdom: Robert Talbott began planting his original Diamond T Estate vineyard on a cold, windswept and rocky mountaintop in Carmel Valley in northern California in 1982.

Winemakers are faced with an ancient and genetically unstable grape that offers them over 1,000 clones to choose from. It would be fair to say, however, that the majority are not suitable for making good wine.

The vine prefers a cool climate and, with its thin skin, is very susceptible to disease.

We benefit from this as Mother Nature loads it with resveratrol, that strong antioxidant that offers the vines — and us — many health benefits.

Jancis Robinson, the British wine critic, calls pinot noir a “minx of a vine”.

As described by Vanity Fair: “This most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.”

It is very fair to say that Californian pinot noir is proving to be much in demand. In fact, let me tell you about a very recent arrival.

In 1982, Robert Talbott began planting his original Diamond T Estate vineyard on a cold, windswept mountaintop in Carmel Valley.

Conventional wisdom was against him, and many said the steep, exposed site with its massive shale boulders was “too cold”, “too difficult to plant” and “too challenging to grow on”.

But Talbott had a vision, a vision he held on to as he prepared the cliff-side vineyard by hand, breaking apart its massive boulders with a 12-pound sledgehammer.

“It all began with my first taste of a great burgundy,” he said. “That experience profoundly shaped my palate and, as I grew older, I knew that I wanted to create unique and exceptional pinot noirs. Wines that took their inspiration from the traditions of Burgundy, but had their roots in California’s soil.”

The Sleepy Hollow Vineyard was purchased by the family in 1994 and we have their Talbott Kali Hart 2016 Pinot Noir that sources its fruit from this vineyard known for great depth and voluptuousness (Kali is the daughter).

Approachable and bright, this pinot noir opens with aromas of crushed cranberry, plum and red currant. Rich red fruit compote flavour continues on the palate, where it is accentuated by soft and silky tannins. The finish is long and luscious with hints of ripe fruit, vanilla and French oak. This wine is an elegant rendering of its cool climate origins in this vineyard. $27.50.

I remember well the day that Gary Pisoni told a group of us how he handled matters when his father suggested that the family stick to their produce farm land and not consider planting a vineyard: “Dad have you ever seen anyone put on a tuxedo and spend $250 to attend a lettuce tasting?”

Now on their Santa Lucia Highlands property, about 15 miles south of Monterey Bay, there sits a highly regarded pinot noir vineyard.

Our last allocation of their single vineyard wine was 18 bottles, but we have fair stocks of their Pisoni Estate 2014 Lucia Pinot Noir that is actually a blend of three vineyards that the family farm in this windswept, foggy and cool environment.

It gets 92 points from the Wine Spectator that comments: “A supple, understated style that’s not without intensity and range. Woody nutmeg scents fold in with the spicy tannins, making this a wine of immediate appeal.” $58.90.

Moving north, we have fine pinot noirs from the Carneros District that is situated on the shores of San Francisco Bay. Carneros is Spanish for sheep and if you want a good woolly animal this area is ideal as it is chilled by frigid waters and cotton-candy fog.

Robert Sinskey Los Carneros 2013 Pinot Noir has stunningly beautiful aromatics of tart cherry and fraises du bois. The wine is deceptive on first taste, seemingly light bodied yet emboldened with incredible depth and length wrapped around a rich mid-palate.

Lush red fruits (cranberry, raspberry, cherry) baking spice, orange zest and tea.

Elegant with a bright, mouth-watering acidity and supple tannin, this wine screams for company and a great meal. It is certified biodynamic. $54.20.

Move up the state further and you will find the luscious pinot noirs from Russian River Valley. Also cooled by the chilly Pacific, it was here that Russian fur traders hunted in the mid-1800s as the animals had thick pelts to keep them warm.

Just think pinot noir and low temperature and you will not go wrong. Always one of my favourite is our Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

We currently have the 2014 in stock and here is what their winemaker says: “Lovely aromas of red fruit, floral and earth. With a soft and silky texture on the palate, cherry, cranberry and baking spice characteristics shine through with balance, acidity and a lingering finish.

“This medium-bodied wine was aged for 15 months in small French oak barrels, which added a hint of toasty vanilla and spice complexity.”

This and salmon would represent perfection! $29.30.

I would put any of these wines in the fridge for at least half an hour or slightly longer unless you have a temperature-controlled cellar.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm