A ‘No New Oak’ Pinot

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in: Drinking

As winemakers from other appellations flock to Mendocino’s cool Anderson Valley to make bright and balanced pinot noirs, people who have a long history in the valley have also planted grapes to keep their land in the family.

That’s the story behind this vibrant, fruit-charged 2009 Foursight Zero New Oak Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir. I tasted it two weeks ago at the Boonville Hotel’s restaurant Table 128 and was pretty impressed. I was also quite intrigued.

California winemakers usually age their pinot noirs at least partly in new oak barrels. While some use only a small percentage, there are plenty whose pinots have the telltale signs of too much — a toasty vanilla nose and ponderous, raw wood flavors that make the wine more about oak than fruit.

Foursight winemaker Joe Webb, son-in-law to the owners, uses no new oak at all to age this wine. It’s made in an old-school way with indigenous yeasts, a percentage of whole clusters, no filtering, no fining, minimal sulfur. The result is pretty, delicate and complex, with spicy strawberry and cherry flavors. It’s understated and positively gulpable.

Over dinner, I heard the tale of how the Charles family got into wine, a history that parallels the recent development of the Anderson Valley. First came the Charles’ lumber business in the 1940s, then farming. In the 1970s, said co-owner Bill Charles, 40 acres of land in the valley cost a mere $10,000 to $12,000.

The family planted vines in 2001 on land where cattle once foraged, aiming to be growers. Never mind that the original vineyard manager said it was too cold for pinot. Their first vintage was 2006. Now they make three pinot noir bottlings. All are good, but their no new oak pinot is my favorite right now. I wish more producers would give this idea a try.


Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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