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Bottled Up: Give this Pinot Noir a 'Fighting Chance'
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Bottled Up: Give this Pinot Noir a 'Fighting Chance'

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Like many of you, I found myself this week wandering the aisles of Hy-Vee. Fighting the barrage of shoppers pushing enormous amounts of food, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Navigating past the individuals loading 20-pound bags of rice I wandered into the wine and spirits area and felt a calmness wash over me at the lack of people crowding the shelves. After all, if one is to potentially in home-quarantine for 14 days shouldn’t there be an overwhelming amount of good wine to be enjoyed as well?

As I passed through the shelves, one bottle in particular caught my eye, quite literally. Hailing from Santa Barbara County, 2017 Fighting Chance Pinot Noir (retail $22), with its naming boasting timely relevance and eyeball pointillism-clad label seemed ripe for the picking and worth review.

As many wine enthusiasts are aware, Santa Barbara County is located in the southern portion of California’s Middle Southern Central Coast. What’s interesting is while this area is far more southerly in location than the famed Sonoma County region, the geographical positioning in the the valleys of Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valleys run West to East; not North to South like the majority of California’s wine regions. This geographical phenomenon creates a funnel to draw cooling winds and fog in from the coast, bringing down nighttime temperatures and preventing the delicate Pinot Noir and cool-temperature Chardonnay from overripening.

Pinot Noir is a relatively tricky grape to grow as the grape itself is quite thin-skinned. Over-ripened, the wine can become raisinated on palate, and it is much more susceptible to frost and pests. However, when successful, Pinot Noir can be elaborate, elegant and one of those wines that is easy to drink at home, with and without a meal to pair it with.

The regions of the Middle and Southern Central Coasts really only came into their own at the start of the 1980s. Since that time, they’ve quickly come up to speed and offer some really delightful wines, at affordable prices, to the more notable regions in the north.

Adam Poirer, winemaker of this Fighting Chance Pinot Noir, sources grapes from vineyard sites across Santa Barbara County, and when you open this wine, you are greeted by the beautiful ruby hues associated with many Pinot Noir. As it swirls in the glass, colors of red and purple accent the rim with rich and vibrant hues. Here’s where the wine differs for any Pinot fans out there. This wine in particular has a much more jammy aroma, complete with vanilla and spice in a much more bold way than that of Sonoma or Willamette. In addition, aromas of stewed cherries, blackberries and even dried herbs, make their way across your olfactory senses. As you taste the wine, flavors consistent with its bouquet come through with cherry both stewed and fresh, blackberry and plum along with smokey qualities and elements of cedar on the finish. Dry, moderate in acidity and body, and low in tannin, this wine offers a medium finish and is acceptable in quality.

As with many Pinot Noirs, you can look to pair this with pork, chicken or even duck. Try with dishes that accent the jammy and spice qualities in the wine like fruit reductions or glazes, and even dishes that incorporate the use of baking spice to complement those found in the tastes of the wine. Pork tenderloin roasted on a bed of cinnamon apples, and onion and roast duck leg with blackberry balsamic glaze would be excellent options for this wine. Given the jammy nature of this wine, I would be inclined to stay away from salmon, a common Pinot Noir pairing, unless a sweeter marinade was used to marry it with the wine.

The 2017 Fighting Chance Pinot Noir isn’t what one would describe as “classic” production Pinot Noir, nor is it likely to win any major awards, it does however, showcase an interesting array of features on the nose and palate and offers an overall pleasant experience; which in the light of current events we could all use a little fighting chance in our corner.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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