Pinot Noir has been called the 'Heart Break' grape because it is so hard to make a good wine and when one does, well, fanatics have been known to weep. It's the diva of varietals, finicky and thus expensive to grow. And while Chardonnay and Merlot may be more popular, Pinot has a steady, nearly cult-like following (in no small part due to the central California road trip movie, "Sideways"). One of the biggest Pinot events of the year is Pinot Days at San Francisco's Fort Mason. Pinotphiles turned up in droves to taste through hundreds of spicy, silky, earthy, cherry-overtoned Pinots from California, Oregon, Washington and points even farther.
After two hours of sipping, swirling, sometimes swallowing but mostly spitting, I emerged from the Festival Pavillion with berry stained teeth and nearly unintelligible notes of interesting Pinots. It helps to have some kind of focus when you are entering a tasting event with nearly 500 wines and a bunch of Pinot freaks, such as myself. I went in search of local, undiscovered gems and found several which I have narrowed down to five, all south of fifty bucks (often the bottom line for a really good bottle of Pinot).
The 2010 Keefer Ranch, Pinot Noir ($46) was an immediate hit with me. It was crisp and earthy. This vineyard sits in the middle of Green Valley, a couple of miles in from the town of Bodega, and has that Pinot taste that is so specific to the Russian River Valley, silky and smooth with notes of lush, ripe cherries. Get it while you can, Freeman made 320 (750ml) cases of this one. Every one of Freeman's award winning wines that I tried at Pinot Days made me salivate.