by Taylor Cram
It has been awhile since we have focused on the Pinot Noirs from Talisman Cellars. Why? I honestly cannot answer that. Maybe it is because they don’t get a lot of press and, therefore, suffer from out of sight out of mind? One of the unfortunate realities of a store that focuses on hand-selling wine and the customer experience/interaction is the majority of the wine we sell is wine we specifically put into people’s hands. If, for whatever reason, we do not actively put a wine into consumer’s baskets it has the tendency to languish.
In the past, our staff has tended to focus on Pinot Noir from France rather than California when the dollars get to a certain point (over $30). We have always been excited to showcase Pinot Noir from its famous home in Burgundy. To our staff, the old school style of controlled fruit and greater complexity has always rang true as the proper (correct?) nature of Pinot Noir. We tend to assign certain aesthetic values to wines from certain regions and, for right or wrong, assume these ‘universal’ truths: Burgundian wines are more elegant, reserved, complex, and charming. They have more of the traditional qualities that ‘real’ wine drinkers savor. California wines have more fruit, richness, and extraction. They offer more upfront hedonistic pleasure. When it comes down to it, fans of Burgundy say the soul of the Pinot Noir is more fully expressed from the terroirs of Burgundy than anywhere else.
I love aged Burgundy and the intrigue it has on the palate. What I don’t love is how hard it is to find a great example. The wines, in my experience (regardless to how very small or large it may seem, I have professionally evaluated a thousand plus wines and consumed one hundred and fifty or so from Burgundy), don’t live up to the hype and expectations for the price paid. It might be considered ‘sacrilegious’ but so be it. I still stock a ton of Burgundy as I really believe in the wines we carry. They are all of very good quality. Good they are, value they are not. The wines that are truly special from Burgundy, the ones that reach a sublime nature, the wines that make the world stop, well, those wines are extremely expensive. The pricing has gotten so high that the value wines are now in the forty to fifty dollar range. You can get good wine for $50. I want great wine for $50. The lower the price range for Burgundy (under $30 for instance) the higher the likelihood of getting something average, thin, and boring. I do not require enough fruit to take on Smuckers, but I do expect enough fruit to provide enough initial pleasure to make the wine interesting. This is not a bash on the Pinots from the Cote d’Or. It is more about the inequities in our preference to sell Burgundies and how that might not make as much sense as it once did. Burgundy has a place and a very important place, but California Pinot has its rightful place as an equal (in terms of attention).
Over the last two weeks, I have twice had the opportunity to taste a number of wines from Talisman Cellars. First, I tasted 4 single vineyard designates in a big tasting setting in concert with the 2007 Calera Pinots (holy christmas, these are good) and Talisman not only held their own but a few even surpassed the harder, more tannic Caleras of much higher reputation. The Talismans were more open knit, generous, and inviting. I then had the chance to taste three of them again at the store.
I could use a hundred superlatives to talk about these wines. They offer so much for the money which is in direct contrast with a similarly priced Burgundy. I have been just as guilty to sell potential customers Burgundy without really giving wines like the Talisman a chance. I have always rationalized the pricing of Burgundy as being necessary (and appropriate) and always treated California Pinot in the opposite light. Having tasted a lot of domestic Pinot Noir recently, and after really getting to know the Talisman (and Calera) wines, I see either times have changed or I was wrong. Detractors of California Pinots point to the overly extracted Syrah like Pinots as the root of all evil. Traditionalists like to attach this style as the style of all California Pinot. First off, we ALL know this isn’t the case, and second, I am a firm believer in Syrah-ish Pinots. Do I want to drink them every day? No, of course not, but do I want to drink ethereal Burgundian Pinot every day? The styles range all over the place and all of them are important. Ultimately, what is important is that their value is off the charts when compared to the ‘golden slope.’ The Talisman wines are very well made with great fruit, intensity, charm, and appropriate levels of weight. Balance, complexity, and elegance; sounds like what we actually want to see from Burgundy, but rarely do.
2007 Hawk Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley– Layers of dark, almost powerful fruit, notes of iron and minerality, and good grip. It also has bright fresh red berry fruit. A more masculine Pinot with more structure and acidity. Inky goodness! (tasted twice with consistent notes) ~$44.99
2007 Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley– Spicy, full, and juicy with red and blue fruit and a very pretty note of violets and baking spices. Very complete nose. On the palate, it is lush, soft, and bright that deepens with a darker fruit component. It also showed a touch of chocolate. Very impressive. ~$39.99
2006 Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros– First off, the 2006 is the current release as it needed extra time to soften and it still has great aging potential. The nose was bright, perfumed, earthy, and showed nice minerality. Exotic with wild strawberries and raspberries. On the palate, it shows natural structure and elegance. A beauty! (tasted twice with consistent notes) ~$44.99