Download &
print (pdf)

Let’s Toast California Pinot Noir

The holidays offer the opportunity for toasts at dinners and parties, so why not use one of these occasions to toast California Pinot Noir? I have had a 50-year love affair with Pinot Noir. I drank California Pinot Noir long before it ever became fashionable and was fortunate to live through the renaissance of North American Pinot Noir. I had my trysts with the great Chalone Reserve Pinot Noirs of the 1980s, the venerable Pinot Noirs of Mt. Eden, Calera and Hanzell, the early Central Coast Pinot Noirs of Sanford and Lane Tanner, and the world class early Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs of Gary Farrell, Rochioli, Dehlinger and Williams Selyem. Many of these wines were revelations, even epiphanic, and love at first sip.

I was fortunate that my wine drinking lifetime coincided with the dramatic achievements in excellence of California Pinot Noir, but the joyride is not over. Currently, there is an embarrassment of riches and the overall quality of California Pinot Noir has reach extraordinary levels. The bar has moved to such lofty heights that a disproportionately large number of premium Pinot Noirs now receive scores of 90 or above. I have to shake my head in amazement at the skilled hands of today’s winegrowers and winemakers who continue to strive for perfection in Pinot Noir. I have never given a California Pinot Noir a score of perfection (100), and although perfection will probably never be achieved, an increasing number of wines come damn close. As Yogi Berra would say, “If Pinot Noir were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” It’s time to toast our blessings!

Toasting is thought to originate in ancient Greece and Rome according to many sources. Since poisonings were popular and sanitation not reliable, hosts knew that guests would be uneasy about the wines or other libations offered, so the host often took the first drink. When it was clear that the host was going to survive, he would raise his cup and invite his guests to drink in good health. Historians believe the word “toast” originated in ancient Rome when burnt toast was added to libations to counteract the high acidity. After reciting “a toast,” the bread was removed from the wine and consumed. The term “toast” evolved by the late seventeenth century to refer to the practice of celebrating one’s fellow drinkers, friends and family.

The custom of clinking glasses along with a toast is thought to have originated with the early Christians, who performed the ritual believing that the noise would banish the devil. It has become customary in this country to clink the glass of every person at the table, a custom first practiced by the Germans.

Here are a few toasts you can use as you celebrate the ascendency of California Pinot Noir this holiday season. When I looked through multiple books and my own collection of quotes, I found no toasts specifically directed to Pinot Noir so I took the liberty to modify a few quotes (my apologies to the originators).

He who has wealth and Pinot Noir will always have friends

The human heart rejoices in good Pinot Noir

May your love be like great Pinot Noir, and grow stronger as it grows older

You can have too much Pinot Noir to drink, but you can never have enough

Life consists not in holding good Pinot Noir, but in drinking those you hold

There is white wine, red wine and then there is Pinot Noir

Champagne makes you think of silly things: Bordeaux makes you talk about them; Pinot Noir makes you do them

There are many ways to the recognition of truth, and Pinot Noir is one of them

In the pages to follow, look carefully, and you will find many extraordinary examples of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since I have so many wines to review before year’s end, I have not included elaborate commentary on every winery. Please see the Winery Directory in the PinotFile website for detailed information on wineries and wine availability.

Print entire newsletter