From about 1972 to about 2000, cabernet sauvignon was the go-to red wine for most American wine lovers.
From bargain bottlings to exalted and absurdly priced powerhouses, cab was on everyone’s lips, literally and figuratively.
It was the wine that got the highest scores, it established Napa Valley as the best-known wine region in America, and it was sought after almost as no other.
Cabernet’s eminence remains, but in the last decade and a half it has had to share star billing with a completely unlikely companion, and one that until recently made as many bad wines as good.
Pinot noir became all the rage with in-the-know wine insiders in the early 1990S. But another decade passed before it warranted a movie (“Sideways”) and before it began commanding some pretty high prices.
Cabernet still gets the superstar treatment, notably in the prices it can command, but today getting a top-rate pinot will set back wine collectors $50 to $80 — and even then we have no assurance the wine will deliver greatness.
At the upper echelons, cabernet supporters argue that drinking them young is a travesty. They call it vinfanticide.
But pinot noir lovers make a case for the absolute joys of doing just that. Which is one reason for its popularity, since pinot doesn’t require much aging.
If you visited the pinot noir-friendly Burgundy region or cabernet country in France’s Southwest district of Bordeaux, the main red wine you would be offered is local. Don’t even try to find a bottle of Burgundy in the Medoc. All you’d get would be glowers. Likewise finding a cabernet in Burgundy is equivalent to a $5 steak — very tough.
The wide variance between these two wines when they are young is evident at most walk-around tastings. You try a few cabernet sauvignons and the tannin assault gives your mouth the feel of the Alcan Highway.
Then you visit a table at which you are served a typical pinot noir, and you are wooed by its grace and finesse. Some may have a bit of power, but there is always going to be a smooth aftertaste.
One drawback here is that after tasting a handful of cabernets, the next wine is sure to suffer from their tannins.
That won’t occur the weekend of May 20–22 in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, which annually holds a pinot noir event that focuses on wines of the region.
The 19th Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is a multi-tasting event that is pretty much dedicated to extraordinary pinot noirs.
The cool Anderson Valley, not far from the cold Pacific Coast, is fast becoming one of the state’s prestige regions for this difficult to grow grape.
Nearly 70 wineries will pour their latest releases at Saturday’s consumer tasting, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Goldeneye Winery in Philo. That will include wines from the excellent 2012 and 2013 vintages, as well as a few 2014s. A ticket is $125.
There also is a Friday technical conference that may appeal to industry insiders and anyone interested in the technical side of the game ($100, includes breakfast and lunch). Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Wine Growers said the day-long technical conference “won’t be as geeky as it was in the past” and will include various sit-down tastings.