Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pinot done right in Colorado

Pinot Noir has achieved an increased prestige since the release of the movie "Sideways." Pinot Noir is the grape from which the great (and sometimes mind-blowingly expensive) red wines of the Burgundy region in France are made. It is also one of three grapes from which true Champagne is made. Chardonnay is perhaps the most famous cultivar from Champagne due to the grand Blanc de Blancs (literally, white of whites) of Champagne's greatest Champagne houses and Grower Champagne.

Another term that you may be familiar with is Blanc de Noirs (literally, white of blacks). This style of white wine is made from black grapes. The two permitted black (sometimes referred to as red) grapes in Champagne are Pinot Noir and a mutant relative, Pinot Meunier. This unheralded grape derives its origin from the oft-mutating Pinot Noir (just as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc). It gets its name from the white, flour-like down found on the underside of the leaves. Meunier, for you non-Francophiles, is French for "miller." Pinot Meunier actually accounts for about 40% of the vineyard acreage in Champagne and is used as a blending grape to add aromatics and fruit flavors to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sparklers. Despite its predominance in Champagne, you will be hard-pressed to find varietal Pinot Meunier or to even see it mentioned on a label.

Nonetheless, Jack Rabbit Hill in Hotchkiss, CO grows and vinifies Colorado Pinot Meunier. Rather than producing it as a varietal bottling, Jack Rabbit Hill blends nearly equal parts Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to create what they call M & N. These 100% organic grapes (more recent bottlings are certified biodynamic) are aged sur lees in barrels that previously aged their Chardonnay for 3 months. The wine is then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Owner Lance Hanson also runs Peak Spirits and distills vodka from estate-grown Chambourcin, gin from local apples and spices, and eaux de vie from locally-grown fruits. While I've had the pleasure to enjoy most of Lance's wines and spirits, the unique M & N is probably my favorite but closely followed by the CapRock Organic Dry Gin. While the current release from the 2008 vintage is tasty, I still think the 2006 is better. I am lucky to still have one bottle sitting in my cellar quietly awaiting its grand finale sometime in the future.

2006 Jack Rabbit Hill M & N, Colorado
This unique blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Pinot Meunier has been sitting in my cellar for more than two years. It shows a clear dark garnet core fading to a brick red rim. The nose is exceptionally aromatic with black raspberries and dried dark cherries that meld with old leather, truffles and a hint of dried floral notes. In the mouth this smooth, dry, low-tannin wine presents complex flavors of cloves, cinnamon, sandalwood followed by traces of smoke and toast. As the wine opens up, the spices yield to dried red fruits, strawberries and ripe raspberries, with a complement of violets. This lovely blend possesses a lingering finish and I highly recommend it. 14.26% abv. Purchased $21. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 9/4/10)

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