Last night's tasting here at the store was a real hoot. Thanks to Amanda Wilbanks and her family and friends along with her new "child", Buttermilk, a good time was had by all. Buttermilk is actually the name of her pie-making company, which is an infant at this time but judging by the tasting response last night, it should grow like a weed.
The best wine on the table last night was the Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which is a little unfair since everything else was much lower in price than the $20 Schug. In my opinion the Francesco I Chianti Classico and Anciano Tempranillo were better buys than the Schug but when comparing the Schug with the other Pinot on the table, Delicato's 667, well there was no comparison. Schug, hands down.
I am reminded of an article I read last year in which a Wall Street Journal writer asserted that the Sonoma Coast appellation in California would in time become the finest Pinot Noir appellation in the new world. (Say what?) Delicato (DFV), a brand favorite of mine, has been receiving accolades from critics for the skillfull blending of select Central Coast vineyard Pinots and we had coincidentally also just brought in DFV's La Merika Pinot recently so last night's 667 from Delicato's expansive Monterey County land holdings offered an opportunity for comparison. Like I said above, this time Schug ruled, meaning Sonoma Coast may in fact be all it's cracked up to be.
The current 2010 vintage Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir features a label badge "celebrating 30 years, 1980-2010". In the 1970's Walter Schug was the founding winemaker for Joseph Phelps where he made the first varietal Syrah, the first California Red Meritage (Insignia), the great Backus and Eisele vineyard-designate Cabernets, along with elite late harvest dessert wines. If he had retired at that point, his Winemaking Hall of Fame ticket would have been already punched. Schug, however, was reared in the German Rhein village of Assmanushausen where Pinot Noir was the primary wine grape and when ln 1980 Phelps showed little interest in the grape, Walter Shug bought fifty acres in Carneros and started his own company.
Carneros has always been a special microclimate in California. It spans southern Napa and Sonoma and features a heavy blanket of cool air and fog generated daily by the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Carneros is a cooler terroir than that of Napa/Sonoma proper and perfect for Pinot Noir. The Schug Carneros Pinot is a $30 suggested retail while the Sonoma Coast, made from sourced fruit, is suggested at $24. In my opinion the Sonoma Coast is usually the one to buy, again reinforcing the WSJ article. Schug's initial vintage yielded two thousand cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now, thirty years later, it's 30,000 annually with most being Pinot and Chard but additional varietals now round out the line.
One last thing about Schug Pinot Noir...The current winemaker, Mike Cox, a native Sonoma Countian, believes in blending Pinot grapes in the same way DFV has been lauded for producing great wines from the Central Coast. Only moreso. Cox will blend hundreds of separate lots to achieve the wine he wants.