WHAT: Over the years my enthusiasm for Pinot Noir has risen and fallen. Some years I struggle to find good Pinot, other years it seems to be everywhere.
The Wild Horse Pinot Noir 2010 is one of the great Pinot Noirs I’ve come across in recent years. It’s full of lively red fruit flavor, with a velvety mouthfeel and a long, smooth, full finish. This wine was made to pair with great foods.
The velvety tannins and savory earth characteristics come from grapes grown in Santa Barbara while the bright red fruit flavors come from the grapes grown in San Luis Obispo.
The many layers of this wine reveal at different times aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry, cranberry and spice.
Individual lots of wine were fermented separately. The wine was aged for eight months in French oak barrels, 25 percent of them new. The wine is drinking very well now, but likely will get better in the bottle for at least another four to five years.
Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow. It takes near-perfect conditions and some fussing with it in the winery. The French perfected the wine in Burgundy over decades of growing. Thirty years ago I could afford outstanding French Burgundy, but prices have soared out of reach for many of us.
When American wineries tried to duplicate the French success they often cut corners or planted the vines in the wrong place, resulting in wine that was too harsh or too thin. Now growers and wine makers are starting to figure it out. Many wineries are producing consistently good Pinot at a reasonable price. The Wild Horse is one of the best.
WINERY: Pinot Noir has been one of the signature wines for Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards since founder Ken Volk began planting grapes in 1982.
The next year the winery produced Pinot Noir from Santa Maria’s Sierra Madre Vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles. The first Wild Horse estate wines were produced in 1986, 125 cases of Pinot Noir and 450 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon.
The winery is in Templeton, just south of Paso Robles, but they source grapes from more than 50 vineyards in California’s Central Coast region. They are known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but produce more than a dozen varietals, including some grapes rarely grown in the United States.
The name of the winery is in honor of the wild mustangs that once roamed the hills east of the estate vineyards in Templeton. The winery’s motto is “Live Naturally, Enjoy Wildly.”
GOES WITH: I wanted to have a special dinner because my sister-in-law Mary Jo was in town, so I picked out the Wild Horse Pinot Noir and a rack of lamb to go with it.
I guessed correctly because the velvety fruit flavors of the Pinot would be a perfect complement to the lamb.
I marinated a New Zealand rack of lamb in red wine, olive oil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic, cumin and seasoned salt, and cooked it on indirect heat on the grill for about 10-12 minutes a side.
The meat was incredible, juicy and dripping with the flavors of the marinade. The wine had enough backbone to stand up to those flavors without overpowering them. It continued to evolve in the glass and seemed to get better with every sip and bite.
It’s hard to imagine a better food match than lamb for this Pinot, but it also should go well with cedar plank salmon, pork loin with a cherry glaze, or grilled skirt steak.