Wine Time

Dennis Sodomka is a guest columnist | Contact Dennis

Wine Time: Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast

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COST: $19-21

WHAT: I am always skeptical when I try a new Pinot Noir because it is such a difficult wine to make. And people will buy all kinds of bad Pinot Noir because they think it is a wine they are supposed to like.

The Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012 definitely falls into the category of a wine you should like because it tastes so good. It is soft, smooth and easy to drink with lots of fresh fruit.

Liberty School has been making a very good Cabernet Sauvignon at a fair price for a long time. This year they branched out with outstanding Pinot Noir and Merlot.

The Pinot is a beautiful dark red in the glass with aromas of flowers and strawberries. The taste is full of cherries, strawberries and spice notes. My wife, Teri, also picked up some notes of allspice. The wine features smooth, balanced tannins with a long, silky finish.

The secret to this Pinot is the Hope Family found the right place to grow the grapes. Pinot Noir grows best in cool climates where the grapes can hang on the vines for an extended period. The grape flourishes in Burgundy, France, where winemakers usually make a subtler style.

The California style often is more fruit-forward, less restrained subtlety. The Liberty School is a nice blend of the two styles: plenty of juicy fruit, but with a lot more finesse and restraint than you usually see in a California Pinot.

The grapes are grown in three diverse microclimates of the Central Coast, the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey, cooler areas of Paso Robles and Paicines in San Benito County.

After gentle crushing the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks for 12 days. Gentle pump overs bring out more color and tannins. The wine then spent six months in oak barrels (80 percent French, 20 percent American). The wine was racked once during barrel aging and was filtered before bottling.

I am finicky about Pinot Noir because I know how good it can be, but this is one Pinot I could drink every night. The price also makes it a great bargain.

WINERY: Liberty School is part of Hope Family Wines, but it is named after a primary school attended by wine legend Charlie Wagner in Rutherford, Calif. In 1950, he and his wife, Lorna Belle Glos, built their home with wood from the original Liberty School Structure. He honored his old school by creating the Liberty School label (featuring a drawing of the school) in 1975 as a second label to handle Cabernet Sauvignon that didn’t make it into his famous Caymus Vineyards Cab. He wanted to produce a consistent quality Cab at a lower price.

Charlie Wagner’s son Chuck started buying Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Paso Robles region in the 1980s, and one of the primary growers was the Hope family. For many years the two families worked together to maintain Liberty School’s reputation for quality and value.

The Hopes acquired the label in 1996 and began producing the wine in Paso Robles. They added Chardonnay in 1997 and then added Cuvee, a red blend. Now they have released Pinot Noir and Merlot.

The Hope Family was one of the pioneers in developing Paso Robles into a world-class wine region. They started in 1978, growing quality grapes primarily for wineries outside the region. The family began producing estate wines under the Hope Family Farms label in the 1990s before taking over the Liberty School label. Their other brands include Austin Hope, Treana, Candor and Troublemaker.

GOES WITH: This was a perfect wine for pork chops I made on my new grill.

I love cooking on charcoal, but my new grill is a combination charcoal/gas grill, with separate compartments for each fuel. I’m trying to learn new tricks, but for the inaugural event I cooked the thick, boneless pork chops on the charcoal side.

I rubbed them with Morton’s Nature’s Seasons and Emeril’s Essence and served them with my favorite Mumbo sauce. They had a wonderful, spicy flavor, and even though they were a little overdone, they tasted great. Teri and I also had mashed potatoes, creamed corn and peas.

We loved the way the fruit of the wine countered the heat of the spice rub and the barbecue sauce. Good Pinot Noir is especially good with a meal, and the food clearly brought out the best in this one.

It also would go well with grilled salmon, pulled pork, grilled chicken and hearty stews.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY, JAN. 23

Wine and tapas tasting, 5 p.m. until closing, La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines and three tapas, $25; (706) 722-4805

FRIDAY, JAN. 24

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; price dependent on flight selection; (706) 922-9463

SATURDAY, JAN. 25

Wine and beer tasting, 2-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market; price dependent on flight selection; (706) 922-9463

THURSDAY, JAN. 30

Wine tasting, 5-7:30 p.m., Pinnacle Club, 699 Broad St., $20, includes an array of fine wines and hors d’oeuvres. For reservations call Vineyard Wine Market, (706) 922-9463. Reservations required by Jan. 28.


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