The cool Monterey wine region in otherwise sunny California is one of the best places to grow pinot noir.
Two hours south of San Francisco, Monterey’s vineyards are covered in fog from late afternoon to mid-morning the next day. During the growing season, it has the distinction of being the coldest viticulture area in America. The climatic conditions are created from the Blue Grand Canyon, an ocean canyon that is 60 miles long and two miles deep, and located less than 100 yards from the Monterey Bay.
In 1982, the Champagne house Maison Deutz (you should seek out this relatively unknown, high-quality company) developed chardonnay and pinot noir vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley, one of Monterey’s appellations
Deutz vineyards were purchased in 1998 by serial entrepreneur Selim Zilkha, who founded (and later sold) the European chain store Mothercare, moved into oil and gas exploration company and then later renewable energy.
Zilkha named his new wine venture Laetitia, a Roman goddess of gaiety. I was certainly happy with the sparkling wines of Maison Deutz and have been contented with the ones from Laetitia. So my level of expectation for Laetitia’s pinot noir was elevated.
The growing season was cooler than normal in 2011, and a spring frost reduced the number of buds on the vines. This translated into a small, concentrated crop that developed slowly as the harvest extended into late October. Winemaker Eric Hickey transformed those concentrated grapes into a savory wine.
The 2011 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley is the winery’s basic wine, but it is not simple. An eye-appealing black cherry color is matched by the pronounced black fruit aroma that has an intriguing secondary beef-like scent that conjures up memories of steak tartare. And what began as a very flavorful blackberry and cherry-flavored wine with soft tannins, was transmuted by an hour of decanting into a cherry, cranberry-flavored wine with the acidity and structure of a red Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune. It was so delightful that I willingly forgave Hickey for the minor alcohol taste that brought me back to California.
About a year ago, I traveled in the Monterey wine region and was impressed by many of its pinot noirs. The cool climate allows the grapes to mature slowly, building sugar levels and acidity that convert into balanced wines with complex flavors. On the occasions that I find them marred, it is usually by winemakers who infuse a new oak aroma and flavor akin to vanilla extract, or have excessive levels of alcohol in their wines.
The 2011 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley is an excellent wine to put on the dinner table alongside roast loin of pork, grilled salmon, or pasta tossed with summer grilled eggplant, diced summer tomatoes, fresh basil, Italian black olives and dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
The 2011 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley retails for approximately $25.