Wild Horse Pinot Noir 2010, Central Coast

Cost: $24-26

What: Over the years my enthusiasm for Pinot Noir has risen and fallen. Some years I struggle to find good Pinot, others it seems to be everywhere.

Wild Horse 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.

Wild Horse Pinot Noir

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% of them new. The wine is drinking very well now, but likely will get better in the bottle for at least another 4-5 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 following 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 then 50 vineyards in California’s Central Coast region. They are known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but produce more than a dozen different varietals, including some grapes rarely grown in the United States.

The name of the winery is in honor of wild mustangs that once roamed the hills east of the estate vineyards in Templeton. They are committed to sustainable farming practices to express the diversity of the region’s soil and growing conditions.

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 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 in 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. All three of us loved the wine.

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.

The folks from Wild Horse also offer a couple of recipes that sound great.

Chocolate Fondant

7 oz. good quality semisweet chocolate (chips or chopped)
1 Tbsp butter plus some to grease the mold
6 Tbsp sugar
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the inside of a loaf pan and dust with sugar

Over a Bain Marie (double broiler), gently melt butter and chocolate together. Set aside to cool. In other bowl, beat together sugar and eggs. Fold into chocolate. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Place loaf pan into a larger pan filled with water, until loaf pan is half submerged. Bake for 1 hour. Pull loaf pan out of water bath and chill completely before removing fondant from pan.

Garnish with fresh berries, caramel, whipped cream, or creme anglaise.

(Recipe from Thomas Hill Organics)

Savory Halibut With Parmesan & Sour Cream

3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
2 lbs. fresh halibut
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Dry bread crumbs (Italian style)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Saute mushrooms and onions in a pan (using a bit of butter is best). Place halibut on a lightly oiled baking tray. Top halibut with sauteed mushrooms and onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, Parmesan cheese and parsley. Carefully spread this mixture on top of the mushrooms and onions. Sprinkle with a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Bake for about 25 minutes until fish is moist and flaky.

(Recipe from Pier 46 Seafood Company, Inc.)

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