"Yeah, it's our sixth year of doing this -- pretty awesome, huh?" asked a grinning Salamanski at the start of the event. Cult winery Owen Roe's rock-star winemaker David O'Reilly chimed in, "It's a really dynamic event for us; it's so much fun to spend time with the other winemakers and see what they're doing differently with the exact same grape." That very phrase -- "doing pinot differently" -- might as well have been the evening's tagline. Over five wine-soaked hours, we tasted eight completely and utterly unique Pinot Posse wines.
Our night got off to a rollicking start, with the stellar pairing of J.K. Carriere winemaker Jim Prosser's elegant, restrained White Pinot Noir 2009 and Table 6's two pre-meal starters: mounds of freshly shucked oysters with a tart mignonette, and cleverly presented skewers carrying cubes of blood-orange-marinated tuna. The rosé, a nearly translucent shade of salmon pink, offered the same refreshing acidity and bright strawberry flavors of a rosé bubbly -- and was divine with the raw seafood. "Being a member of the Pinot Posse appeals to me because its wine distribution channels follow my two favorite hobbies: fly fishing and skiing," said Prosser. His gorgeous rosé's appetite-whetting properties did its job, setting us up for the decadence to follow.
Our second pinot of the night was a big change from the first. Like, really, really big. Winemaker Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company showcased his brawny 2009 "Gary's Vineyard" bottling, sourced from the extraordinarily pinot-driven Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in California. This wine was a beast: It clocked in at 14.5 percent alcohol and just about knocked us out of our seats, especially following in the footsteps of the graceful Carriere white pinot. The restaurant's dapper owner/sommelier, Aaron Forman, filled us in on the shakeup: "We did it on purpose; we wanted to mix it up by giving you something huge right off the bat and then mixing it up throughout the night," he teased. The wine was a handful, but our first course of silken beef carpaccio, dolloped with a scoop of the creamiest, caviar-est egg salad, stood right up to the smackdown.
Pinot numero trés turned out to be another big wine -- but in a completely different way. We knew we were in for a treat at the first whiff: Huge aromas of earth and dried cherry hinted at the flavors Owen Roe's "The Kilmore" 2009 pinot noir was about to deliver -- a mouthful of spicy, bruléed berry fruits. We loved the wine even more after tasting it with another Parker flavor phenomenon: two plump, perfectly seared gnudi, nestled in a bowl along with peppery housemade tasso in a lemony sage butter. Heaven felt just a little bit closer to us after that course -- and ended up as our all-time favorite match-up of the evening.
Course four gave us the opportunity to sample two different pinots simultaneously. The first, J.K. Carriere's 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, was the most Burgundian in style thus far. Graceful and restrained while still vibrantly fruity, it seemed the obvious favorite to pair with a bowlful of creamy risotto-like rice topped with seared diver scallops and black trumpet mushrooms. Instead, August West Vineyard's 2009 "Graham Family Vineyards" blew us away with its harmonious balance of jammy fruit layered with nuances of soil and spice. "There was a new intensity to the 2009 vintage at this vineyard, which really comes across in the glass," confessed winemaker Ed Kurtzman. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Three courses down, three to go. With our tongues buzzing and our brains more than a little fuzzy from all the quality juice, we bravely soldiered on.
The second double-header tasting arrived next, and this pairing was no less compelling than the first. This time, the cherry cola-tinged 2008 A.P. Vin "Clos Pepe Vineyard" went toe-to-toe with the smoky, almost gamy 2007 Cargasacchi Sta. Rita Hills in a pinot throwdown, the likes of which we'd never seen. Each brought something completely different to the dish of savory maple duck ham, miniature buttermilk crepe and nutty Gruyère we were lucky enough to eat with them.
Our second favorite Pinot Posse moment of the night was awarded to the fifth pairing. The wine -- a rockin' 2008 Kosta Browne "Amber Ridge Vineyard" pinot -- arrived first. We swirled, sniffed and sipped -- and had to refrain from breaking into applause at the sheer pleasure coursing across our tastebuds. There was so much gorgeous, warm, round, spicy love in that glass, we could barely tear our attention away long enough to taste the mouthwatering rack of lamb served alongside it. If there was ever a pinot noir that seemed more ideal for a juicy hunk of red meat, we'd like to taste it.
Just when we thought we couldn't be any happier (or drunker, really), the dessert course showed up. The cutest little hush puppies ever, liberally flavored with Taleggio cheese, made for a clever and scrumptious match-up with our final pinot: Keefer Ranch's lush 2008 Russian River Valley, a swoon-inducing flavor bomb of blackberries, blueberries and baking spices that assaulted us at first sip.
Yay for pinot!