With the exception of sparkling wine producers, wineries that focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rarely play the blending game. But with Fort Ross Vineyard, there’s a not-so-secret third varietal that winemaker Jeff Pisoni gets to play with: Pinotage. While this ‘Symposium’ wine is labeled a Pinot Noir, there’s a little something extra blended in, giving the traditionally light, silky varietal, a hearty backbone and intense texture.

Spoiler Alert: The secret ingredient is Pinotage…

About the Wine: Fort Ross Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Symposium ismade from 96% Pinot Noir and 4% Pinotage grapes harvested from the Fort Ross estate vineyard located in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA along California’s Sonoma Coast. All grapes were handpicked and hand-sorted, and vineyard lots were kept separate during the entirety of the winemaking process until the final blend was created right before bottling.

After harvest, the grapes were cold soaked for several days in stainless steel tank where they received daily punchdowns. The wine was then barreled in 100% French oak (25% new and 75% used) where it aged for 11 months. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined.

ABV 13.5%

Flavor Profile: Pop the cork of the Fort Ross Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Symposium and breathe in scents of black figs, dates, and mud. On the pour this Pinot-blend is a rusty maroon shade, settling into the glass even darker, rustier, with a nearly impenetrable core. Tilt the glass, and see that this darkness subsides, fading to a rouge-maroon, and then to a rouge-pink around the outermost edge.

Initial aromas are of whiskey barrels, over plump black cherries, and a shy acidity. Swirl and reveal brighter fruits like raspberries and wild strawberries. Dive the nose deep into the glass to find a hint of cacao. Pull the nose away and just above the glass and find lighter, brighter, candy-like scents of the above mentioned fruits.

The palate of the Fort Ross Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Symposium is full with plush tannins: They’re present, working, and gently cover the entirety of the mouth at the finish — not so much like a “coat,” but more like a “sweater.” The acidity, too, subtly increases and, in its own way, coats the palate, almost canceling out those tannins — or perhaps paralleling them in a way that neither entity truly takes over. Thus, the mouth is left with an enticing, lingering sensation combining both acidic tingle and tannic texture.

Dominant flavors are of black cherry, dried eucalyptus, fresh raspberries, bramble, wet oak wood, wilted basil, and just a hint of milk chocolate.

Food Pairing: I paired the Fort Ross Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Symposium with a grilled filet mignon and roasted fingerling potatoes, served with a side salad tossed with blueberries, caramelized onions, blue cheese, and a light balsamic vinaigrette. I loved this pairing. Somehow the smokiness of the meat opened up the closed-textured palate of the wine. The salad greens and blue cheese, both of which have their own kind of funkiness, took away some of the woodsy and funkier elements of the wine and elevated the fruit components. And the soft, pillowy texture of the potatoes perfectly rounded out the mouthfeel of the wine. I would absolutely drink this wine with this meal again and again.

More Info: I received the Fort Ross Vineyard 2014 Pinot Noir Symposium as a gift. (Cheers Jeff!) Retail: $52. For more information about Fort Ross Vineyard, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Fort Ross Vineyard website.

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