Pennsylvania Blues

By Ray Isle Posted February 22, 2007

Today a reader wrote in to point out that of the 27 Pinot Noirs I recommended in my March Tasting Room column (out on newsstands everywhere right now! whoo-hoo!) only one of them is available in Pennsylvania.

Part of the problem here is simply that California's (and Oregon's) best Pinot Noirs tend to be vineyard specific, and so are produced in fairly small quantities. Another part of the problem, though, is what happens when you have a monopoly on wine sales in a given market—in this case, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Not that the PLCB's choices are necessarily bad, but part of the pleasure of being a wine lover is the ever-expanding range of interesting wines being sold in the U.S. (unless of course you're stuck in Pennsylvania). And my usual advice to readers trying to find a specific wine—ask a good wine store if they'll order it for you—is effectively useless in this case. Though I suppose you could drive up to Philly and haunt the offices of the PLCB chairperson with a sign saying "Not Leaving Till You Order Woodenhead Pinot!"

My other usual suggestion, to contact the winery directly, is only semi-useful in Pennsylvania. Direct shipping seems to be legal there, provided that the wine is not carried by the PLCB and that it's shipped by a registered shipper who's paid for the appropriate license from the PLCB (obstructionist, much?). If you're a Pennsylvania resident and you want to check out the regulations—and have an hour or so of spare time—go here.

But in the meantime here are two fine Pinot Noirs that the PLCB web store claims they currently sell, offered in the hopes that this will make up for tantalizing my fine Pennsylvania-based readers with recommendations of wines they can't get. Both are last vintage, but I think in each case the additional year will probably have helped the wine, assuming the storage conditions weren't wretched. (I have yet to taste the 2005 vintage of the Calera, but I can also add that the 2005 vintage of the Alma Rosa is also well worth buying, for anyone not in Pennsylvania who happens across it.)

2004 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir ($25) Crisp cherry fruit and that firm structure typical of Josh Jensen's wines; this is a bottling he makes from purchased grapes rather than his estate vineyards.

2004 Alma Rosa Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($35) Alma Rosa is Richard Sanford's new project, now that he's left the Sanford Winery. If I recall correctly, the viticulture is entirely biodynamic. If you like your Pinots on the big, dark and spicy side, you'll enjoy this wine; good acidity keeps it from turning into a Pinot-blob, thankfully.

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