While attending a tasting last week at Bistro 360 hosted by West Meade Wine and Liquor Mart and ably emceed by Tom Black, I got to thinking about how lucky we wine lovers are to live in Nashville. Not only were the Bonaccorsi wines universally excellent, but the very fact that they are exported here and the winemaker herself was willing to fly across the country to share her knowledge with us is a testament to the oenophile community in this town.
Jenny Lee Bonaccorsi only makes 3,000 cases per year, but she has committed up to 10 percent of her production to resale in the Middle Tennessee area. A boutique cult winery known for making some of the most elegant Pinot Noirs in the New World, Bonaccorsi's product was previously only available to locals if they were willing to buy it in California and then figure out their own method of getting it home in carry-on luggage or in the hollowed-out quarter panels of a rental car. (Just kidding about that part ...)
Luckily, through the efforts of people like Tom Black and the Boones of Boonedocks Distribution, Bonaccorsi recognized the vibrancy of the Nashville market and that there is a critical mass of consumers willing to pay $50-plus for bottles of exceptional wine. Look around at the number of excellent small to mid-size wine shops there are in town and you'll start to realize the level of support there should be for this sort of effort.
And we are all the luckier because of it. Jenny Lee Bonccorsi has been making wine for only a little over a decade, but both she and her late husband were noted sommeliers, including stints at Wolfgang Puck's famed Spago in Beverly Hills. As negotiants, Bonaccorsi owns no vineyards, but instead contracts with 15 different growers in the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez regions of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties in California's South Central Coast.
The fact that both Michael and Jenny Lee had a defined ideal of what they hoped their wines would taste like allowed them to work with the vineyard owners to choose and shape the flavors of the varietals they use, down to growing a single row of Viognier as a blending grape in their Syrahs. Rather than merely mimicking Burgundy, the Bonaccorsis set out to create uniquely Californian Pinot Noirs to great effect.
Carefully selecting every aspect of the wine's production, including the specific clones and a consistent source of oak for the barrels allows Bonnacorsi to create outstanding wines even in the face of variable growing conditions in California. Long-term contracts with their growers provide for a dependable supply of grapes that their customers can depend on in good harvests and bad. The winery is known for taking what others consider to be bad vintages such as '06 and still creating remarkable wines.
The '07 Pinot Noir vintage that is now on the shelves is universally regarded as a great year in the land of Sideways, but that doesn't mean that Jenny was able to get lazy. With only one other full-time employee on the payroll, everyone at Bonnacorsi wears many hats. Committed to both the art and science of winemaking, the results are spectacular.
The wine of the evening was a 2007 Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir from the cooler climate of Santa Maria Valley. Pinot Noir is all about mouth feel, and this wine has a lovely soft texture without too many tart tannins. Eighteen months in French oak lends a strong tea nose with hints of clove and nutmeg. Initial flavors of cherry and strawberry give way to a long rose-petal finish in this medium-bodied crowd pleaser. It is ready to drink now, but 4 to 5 years of cellaring could make this a truly outstanding wine.
Retailing at around $55 a bottle and available in many of Nashville's finer wine stores, Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir is a little pricier than what we normally drink or review in this space. It is not, however, overpriced considering the craftsmanship that goes into each bottle and the commitment that Bonaccorsi has made to our market. If you're looking for a great Pinot Noir at less than Burgundian prices this one is worth hunting down.
I promise we'll get back to some cheaper wines next week. I need to put some money aside for all the NCAA hoops tourney pools I plan to enter.