Pinot Noir: Marcassin Sonoma Coast 2007: Score 7.7 out of 10.0
Rioja: La Montesa 2009 Crianza: 8.9
Our long-time friends and neighbors, Richard and Dana, invited us over this past Friday for dinner where the main course would be pan-roasted duck breast with a Chambord sauce. For the uninitiated, Chambord is a rather sweet, black raspberry liquor. I don’t recall all of the other ingredients in the sauce, but it’s safe to say that black raspberry was the dominant flavor.
When I asked Richard if I could bring something to pair with the duck, he said he wanted to serve a 2007 Marcassin Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast ($260). Bam! . . . a cult Pinot from a producer (Helen Turley) that essentially sells out all her production to her mailing list and to restaurants. This was a wine I had not yet tasted, so this was going to be great.
But if I was going to write about this pairing, the Marcassin runs counter to my blog philosophy of writing about wines that are not crazy expensive and currently available in the marketplace. So I took the initiative to bring a second wine to compete with the Pinot. I chose a 2009 Rioja Crianza from La Montesa ($20). This is relatively inexpensive Rioja made in a modern style by Alvaro Palacios. It’s a blend of 65% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo. But because it is a Crianza (minimum 1 year in oak), it is not as heavy as the Reserva Riojas; rather, it delivers red berry fruit, licorice, white pepper notes and more tannin than the Pinot. I thought it would be a good contrast to the bright, dried cherry flavors delivered by the Pinot.
The Marcassin Pinot was spectacular! The wine on its own delivered all that I expected. It was rich and round with an elegant mid-palate and a finish that seemed to last for 60 seconds. A beautiful Pinot, with loads of cherry fruit and a light acidity that made you want to keep sipping and forget the food.
And therein was the challenge with the pairing. The Chambord sauce flummoxed the Pinot. The sweetness of the sauce seemed to cancel out the rich cherry fruit of the Pinot, diminishing the wine. Richard said that the sauce “flattened the Pinot”. Dana commented that the Pinot was great with the mashed potatoes. OK, but not what we were looking for. The Crianza, while a nice wine on its own, and markedly less sweet than the Pinot, paired better with the sauce. The wine allowed the fruit from the sauce to stand on its own, while the peppery tannins complemented the duck and cleansed the palate. In addition, I felt the lighter weight of the Crianza worked better with the rich dish.
The scores above reflect the average of the four of us. I was stunned by the results, but that’s what happens with pairings sometime. Dana’s dessert was delicious: fresh raspberries with vanilla bean ice cream and Moo chocolate squares on the side. Richard paired this with 2003 Sauternes from Chateau Suduiraut 1st Cru. Perfection.