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Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences

Pale Pinot

by Dan Berger

July 4th, 2013

Meeting Kathleen Inman for the first time you get the impression she is simply a vivacious woman with an interest in wine.

But when tasting her wine, it’s apparent there is a load of substance and intellect here born of a pursuit of perfection. And the greatest of her wines, Pinot Noirs, display that in a pale color that might frighten the head of a multinational wine company’s marketing office.

Inman’s vision is to let the true greatness of her vineyards tell the tale, and as a result almost every red wine she makes is pale in color. As they should be.

The vines may be grown similarly to others in the area, but like the best wineries of Russian River, Inman eschews color-enhancing techniques that make dark, “inky” wines. Instead she focuses on delicacy.

The result: wines of an ethereal nature that are (as with many others here) more akin to Beaune than Côtes-de-Nuits.

Since there are no Grand Cru vineyards in Beaune, some people disparage its red wines, but their very nature is defined by grace, stature in balance, and food friendliness.

Some Russian River producers have opted for weight, alcoholic impact, and a style that more fits in Côtes-de-Nuits. As a result, we see some RRV wines that are atypical of what the region does best.

It’s a bit like a potent and heavy Stag’s Leap District Cab—which is not what the region does best.

Perhaps this is impressive, but to me it’s like a bouquet of roses that’s been infused with Joy, the Jean Patou perfume—a bit too much of a good thing.

What happened to natural aromas and tastes?

2011 Inman Family Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Wine of the Week: "In a world where Chardonnay often is clumsy and lacking in acid, this wine shines. There’s no way to tell it went through a complete malolactic fermentation since the fruit was picked so early (well under 22° Brix!) that the wine retains a perfect balance. The fruit is citrus-y (lime?) and there is a faint hint of the clove you occasionally get from Vosges oak (pronounced vohj). It needs at least two more years to round up."

2009 Inman Family Brut Rosé Russian River Valley, “Endless Crush”
Exceptional: "The aroma of berries and dried cherry are enhanced by a delicate citrus note, and amazing depth. One of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted. A bit on the pricey side, but a zero dosage makes it great for those who love bone-dry pink wine."

2009 Inman Family OGV Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Exceptional: "This dramatic wine has the color of a dark rosé(!) and an aroma of wild fresh plums along with cherry and a light strawberry note. Kathleen added 20% whole clusters to add more complexity, and the wine was left on fine lees for added depth. A wine that would make a Burgundophile question the supposed dominance of France with this grape."

2009 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Exceptional: "The three vineyards that comprise the blend of this wine all contribute to an early complexity, but as with the last wine, it will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. Pale color, racy acidity, dried and sour cherry aromas, and a fresh beet note. Kathleen calls it an entry-level wine; I call it a bargain."