Culture / Foodie Events

Mr. Pinot Noir: Prominent Winemaker Defends “Expensive” Wines and Cool Reds

BY // 09.22.15

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, and we trade stories about travel and winemakers and terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food pairings and cost. We recommend wines to one another, and we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I will introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste and learn about it. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.

I first drank a Patz & Hall wine in the mid-1990s in New York. It was a Chardonnay, and I liked it. I wrote down the particulars in my wine notebook, finished my shrimp and radishes, and we went on to the next course. I believe it was bass. It was a great meal, and the wines were of similar caliber. The Chardonnay stuck in my mind, and I made it a point to taste Patz & Hall wines as often as I could. Several years ago I came to know Donald Patz via Facebook, and I have enjoyed reading his posts about wine and food and travel.

Patz and three partners founded Patz & Hall in 1988, and the four have since then gone on to bottle one great vintage after another. He is a natural for Wine Talk; I look forward to sitting with him at a table and opening a few bottles, and I am pleased to introduce him — and his palate — to PaperCity readers.

Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
First up is Ridge Vineyards 2012 Lytton Springs Sonoma County Zinfandel. I first started drinking wine a long time ago, and one of my first wines I bought that was “special” and not just for everyday was Lytton Springs. It’s a classic. Loaded with the blackberry, crushed rock/earth and cinnamon character that is the essence of Zinfandel, it has enough tannin and alcohol to give it power. It retails for about $38 a bottle, and it loves grilled steaks.


I am also liking Melville’s 2013 Estate Pinot Noir – Sta. Rita Hills. It’s a fun to drink and delicious Pinot Noir from other areas. This is an undervalued wine made by Greg Brewer, who’s doing some great stuff in the Central Coast. It’s one of my go-to bottles when I don’t see my own wine. His Brewer-Clifton wines are even better, I think. You can get it for about $36 a bottle retail, and I love it with roasted chicken or a pan-roasted pork chop.

Introducing Pêche

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Then there’s the 2014 Dream Star, a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, which just so happens to be my son’s wine. His name is Sung Jin Park, and he’s created a lovely wine with freshness and crisp acidity that’s really delicious to drink and very flexible with food. It’s $24 by the bottle. For a food pairing, think oysters or sushi.

If I may add one of mine, the 2013 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It includes grapes from the original Dutton Ranch vines planted in 1969. Those old vines deliver extra perfume and dimension to the wine. It drinks so well — it’s loaded with creamy, floral/mineral and tropical notes, and it has a very crisp finish that allows it to be especially refreshing. It’s about $40 a bottle. Dungeness crab is great with this.

Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
The 2005 Shafer Vineyards Stag’s Leap-Napa Valley Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. In my book, it’s just overall the most impressive Napa Cabernet Sauvignon today. The current releases are wonderful, but the 2005 was really memorable. It will probably outlive me, even if I go another 40 years.


I can’t help but adding two alternates, so first is a 1976 Carneros Creek – Carneros Pinot Noir (preferably a magnum!). It’s a wine that I had on its initial release that really was special. I hope it’s still tasting as good. It might still be out there, somewhere. Finally, the 1975 Chateau Ste. Michelle Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. Another magical wine from my early wine drinking days. It was amazing the last time I had one — perhaps seven years ago. Another wine I’d like to have in a magnum.

What is your favorite grape?
Pinot Noir. It’s just so complicated. There is nothing more satisfying than drinking a great Pinot Noir — all that perfume, exotic spice and deep, juicy fruit together. It’s magic. On the other hand, it can be the most disappointing as well!

How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
How about a Patz & Hall 2013 Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir? It’s one of mine, but it’s stacked with all the key components I think are needed to be a really age-worthy wine. Great extract, great intensity, solid tannins, but not too much, and nice acidity to bind everything together. It’s About $60 bottle. And the Melka “CJ” 2012 – Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Philippe Melka is at the top of his game and is producing some of my favorite Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I think he’s striking the right balance between power/extract and elegance. It’s very fairly priced at $65 retail.

What is the one thing you wish everyone would remember when buying and drinking wine?
Two things really. First, it is really not easy or inexpensive to make great wines. We strive for that at Patz & Hall, and I know many other producers do, too. It gets old to hear how expensive wines have gotten. They are mostly fairly priced; yes, even those Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. Second, wine temperature. We have to get it out of our heads that red wines are supposed to be consumed warm. It’s crazy. The best red wines are really impaired by being served at temperatures above 70°F. I like to start by serving the first glass at cellar temperature of around 50°F and let it warm up just a little in the glass. Everything about a red wine is nicer when it’s cool. All the aromas and textural components show a better balance when cool in the mouth.

Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
Place. Which to me means a restaurant. My favorite is probably Redd, based on how often I want to go there! Under the steady hand of Master Sommelier William Sherer, this Yountville restaurant has maintained a great wine list with lots of interesting wines by the glass.

What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I already was interested in wine and was reading everything I could find on different regions and grape varieties, and while running a wine club in Eugene, Oregon, I put together a dinner with a number of really interesting wines. I’d tried a lot of Oregon wines and California wines, I’d tried a lot of Bordeaux, I’d tried a lot of German wines, but at this dinner we were drinking something I had not had a lot of: 1969 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti “La Tache” Grand Cru. It changed everything. I think I can still remember that aroma and flavor today.

What has been the strangest moment/incident you have experienced in your career?
I don’t recall anything truly “strange” in my wine career. I’ve had so many really wonderful moments and a few sad ones. In the former category, I came home one afternoon (probably about 1999) and noticed the message light blinking on my old-style answering machine. I checked the message and this is what I heard: “Hi! You don’t know me, but I was at The French Laundry for dinner with my girlfriend last night. We had a bottle of your Chardonnay, and it was just great. As we shared it, I took that moment to ask my girlfriend to marry me. She said yes! We’ll always remember we were drinking Patz & Hall when we got engaged.”

The sad moment occurred in 2001, at Alder Springs Vineyard in northern Mendocino County. I was standing there on top of a mountain with a glorious sunrise and misty mountains marching off both east and west of my spot. I’ll never forget as we harvested grapes on that September day how truly beautiful the world was and how unbelievably tragic the events in New York and Washington, D.C., were at exactly the same time.

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