Domestic Selection: Pinot Noir, 1988. Austin Cellars

Anthony Austin’s roots go back to the very early days of Cali­fornia wine… literally. His ances­tors were granted a homestead in 1881 in Sonoma County, and are said to have planted the first Ca­bernet Sauvignon vines in the Rus­sian River Valley.

After attending U.C. Davis’ viticultural school, Austin became a protege of the country’s most highly regarded winemaking mas­ter, Andre Tchelistcheff. In 1975 Tchelistcheff recommended that Brooks Firestone hire Austin as winemaker at his newly formed Santa Ynez Valley estate. Austin overcame an admitted Northern California prejudice to accept the Santa Barbara County position. The advice paid off. Brooks and Anthony made winemaking history when Austin’s 1978 Firestone Chardonnay took the first “world-class” award ever earned by a cen­tral coast winery: the coveted Lon­don Double Gold Medal.

In 1981 Tony left Firestone (where he had been vice-president) to do his own thing: he formed Austin Cellars. Preferring to use fruit from several growers, he pro­ceeded to produce wines from carefully selected vineyards in Santa Barbara County. He be­lieved that with this freedom of choice came a greater latitude for the winemaker to create great wine. He further held that a small winery can succeed only by producing “artistic” wines. So, he focused his aesthetic flair on bring­ing out the best in each varietal he vinted.

Many authorities consider the aristocratically elegant, velvety red wines produced from Pinot Noir, the best in the world. Austin does not make a Pinot Noir every year. “I only make it in years when I really like the grapes,” explains the free-spirited winemaker. Truly a challenge, this grape seldom realiz­es its glorious potential outside its native soil, France’s renowned Burgundy district. A fickle mis­tress, responding dramatically to soil and weather conditions, this thoroughbred vine’s fruit and fla­vor differ with each new harvest.

This example has a brilliant light-garnet color and an unmistak­able “Pinot” nose. If you would like to know what Pinot Noir smells like, this is it. The texture is remarkably rich and smooth in the mouth: full, but not heavy. Clas­sic plum and raspberry flavors per­vade all. The finish is nice and clean, dry, with just a touch of tan­nin.

Serve at room temperature with roast fowl or Cantonese-style pepper steak.

Cellaring Notes: Drink now thru 1992.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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