I tasted a California Pinot Noir and I liked it.  I loved it. That doesn’t happen often. For the most part, California Pinots are too big, too voluptuous and candied, too ripe for my preference.

Often California Pinots are like Marilyn Monroe: all sexed-up, glossy and curvaceous.

Those aren’t bad qualities in wine, but I like a more, classic, elegant, leaner style of Pinot Noir- more Audrey than Marilyn.

We met at Mozza in Newport Beach– always a spectacular choice.  My dinner partner generously brought this 2000 vintage of Williams Selyem Pinot Noir from his collection because he knows my palate.  I had seen the label in stores before, but had never tasted the wine.  Certainly not with 12 years of bottle age.  It was a revelation.

When we first opened the bottle the wine smelled like a wet, sandy beach.  Heavy with fog and seaweed- it was marshy and dark and mysterious.  There were waves of minerality and wet grass, decaying leaves- it was like nothing I have ever experienced in a wine from California before.

For lack of better reference, if I had tasted this wine blind I would have called it Burgundy.  Not California.

As the wine opened it picked up notes of red berries and ripe black plums.  The fruit was still secondary to all that beautiful, earthy elegance.  On the palate there was a screaming acidity- again, not something I ever expect from California wines, although nothing makes me happier when I find it!

This level of minerality and acidity made the Williams Selyem Pinot Noir on of the best food wines I have ever tasted- especially when paired with a fried chick pea and sage leaf appetizer.  Or Eggplant Parmigiana.  Or just about anything the awesome-crazy people in Mozza’s kitchen are serving up.

This was a great lesson in humility for me- a reminder that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge a wine by its appellation.  Tasting is the only way to really understand what’s in the bottle.

Besides, the world needs a little more Marilyn Monroe, right?