Kosta Browne & Littorai: Killer pinot in two distinct styles

on 30/01/11 at 12:51 pm

Wine

Like many of the best wineries in Sonoma, both Kosta Browne and Littorai lie hidden behind unmarked gates where only those with appointments get a pass code to unlock the entry. Both are among the most coveted producers of pinot noir in America, able to extract the essence of famously delicate grapes that thrive in the warm days and cool, fog-shrouded nights that hug the Northern California coast.

But Kosta Browne and Littorai could not be more different – as I found out one marvelous recent afternoon with invitations to both in my pocket. They share the same zip code, situated less than three miles apart. But these wineries reside at nearly opposite ends of the pinot universe – from the style and spirit of their wines to the physical nature of the wineries themselves.

Kosta Browne, a perennial fixture in the penthouse of Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 wines in the world, is the definition of a California cult pinot, with more than 15,000 hopefuls on the waiting list to taste one of its intensely fruit-driven, richly colored, high-octane wines.

Littorai, meanwhile, is the pinnacle of Burgundian finesse in New World soil, making relatively light-hued wines that still leave a deep impression of the vineyards they came from. That mastery of terroir and a devotion to the rising trend of biodynamic farming recently earned Littorai founder Ted Lemon the coveted distinction of Winemaker of the Year from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Flamboyant power or subtle complexity? It’s a growing dichotomy that increasingly polarizes the world of American winemaking. But the divide is especially apt as pinot noir continues its meteoric rise, quadrupling in production during the last decade in California, tripling in Oregon – boosted, in part, by the movie Sideways in 2004. Its value as a food wine versatile enough to pair with fish or meat has resonated, becoming by 2008 the most popular grape in American restaurants, according to a Wine & Spirits magazine poll. (Both producers are represented in select Philadelphia restaurants, see “Where to Taste” on this page.)

That pinot noir is so wide-open to interpretation Рfrom jammy rich to nearly ros̩, a far broader range than cabernet or chardonnay Рis all the more telling about the intent, skill, and direction of American winemakers today.

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