No. 1 Wine of 2012: Defying All Odds, We Have the Possibility of a ‘Three-peat’

If Pat Riley, erstwhile coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, were the winemaker at Patz & Hall, right about now he’d be running around and yelling, “Three-peat! Three-peat!”

Although he did not coin the phrase, Riley did trademark it — for use on hats, jackets and shirts — after his Lakers won their second consecutive NBA championship in 1988. The Lakers did not “three-peat” in 1989, but the Chicago Bulls did four years later, and Riley cashed in on the “three-peat” merchandise sold thereafter.

By now you’re undoubtedly wondering, what does all this have to do with Wine Lines’ No. 1 wine of 2012?

Well, defying all odds, Patz & Hall is in position for a possible “three-peat” with its bottling of Pinot Noir from the Carneros region’s Hyde Vineyard. Patz & Hall’s 2009 vintage of Hyde Pinot earned our No. 1 ranking in 2011, and the winery’s 2010 vintage of Hyde Pinot has now claimed the top spot for 2012.

Improbable? More like impossible — except that it has happened.

Let’s take a look at just how odds-defying this accomplishment is for Patz & Hall.

First, there’s the sheer number of wines sampled by the Wine Lines Online review team over the course of any given year — well into quadruple digits.

Next, there’s the ever-increasing number of quality-focused wineries around the world. While the economic downturn caused a good number of estates to be gobbled up by bigger and better-financed wine companies, artisan winemaking has not fizzled out. In fact, it has been making somewhat of a comeback. So, for one winery to earn top honors two years in a row is a truly noteworthy accomplishment.

But it gets even more impressive. Patz & Hall was honored not only for the same varietal (Pinot Noir) in back-to-back years, but also for the same designated vineyard (Hyde).

Let’s try to put this in some sort of perspective. Take a winemaking giant like Kendall-Jackson. Because it farms grapes in so many different microclimates in California’s top growing regions, it has not only the opportunity to but also the likeihood of being able to craft wines that are very consistent in aroma and flavor from vintage to vintage. As three different K-J vintners have told us through the years, blending can smooth out a lot of rough edges.

But there was no opportunity for blending when it came to crafting Patz & Hall’s back-to-back Wine Lines Online champions. These wines not only were made from a single variety grown in a single vineyard, but the grapes used came from just three blocks of vines within that vineyard.

Two of the blocks consist of older and newer plantings of the Hyde-Calera selection, one of vineyard owner Larry Hyde’s clonal breakthroughs. The other is a mixed block, which includes Dijon 777, 667 and 115, as well as Pommard and Bebe clone fruit. As winemaker James Hall has said, “It is fascinatingly intricate.”

While the mix of clones no doubt contributes significantly to the ultimate quality of the wine, there’s yet another factor to consider: vintages. The Carneros region, where the Hyde Vineyards (Larry Hyde prefers the plural because each block within the 150-acre parcel is unique) are situated, is known for its cool climate. Even so, no two years are exactly alike, which means the grapes grown are going to vary at least slightly in aroma and flavor.

Indeed, the 2009 the 2010 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard(s) Pinots Noir are very different wines. Take a moment to read our review of the 2009 vintage.

Now, check out our review of the 2010 vintage.

When reviewed, the fruit impressions evident in the 2009 were blueberry, raspberry and cranberry sauce, whereas in the 2010, they were spiced cranberry, orange peel and dark cherry. On the spice/herb side, the 2009 showed cinnamon and anise, while the 2010 leaned more toward fennel frond. One commonality was the velvety mouthfeel, but all in all, these are distinctive wines in almost every way except their grape sourcing.

And yet, Patz & Hall was able to fashion a world-class elixir out of each vintage — back-to-back vintages that were so outstanding that they top Wine Lines Online’s Top 10 list in back-to-back years.

Three-peat? The 2011 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir is scheduled for shipment to Patz & Hall “Salon Society” members on May 13.

— B.J.

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