Stuart Scott, the late ESPN sportscaster, had a number of catchphrases; my favorite was, “I’m not a player—I just crush a lot.” He’d borrowed it from rapper Big Punisher—Big Pun, in short—and used it to describe home runs.
Me, I use it to describe my reaction to certain bottles of wine. It’s a rare thing, falling in love with a wine. But it does occur. If I could offer any advice, it would be that, if you feel it, let it happen. Swoon. Fall head over heels. Drink deep.
The first time I remember this happening was sometime in early 2003. The sommelier at 160 Blue, a long-gone Chicago restaurant partly owned by Michael Jordan, recommended I jump a little over my price point and try a Sonoma Pinot Noir from Landmark. He swirled it vigorously in a decanter, poured, and I wasn’t even through the first glass before I was smitten.
Next time I visited, I ordered it again. Couldn’t stop thinking about it, truth be told. Within a couple of weeks, I got myself a case, which—given my proselytizing zeal for its wonders—disappeared all too quickly. I took it to dinner parties, demanding that it receive pride of place in the wine lineup. I carried a bottle to Atlanta, where I opened it for serious wine friends (they liked it plenty but, as is often the case with such things, they didn’t quite see what I saw). I invited a wine pro pal over for a tasting. I gushed. He showed polite appreciation, sniffed and sipped, and declared it “a pretty wine.”
The brilliance of that assessment has stayed with me to this day. This Pinot was not a profound and earthy Burgundy, or an exquisite and elegant Oregonian. No. This was a California girl.
It’s been a few years since I have seen a Landmark bottle anywhere, and one possible reason is the fact that the label design has changed markedly from the all-caps serif-font it had years ago. But recently a Landmark 2018 Overlook Pinot Noir came into my life.
I was excited to open it; there was a zing of anticipation, tempered by the knowledge that I drink differently now. I’m not jaded, but I’m not too easily impressed, either. Provenance, broadly defined, is of far more interest to me now than it was then.
And this 2018, after all, isn’t a wine derived from one slanted, sun-drenched swath in the Northern Rhone, or an impossibly steep cliffside in Austria. No. This wine is constructed, with fruit from two vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, three vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, and the winery’s own Hop Kiln vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Three different counties.
Such a variety of fruit sourcing could give some aficionados pause. You might end up with an anonymous wine. But the result speaks for itself; just on the first sniff, I was transported back to that revelatory first glass from years ago. It isn’t the same wine, of course, but it’s a continuation of a captivating, Sonoma Pinot Noir house style. Strawberry, new leather, and Earl Grey tea waft up. Spring field flowers. On the palate, a pleasant spiciness, a touch of oak, and, unmistakable to me, a cola hit that might be best described as Dr. Pepper.
I decanted and swirled and poured and smiled.
Landmark began in 1974, founded by a group that included Demaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere himself, plower of the prairie. She moved the business to Sonoma in 1989, and until 1995 focused on Chardonnay. The current winemaker at Landmark, Greg Stach, started with the winery in the summer of 2001; he may well have made my wine from the turn of the century. And his 2018 is really, really pretty.
Notes from the winery suggest pairing it with a roasted beet salad and goat cheese or with a filet mignon and mushroom cream sauce. Eh, maybe. For me the wine has a delicacy to it that calls for a more tailored, straightforward escort—a round of Epoisses, say, or roasted salmon. Let the wine’s beauty shine.
This bottle isn’t going to push aside my funkier, longer-lasting loves. But spending a night with it again was absolutely a blast.