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TRADE TASTING – CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR “IN PURSUIT OF BALANCE”

Introduction

I recently attended a trade tasting featuring California Pinot Noir. It was held at restaurant RN74 in San Francisco. Rajat Parr, the sommelier, has been a strong proponent of wines with alcohols lower than 15%. Lower alcohol wines are something that has been advocated by many of us for a very long time. In an earlier article on Under The Radar Wines, I commented on my friend Darrell Corti’s long standing policy of not buying table wines with over 15% alcohol for his store. The debate over alcohol continues to rage. I will chime in with my two cents worth in a later editorial. But, for now, let’s just say that I continue to believe that the trend to higher extracted, high alcohol, and manipulative wines is not a good thing. But, the good news is that I think this trend either is peaking or has peaked. This tasting was organized to emphasize Pinot Noirs that are being made in a more restrained style and away from the high alcohol Syrah-like wines that have garnered a following based on big numbers from the big numbers boys. The title was “In Pursuit of Balance” and some 27 wineries were in attendance. Each presented 2 or 3 wines. The wines were served over a 3 hour period with participants going from table to table to taste. I don’t know the number of people in attendance, but the room was very crowded and there was a lot of buzz. Wineries represented ranged from old favorites such as Au Bon Climat, Calera, and Mount Eden to emerging new stars such as Tyler and Soliste plus a large number of other wineries, many very new, with which I had no prior experience.

I was not able to taste everything, nor did I want to. There were too many wines for me to taste at once and crowded stand up tastings like this do not present themselves as a good venue for taking accurate and detailed notes. Nonetheless, abbreviated notes of some of my favorite wines at the tasting are offered below:

2009 Alta Maria Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley.

Deep color. Lovely berry perfume with floral spice nuances. Elegant, yet structured with good backbone and lots of berry fruit. Lovely –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.altamaria.com [1]

2007 Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley.

Out of 200 barrels only 6 (translating to about 150 cases) were selected for this wine. It is harmonious and delicious with a deep color and a gorgeous perfume. Lots of fruit. Supple. Rounded. Very flavorful. Long finish –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Isabelle California.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Spicy fruit. Very flavorful. Rounded, supple and lush, yet with backbone and structure. This should be even better with a bit more bottle age – Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

www.aubonclimat.com [2]

2007 Calera Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

Very nice color. Lovely perfume. Floral, spicy nuances. Lovely fruit and flavor. Touch of spice. Elegant and finessful. Balanced and very harmonious –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

2007 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Lots of spice tinged berry fruit. Flavorful, rich, and structured. This should evolve beautifully –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.calerawine.com [3]

2008 Chanin Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.

Nice color. Lovely perfume. Very nice berry fruit flavors. Elegant and finessful. Crisp finish –- Recommended Plus. 1-n-half-yellow-stars

2008 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.

Very nice color. Lovely perfume. Lots of fruit. Faint spicy tinge. Flavorful with a lot of finesse. Lovely –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.ChaninWine.com [3]

2009 Copain Pinot Noir Monument Tree Anderson Valley.

Deep color. Great perfume. Lots of fruit. Rounded and rich. Touch of spice. Lovely finish –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

2009 Copain Pinot Noir Wentzel Anderson Valley.

Deep color. Great perfume. Lots of complex fruit flavors. Lush and balanced with a long finish. A really gorgeous Pinot Noir –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

www.copainwines.com [4]

2009 Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir Tempest Bloom’s Field Santa Rita Hills.

Deep color. Lovely blackberry perfume. Touch of spice. Balanced. Lots of rich, supple fruit –- Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

2009 Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir Occidental Vineyards Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Rounded, lush, and flavorful, but with structure. Floral spice tinges. Has elegance and depth. Long finish –- Outstanding 3-yellow-stars

www.eveninglandvineyards.com [5]

2007 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Estate Sonoma Coast.

Very nice color. Lovely perfume. Flavorful. Spice tinged berry fruit. Well structured. Still evolving –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

2007 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Frances Thompson Estate Sonoma Coast.

Very nice color. Lovely spicy berry perfume. Elegant. Lovely flavor. Well structured –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.flowerswinery.com [6]

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Bohan Dillon Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely spice tinged perfume. Spicy berry fruit. Well structured and flavorful with very good depth –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir San Andreas Sonoma Coast.

Very nice color. Lovely perfume. Floral, berry, plum nuances. Rounded. Supple. Balanced. Supple and rounded with very nice fruit. Plum and berry flavors tinges with spice. Really lovely –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve Sonoma Coast.

Barrel sample. There are only two barrels of this wine. Deep color. Great perfume. Cherry fruit with exotic nuances. Lovely, lush, supple wine. Loads of fruit. Plums and cherries with an exotic tinge. This is really gorgeous –- Outstanding Potential. 2-barrels

www.hirschvineyards.com [7]

2009 Kutch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Floral, berry, cherry nuances. Lots of fruit. Supple, balanced and flavorful –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

2009 Kutch Pinot Noir Falstaff Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Well structured, Very nice fruit. Balanced tannin. Should soften with some additional age – Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

2009 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Lots of rich, supple fruit. Lush and rounded, but with great structure. Very flavorful. Long finish. Gorgeous – Outstanding 3-yellow-stars

www.kutchwines.com [8]

2009 Lioco Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Lots of fruit. Berries and plums. Tinge of spice. Nice balance –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.liocowine.com [9]

2009 Littorai Wines Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Floral, berry, spice nuances. Lots of supple fruit. Nicely balanced –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

 

2009 Littorai Wines Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Loads of fruit. Rounded and lush with lots of flavor and depth. Balanced. Delicious wine –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

 

2007 Littorai Wines Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley.

Deep color. Lovely floral tinged perfume. Supple. Lovely fruit. Balanced. Very tasty –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.littorai.com [10]

2008 Miura Vineyards Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands.

Deep color. Very nice perfume. Berries and spice. Lots of fruit. Tinge of spice. Rounded. Supple. Lovely –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2008 Miura Vineyards Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Floral, berry nuances. Lots of fruit. Tinge of spice. Rounded. Supple. Nice balance — Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

miuravineyards@yahoo.com [11]

2009 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Estate Santa Cruz Mountains.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Lots of berry fruit tinged with spice. Flavorful. Has depth and concentration with layers of fruit. This is delicious now and should evolve over many years –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

 

2007 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Estate Santa Cruz Mountains.

Very nice color. Deep perfume. Lovely berry fruit. Very pure and elegant. Lovely fruit. Balanced and finesseful. This may very well lush up and show more complexity with time –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2005 Mount Eden Pinot Noir Estate Santa Cruz Mountains.

From a severely reduced crop this is a really knock out Pinot Noir. Dark color. Gorgeous perfume. Floral, berry, cherry nuances. Lush and rounded. Lots of depth and concentration, but not at all heavy. Complex flavors with a spice tinge — Outstanding Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

www.mounteden.com [12]

2009 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Berries with a faint hint of spice. Very nice spice tinged flavors. Balanced. Lots of fruit –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2009 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir Ama Estate Sonoma Coast.

Very nice color. Lovely perfume. Gorgeous fruit and balance. Finesseful with delicious flavors –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2009 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast.

Very nice color. Gorgeous perfume. Great fruit and balance. Elegant, yet with lots of flavor. Complex berry fruit. Long Finish –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

www.peayvineyards.com [13]

2007 Soliste Pinot Noir L’Esperance Sonoma Coast.

I reviewed this wine in an article last February. It was Outstanding then. And it is outstanding now. Deep color. Lovely perfume. Floral, berry, spicy nuances. Lots of supple fruit, Rounded. Balanced. Long finish –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

 

2008 Soliste Pinot Noir L’Esperance Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Lovely spice tinged perfume. Well structured. Very nice fruit. Tinge of spice. Finesseful –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

 

2009 Soliste Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyard Sonoma Coast.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Cherries with a floral note. Lots of fruit and flavor. Lovely balance with depth and a long finish –- Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

www.soliste.com [14]

2008 Tyler Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Santa Rita Hills.

Deep color. Berry fruit with a floral nuance. Lots of fruit. Very pure. Balanced. Faint tinge of spice –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2008 Tyler Pinot Noir Presidio Santa Barbara County.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Spice tinged berry fruit. Lots of fruit. Rounded and balanced. Flavorful –- Highly Recommended Plus. 2-n-half-yellow-stars

 

2009 Tyler Pinot Noir Bien Nacido N Block Old Vines Santa Maria County.

Deep color. Gorgeous perfume. Lots of rich supple fruit. Blackberries with a faint tinge of spice. Very flavorful. Great balance and a long finish – Outstanding. 3-yellow-stars

www.tylerwinery.com [15]

2009 Wind Gap Pinot Noir Woodruff Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains.

Deep color. Lovely perfume. Berries and spice. Lots of fruit. Rounded. Supple. Very nice balance –- Highly Recommended. 2-yellow-stars

www.windgapwines.com [16]

Conclusion

 

This tasting was very conclusive in the fact that there are a lot of really good balanced Pinot Noirs being made in California. Primarily from grapes grown in close proximity to the coast, from Mendocino in the North to Santa Barbara in the South, the best wines exhibit purity and balance with gorgeous flavors. So there is every reason to be very optimistic about the future of California Pinot Noir. And, of course, I am talking about Pinot Noirs that have real varietal character with the elegance and finesse married around wonderful flavors. Ah, Pinot Noir. Long may it thrive and not be infused with foreign elements. The future looks bright ahead!

So look for these wines. Most are available from local retailers and restaurants. Nearly all of them are available directly from the winery. I have included links to the websites (and in one case an email address) for the wines I reviewed and recommended. I encourage you to check out the web sites for additional information and get on the mailing lists. I know you will be glad you did!

Like we said in the first issue of The Underground Wineletter in 1979, there is a great future for California Pinot Noir. That future is being realized by producers such as these (along with others such as Chalone Vineyard www.chalonevineyard.com [17], Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard www.santacruzmountainvineyards.com [18], and Husch Vineyards www.huschvineyards.com [19]), who represent a style of Pinot Noir that emphasizes the purity and complexity of what is, for me, the pinnacle of red wine. In fact, it is the only red wine that, in my opinion, should never be blended with another grape variety. Many can certainly try to redefine Pinot Noir by seeking a heavily extracted wine and many try to get to the same place by “enhancing” it with Syrah or, god knows, what else, but this is not what Pinot Noir is about. Pinot Noir is surely nectar of the gods. It deserves its historical place in history as one of the world’s greatest wines and needs no enhancements to improve it.