Source : http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/2057/
Recent Sips of California Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
Source : http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/2057/
Over the past forty years, the Burgundians have reached out to Oregon and New Zealand Pinot Noir producers, but have largely shunned California Pinot Noir wineries. A wave of Burgundian vintners has flocked to Oregon, offering their expertise as consultants and investing in winery and vineyard ownership. In New Zealand, the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange has proven to be a successful vintner exchange in recent years, and Australia is looking to set up the same type of program. Bordeaux has been chummy with Napa Valley, and recently auctioned off many large formats to raise money for Napa to assist in that region’s recovery efforts from last October’s disastrous fires.
Historically, Oregon has had a close relationship with Burgundy, with Oregonians spending considerable time working and studying in Burgundy as far back as the early 1960s beginning with David Lett and Charles Coury. Oregon winemakers have readily embraced the people and culture of Burgundy, while California has been more aloof. In addition, California is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and the Burgundians profess no love for Cabernet Sauvignon or the Bordelaise. Oregon and New Zealand are more Pinot-centric and the lifestyle of these two regions is more akin to Burgundy.
Oregon maintains stricter regulations regarding wine labelling. In California, if a wine label lists a general appellation such as California, at least 75% of the wine must be produced from grapes grown in the place named, and at least 85% if the label lists a specific American AVA such as Anderson Valley. In Oregon, if the label claims “Oregon,” an Oregon county, or an Oregon appellation wholly within Oregon, 100% of the grapes must be from Oregon and 95% from that appellation of origin.
Some Burgundy vignerons have been outspoken critics of California Pinot Noir, discounting the Pinot Noir wines on the basis of their frequent higher alcohols, significant ripeness and extraction, and generous oak bearing. Try putting a California Pinot Noir in a French Burgundy wine tasting, and you will most likely find the wine being snubbed. It’s a French thing.
There are a few Frenchmen who have made inroads in California. Aubert de Villaine of Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti created a partnership with Larry Hyde of Hyde Vineyards in Carneros, but this venture, called HdV, is centered on Chardonnay and a Merlot-Cabernet blend. Jean-Charles Boisset resides in California and has acquired DeLoach and Buena Vista, both notable producers of Pinot Noir. Claude Koeberle co-founded Soliste, a producer of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir profiled in the previous issue of the PinotFile. There are a few French ex-patriots successfully making Pinot Noir in California, including Luc Morlet (Morlet Family Vineyards and Cabaud Wines) and Nicholas Morlet (Peter Michael), Jerome Chery (Saintsbury and Fog Crest Vineyard), and Arnaud Weyrich (Roederer Estate).
There are numerous California winemakers who have spent time in Burgundy to work and learn, and they embrace Burgundy and its winemaking techniques and tradition more than vice-versa. As a result, the California Pinot Noir renaissance has simply progressed along a different path than Oregon. Perhaps iconic winemaker Burt Williams of Williams Selyem, who never set foot in Burgundy, yet whose wines were highly respected by the Burgundians, set a precedent for California.
All that posturing discussion aside, look to the many top-notch recently released California Pinot Noir wines reviewed in this issue. Not all is joyous in California Pinot land, however, as some Pinot Noir wines are more a beverage than wines driven by a clear vision, seemingly produced to appeal to the mainstream consumer’s love of oak, ripe fruit and sweetness. These fruit-driven wines lack distinction, aromatic joy and deliver little nuance.
Domaine Della Winery, Santa Rosa
David Hejl has been crafting Pinot Noir since 2010. He was the former General Manager and CEO of Kosta Browne Winery. The Domaine Della Winery was co-founded with his sister and brother-in-law and the name, Domaine Della, honors David’s mother, Della Winifred Dale. The inaugural releases were from the 2012 vintage. The wines have a resemblance to those from Kosta Browne in style. Visit www.domainedella.com.
14.5% alc., 200 cases, $65. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The source of this wine is instantly identifiable by an array of typical aromas including cherry, wild raspberry, garrigue and earthy flora. The mid weight, dark red cherry, raspberry, cranberry and spice core aims to please. Forward-drinking, with excellent mid palate intensity and an agreeable but not lengthy finish. Score: 90
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $75. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose speaks more of shrub and forest than black cherry fruit. Polished in the mouth with an imposing wave of black cherry, cola and spice flavors that have a savory character. Good vibrancy and crispness in a fresh and approachable style with an impressively long and generous finish. Score: 92
14.5% alc., 150 cases, $65. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Very shy aromas of dark cherry and fertile earth. The mid weight plus fruit flavors of black cherry and black raspberry are underscored with notes of earth and black tea. Silken in texture, with immersed tannins and a modest finish. Satisfactory rather than special. Score: 88
14.5% alc., 150 cases, $75. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Awkward nose, offering scents of dark cherry and mulch with a slight soapy note. A discreetly concentrated core of cherry fruit is framed by silky tannins and noticeable acidity that drives the palate. The wine finishes with a red fruit theme and a wintergreen note. Score: 88
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $75. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. A very ripe-fruited wine bordering on roasted character, offering aromas of cherry compote, root beer and cigar. A bold attack of the blackest cherry, cola, black tea, tobacco and dark chocolate flavors great the palate. Silken in mouth feel, with immersed tannins and a modest finish. The wine has Russian River Valley character traits but the super-ripeness detracts. Score: 89
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $65. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon, pineapple, pomelo and pastry creme really come at you. Bright flavors of lemon, pineapple, pear and golden apple fare bold and long. Creamy in the mouth, with a good acid underbelly and some lingering fruit and nutty oak at the end. Very Caliesque and hearty. Score: 93
14.5% alc., 125 cases, $70. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Subtle but enchanting aromas of ripe lemon, honey, melon, sea breeze, graphite and smoke. A sophisticated wine featured refined flavors of citrus and pear fruits but speaking more of “minerality.” Focused, with welcome acidic verve, and finishing with lengthy crystalline fruit aromatics. This is one of California’s top Chardonnay vineyards and the wine reflects that pedigree. Score: 94
Winemaker Dan Goldfield sources from wide-ranging exotic vineyard sites, all with a special character. The 2015 vintage wines are concentrated yet lively due to bright acidities. The wines are aged in 50% new French oak giving them a noticeable, but in most cases, compatible influence. The wines from Dutton-Goldfield are giving them a noticeable, but in most cases, compatible influence. The wines from Dutton-Goldfield are consistently of the highest quality and scores are largely irrelevant. Visit www.duttongoldfield.com.
14.0% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.65, 292 cases $62. The 32-acre Putnam Vineyard is situated on a hillside at 1,000 feet elevation near Annapolis and only six miles from the ocean. Low yields and intense berries. Gravely soil and deficit irrigation leads to naturally low-yielding vines, producing thick skinned fruit, small berries and concentrated flavors. Fermented in open-top fermenters. 5-day cold soak, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Gratifying aromas of dark berries, spice and underbrush lead to a discretely concentrated mouthful of black raspberry, blackberry and purple grape flavors. Flat-out delicious, gaining traction over time in the glass. A substantial backbone of fine-grain tannins predict age ability. More composed and harmonious when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 94
14.0% alc., pH 3.39, TA 0.71, 140 cases, $62. Vineyard is located on a high (1,100 feet elevation), south-facing ridge. Planted in 1998, it is owned and farmed by Barbara and her son Rich McDougall. Low yields, thick-skinned berries, and deep color. 100% de-stemmed, 7-day cold soak in open-top fermenters, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark red and purple berries, black cherry and fertile earth. The mid weight plus core of earthy dark fruits have a feral, forestry and umami quality consistent with this vineyard’s far western Sonoma terroir. Modest, fine-grained tannins make for good approachability. The intense, extremely long finish exhibits a quenching arrow of acidity. Score: 93
13.5% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.66, 262 cases, $72. A steep, terraced (up to 60% grade) vineyard planted to Dijon clones. Small yields (less than 3/4 ton per acre in 2015), tiny berries and wild fruit intensity. Owned and farmed by Mark Pasternak. 100% destemmed, put into open-top fermenters, 5-day cold soak, aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. This wine is the most sumptuously oaked in the lineup tasted here. The nose offers aromas of black cherry, cardamom spice, char and burnt tobacco. Plenty of black cherry goodness leads the attack in this mid weight styled wine with immersed tannins and uplifting acidity. Silky in the mouth, with expansive fruit flavors accented with oak-driven smoke and caramel. The barrel treatment was less imposing when the wine was tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 91
14.5% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.68, 406 cases, $72. A deviation from the winery’s emphasis on single-vineyard bottlings. Sourced from Jentoft Vineyard in Green Valley (Calera clone) and Putnam Vineyard near Annapolis on the far Sonoma Coast. 100% de-stemmed, put into open-top fermenters, 5-day cold soak, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Engaging aromas of ripe strawberry, black cherry and baking spices. Seamless and luxurious in the mouth, with mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, blackberry, cassis and the right touch of toasty oak. The satin tannins, luxurious mouth feel, and a finish that offers great length and cut make for a dreamy drinking experience. Score: 93
13.8% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.74, 649 cases, $55. Vineyard planted in Green Valley by Warren Dutton in 1969. Chardonnay musqué selection known as the “Rued clone.” Soils are super sandy Goldridge series. Vines are dry farmed. Berries are consistently thick skinned and tiny for Chardonnay. Barrel fermented, full malolactic fermentation. Some barrels fermented with natural yeast and some inoculated with cultured yeast. Aged 15 months with lees stirring in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfiltered. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. A connoisseur’s wine that offers layers of nuance. The nose delivers aromas of grilled pineapple, lemon, spice, white flower blossoms and flint. Sleek, refined and focused on the palate, with a proper mating of lemon, pineapple, apple and toasty brioche flavors with juicy acidity. Admirable harmony, with a steely, citrus inspired finish that begs another sip. Score: 96
Fulcrum/On Point Wines, Sonoma
The 2016 Pinot Noirs are not dainty wines but beautifully crafted in this style, featuring plenty of fruit yet elegant in composure. Each single-vineyard bottling is distinct with only a mild winemaking imprint. The only facet of Fulcrum wines that I don't like is the labelling. The On Point labels, however, are striking. Fulcrum will be hosting a Celebration of Spring on Saturday, April 21, for the email list and club members. A few 2016 wines will be poured. RSVP at [email protected]
14.2% alc., 140 cases, $38. A blend of grapes from Gap’s Crown and Wildcat Mountain vineyards. Clones 115 and 667. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 18% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Heady aromas of dark strawberry, black raspberry, spiced plum, underbrush, maple and anise. Luscious and imposing on the attack and mid palate, with a mid weight plus charge of boysenberry, blueberry and pomegranate fruit flavors. Some spice and toasty oak is woven through the fruit core. The tannins are balanced and the texture very soft. This is a fruit-driven wine with a good tannic backbone that wants for a little more acid vibe. Score: 89
14.1% alc., 134 cases, $38. A blend of grapes from Gap’s Crown, Wildcat Mountain and Donnelly Creek Vineyards. Clones 115, 667, “828,” and Pommard. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels 14% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Lovely marriage of dark berry fruit and oak aromas. More refinement and restraint than the On Point Sonoma Coast bottling, featuring mid weight flavors of black cherry, blackberry and black raspberry. Creamy in the mouth, with modest tannins, integrated oak and a coasting finish. While the Sonoma Coast bottling is more thundering, the Christinna’s is more symphonic. Score: 91
14.1% alc., 153 cases, $62. Pommard clone from Donnelly Vineyard. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · A very fruit-forward and gregarious wine with aromas and flavors of purple grape, boysenberry, black raspberry and hints of toast and vanilla. Lush and velvety in the mouth with soldiering tannins, adept acidity and a generously fruity finish. This is a wine to enjoy now for its giving nature rather than cellar. Score: 92
151 cases, $62. Clones 667, 777 and Pommard. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels 35% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Modereate garnet color in the glass. The nose offers aromas of purple and black berries, BBQ rub, earth and sandstone. The wine’s flavor profile stands out for its garrigue character that compliments the boysenberry, black raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors. Impeccable balance with a deft oak accent, satiny texture and some closing joy. Score: 93
129 Cases, $62. Clones 113, 114, 115 and Mt Eden. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Dark garnet color in the glass. The rustic aromas of peat and timber combine with demure aromas of black fruits. Mid weight plus blackberry and cassis flavors have a noticeable earthy clay pitch. Velvety in the mouth with toned tannins typical of this vineyard that are supportive rather than foreboding. There is a nimble touch of oak and enough acidity to bless the sappy fruit with juiciness and vibrancy. The finish is very long and succulent. This is a terroir-driven wine that is quite recognizable to me after tasting multiple vintages. Even better when tasted the following day exhibiting more mellow tannins. Decant or hold for a year or two in bottle. Score: 94
14.3% alc., 224 cases, $68. Clones “828,” and 667. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Intoxicating aromas of dark fruits, spice, violets, char and vanilla. A full-on charge of purple and black fruits attack with a vengeance, envelope the palate, and hang on through an intense, sappy and lengthy finish. About as big as Pinot Noir can be without being jammy. Silken in texture with tame tannins. An ultimate expression of Pinot’s exuberance, encouraging contemplation and gloating. Any Miracle Gro in this vineyard? Still extraordinary when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Year in and year out, this is Fulcrum’s best wine. Score: 97
14.2% alc., 146 cases, $49. Dijon 95. Barrel fermented in 32% French oak. Unfined and lightly filtered. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Highly aromatic, featuring scents of lemon oil, apple, creme soda, mixed nuts, toffee and a hint of matchstick. Nicely composed, with rich flavors of lemon, tangerine, pastry creme, and a compliment of oak-driven burnt caramel and vanilla in a friendly style. Texturally plush, with embraceable acidity. Score: 92
Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg
Winemaker Theresa Heredia maintains the style of wine featured by Gary Farrell, who founded this winery. Typically, the wines are acid-driven and perhaps even more so in the 2015 vintage. The result is that the wines have an uncommon freshness and vibrancy as well as food affinity. Tasting by appointment in a newly remodeled hospitality center. A standard for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Visit the winery’s website at www.garyfarrellwinery.com.
13.9% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.69, 391 cases, $80. Released February 2018 after one year in bottle. Sourced from the Allen and Rochioli vineyards that are located on opposite sides of Westside Road. Both sites are farmed by the Rochioli family. Primarily Pommard selection from Allen Vineyard (both old vines planted in 1974 and newer vines planted in 1996) with the remainder Pommard from Rochioli Vineyard. Grapes harvested in cool morning hours, 85% destemmed, and fermented in open-top tanks after a 6-day cold soak. 10-15 days of extended maceration followed primary fermentation. The wine was aged in French oak barrels, 40% new, on primary lees for 16 months. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Highly aromatic over time in the glass, with scents of crushed Bing cherry and seasoned oak. Light to mid weight in style, with a vibrant and sustaining cherry core. Elegantly composed, with a sleek and soft mouth feel, a noticeable citric acid underpinning, and a long cherryimbued finish. This wine is more lean and gentle with less ripened fruit in this vintage. Score: 92
14.0% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.69, 1,173 cases, $55. Released February 2018 and one year in bottle. Vineyard is located in the cool Green Valley. A strong marine influence leads to less severe daily temperature shifts so the vines never shut down completely. The result is grapes with dark color, great structure and darker fruit flavors. Clones 667, 777, “828,” Pommard and a suitcase selection. Grapes harvested in early morning, 20% whole cluster, 6-day cold soak. 10-15 days of extended maceration after fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels (light and medium toast), 40% new, on primary lees for 16 months. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Brooding aromas of blackest cherry, black raspberry and blueberry-pomegranate. Bright, mid weight flavors of blueberry and boysenberry fruits resembling biting into just-picked-in-the-early-morning grapes. Polished and balanced with a juiciness propelled by vibrant acidity, finishing clean and bright. Score: 93
13.6% alc., pH 3.12, TA 0.81, 868 cases, $45. Released February 2018 after eighteen months in bottle. This vineyard was planted in 1975 to a Wente selection on AXR rootstock. It is situated in the Santa Rosa Plain between the warmer Westside Road region and the cooler Green Valley. Warm summer days are moderated by cool breezes and chilly evening temperatures and fog intrusion. The result is wine with higher natural acidity at fairly low sugar levels. Harvest Brix 22º. Whole cluster pressed, inoculated with Montrachet yeast, barrel fermented and aged on the lees for 9 months in French oak barrels, 35% new (barrels and 500-L puncheons). · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of pound cake, grilled lemon, nuts, malted milk and flint. Silky as well as crisp on the palate, with engaging flavors of lemon, pineapple and creme caramel. The wine’s noticeable oak-driven character and lemon essence infuses the cleansing finish. Score: 91
13.9% alc., pH 3.17, TA 0.73, 421 cases, $60. Released February 2018 after 18 months in bottle. Sourced from two blocks within the Allen Vineyard, farmed by the Rochioli family. Clones 76 and 15. Harvest Brix 22.5º. Gently whole cluster pressed. 2/3 of the juice was transferred to 35% new French oak barrels (including 500-L puncheons) and 1/3 to a concrete egg-shaped tank, and aged 9 months. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. The nose is uplifting, with hi-tone aromas of lemon curd, golden apple, yeast and flint. Bold and rich with ostentatious flavors of apple and citrus underlain with a peek of toasty oak. Sleek in the mouth, with the slightest tannins and a mouthwatering, citrus-driven finish. The wine noticeably improves as it warms in the glass. Score: 93
After an impressive debut with the 2014 vintage, and a minuscule production from Riddle Vineyard in 2015, the winery is back on track with the two 2016 offerings. The wines are in such limited quantities that they are only sold by allocation to members of the mailing list. Visit www.hibouwine.com.
14.5% alc., 100 cases, $60. Clones 115 and Pommard. 45% whole cluster (the 115 block was harvested at about 24 Brix and de-stemmed entirely; the Pommard block was harvested at about 25 Brix and fermented using 100% whole cluster). Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 25% new (clone 115 aged in two neutral barrels, Pommard aged in one new and one neutral barrel). Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Alluring aromas of exotic spices, red and purple berries, forest and floral bouquet. Quite long and fulfilling in the mouth with a delicious mid weight core of boysenberry and black raspberry fruits touched by spice. Seductive in mouth feel with silky tannins and an extended finish. Considerably better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the nose sent me reeling. Score: 94
14.2% alc., 75 cases, $45. Vineyard planting began in 1993 by Stu Bewley. 100% whole cluster. Clone 459. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 25% new, and racked just before bottling. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of dark cherry, dark red berry, forest floor, underbrush and cola. The mid weight plus essence of well-spiced boysenberry and blackberry fruits is initially framed by imposing tannins. The lustrous texture pleases as does the slightly astringent, yet bountiful finish. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the tannins showed some amelioration and the fruit was more bounteous. The 100% whole cluster creates the tannic load but this will improve with more time in bottle. Score: 93
Ken Brown Wines, Lompoc
Master winemaker Ken Brown continues to craft magnificent wines that represent the nadir of offerings from the Central Coast. Ultra premium is an appropriate description of the small lot Ken Brown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines that I have reviewed through the years. For more information, visit www.kenbrownwines.com.
14.1% alc., pH 3.71, TA 0.57, 178 cases, $55. This vineyard, planted in 2005, is located at the far western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA subjecting it to extreme marine influence. Clone 115. 100% de-stemmed grapes. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 32% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Fruit aromas of cherry and strawberry show up first on the nose, with aromas of BBQ beef and spice arriving over time. Charming on the palate with seamless composure and energy, offering mid weight dark red fruit and baking spice flavors entwined with a complimentary oak backbone. The finish has plenty of cherry goodness and a lift of acidity commonly associated with wines from this AVA. Score: 92
14.4% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.59, 154 cases, $65. Vineyard originally planted in 1971, but newer clones and rootstocks have been added over the years. Clones 943 (planted in 2008) and Wädenswil 2A (planted in 2011). Soils are Botella Series, clay and loam with a high calcareous content that drains well. Grapes destemmed, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 38% new. Light egg white fining and bottled unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The wine is a chameleon in the glass, offering everychanging aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, clove, cardamom, and tea leaf aromas, and purple and black fruit flavors nicely touched by spice and toasty oak. The fruit core packs a punch and the sense is lushness and velvet in the mouth, yet the wine is light on its feet. Opulent and huggable. Score: 95
Morgan Wines, Salinas
Dan Morgan knew of the potential of the area long before the Santa Lucia Highlands became an official AVA. By 1996, Dan and Donna Lee purchased and planted a 65-acre property of the newly named Santa Lucia Highlands. It was here that they established the Double L Vineyard (Double Luck, in honor of their twin daughters). Today, the organically certified Double L Vineyard is one of the most famed winegrowing properties in the Santa Lucia Highlands, boasting 20 different clones on 8 different rootstocks.
The spring and summer of 2016 were mild with no extreme heat or cold periods. No rain in the fall resulted in clean fruit harvested in mid-September. Read more at www.morganwinery.com.
14.0% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.61, $35. Sourced from Double L (29%), Boekenoogen, KW, and Tondré Grapefield vineyards. · oderate garnet color in the glass. Deeply engaging aromas of cherry, potpourri and char. Mid weight flavors of black cherry and boysenberry in a juicy style with good balance and a thread of oak support. An appropriate every day drinker. Score: 89
4.0% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.66, 95 cases, $64. Clones 115, 113, and Pommard 4. Grapes 100% de-stemmed, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Enchanting aromas of black cherry, baking spices, sandalwood and smoked beef. Mid weight plus flavors of juicy blueberry and boysenberry with subtle oak enhancement. A very giving wine offering considerable pleasure. Nicely composed with modest tannins, a lush mouthfeel that falls short of jammy, and a purple berry finish that really hangs on. Score: 93
14.2% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.60, 91 cases, $64. Vineyard is adjacent Garys’ Vineyard. Grapes 100% de-stemmed, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant perfume of blackberry and boysenberry fruits, fertile earth and toast. Amazing attack of purple and black fruits that are expansive in the mouth and progress through an extremely long finish. Rather luxurious, yet uplifting and docile, with lacy tannins and a hint of noble oak. This vineyard is a consistent producer of stellar wines. I have tasted many wines from this vineyard made by different producers through the years and they have always excelled. Score: 94
Vineyard is located in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA overlooking the Salinas River Valley. Winds moderate the afternoon temperature. First vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve both organic and sustainable certifications.Composed of certified organic grapes. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Eager to please aromas of cherry, raspberry, dark red rose petal and nutty oak. Sleek and refined on the palate with a mid weight core of purple berry and plum fruit flavors underscored by a smoky note that resembles smoke taint.The tannins are well balanced and there is a pleasing acid underbelly making the wine vibrant and easy to enjoy from the get-go. Score: 91
14.5% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.60, 44 cases, $64. Grapes de-stemmed, native yeast began whole berry fermentation in open-top tanks. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very enjoyable aromas of blackberry jam, spice and toast. Plenty of extroverted sap in a mid weight plus style offering blackberry, ollaliberry and black cherry flavors and a tug of oak that blends in over time in the glass. A strong but suave tannic backbone and satin texture add to the enjoyment. A bit more extraction and finishing length than the regular Double L Vineyard bottling. Score: 93
Pence Vineyards & Winery, Lompoc
Pence Ranch is evolving with the vineyard moving to 100% organic farming, the hiring of Sashi Moorman as the winemaker, the increasing familiarity with the vineyard by vineyard manager Francisco Ramirez, and a continued investment in winery equipment including large concrete tanks for fermentation. The wines are 100% estate grown from 19 acres of Pinot Noir, 10 acres of Chardonnay, 3 acres of Gamay and 3 acres of Syrah. Vines were first planted in 2005. Soils are rich clay that is different than most Sta. Rita Hills vineyards except those on the hills.
Red wines are fermented in 4-ton concrete fermenters instead of stainless steel tanks commonly used, all wines are native yeast fermented and there are no additions of water, acid or enzymes. Stem inclusion in the red wines is variable and depends on the vintage. French oak barrels are used exclusively for ageing with the percentage of new oak dependent on the wine. The Chardonnays are barrel fermented (puncheons) with complete malolactic fermentation, and ageing on the lees without stirring.
Owner Blair Pence has established a unique working ranch providing sustenance for all involved in the project. Estate grown consumables are produced to complement the range of wines and reinforce the connection of food and wine. Plan to visit the Pence Vineyards, Winery and Ranch in the eastern Sta. Rita Hills for private tours and tastings by appointment: www.penceranch.com.
13.5% alc., $30. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, wood spice, eucalyptus and earthy flora. Straightforward, middleweight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, spice, toast and tobacco. Easygoing, with matched tannins and some finishing fruit goodness. Satisfactory, but lacks charisma. Score: 88
13.5% alc., 498 cases, $36. An estate grown Passe-Tout-Grains that is a a 50/50 blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. The estate Gamay vines were established from cuttings from the oldest Gamay vineyard in the US in Oregon. Grapes fermented in concrete tank carbonically and aged in neutral puncheon. · Light ruby red color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, strawberry and herbs arrive slowly in the glass with swirling. Cherry-driven on the palate with an herbal underpinning. Comfortably textured with silken tannins and a ending note of bright cherry. Score: 89
13.5% alc. 125 cases, $60, wax crown. Sourced from the oldest vines in the estate vineyard. Clone 667 planted in 2006. 25% whole cluster fermented, aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very nicely perfumed, offering aromas of cherry, raspberry, spice, and BBQ rub. A friendly wine which is both savory and fruity, offering a mid weight, oak-kissed cherry core dressed in silken tannins. A woody, herbal thread plies the background. The fruit seems a bit under ripe. Score: 89
13.0% alc., 423 cases, $40. A blend of six clones grown in sedimentary soils. Barrel fermented (25% new oak) and aged on the lees without stirring for 16 months. Full malolactic fermentation. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of toasty oak, flint, smoke and sea shell. Lush and creamy on the palate, with flavors of lemon, pineapple, toasty brioche, crème brûlée and a hint of salinity. The wine finishes on a lemon note with very good length, intensity and cut. A likable wine that delivers plenty of flavor and energy. Score: 90
13.5% alc., 372 cases, $50, wax crown. Sourced from a small 2.8-acre block where the soils are a mix of calcareous, diatomaceous and limestone along with the typical heavier clay of the site. Barrel fermented in French 581-gallon oak Foudre for 16 months. Full malolactic fermentation and no lees stirring. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Reserved, but pleasing aromas of lemon creme, spice and warm brioche. Highly refined and polished with bright flavors of lemon wafer grapefruit and green apple. A classy wine with a finish cinched up with hi-strung lemony goodness. Score: 93
Rhys Vineyards, Los Gatos
2015 was a very low yielding vintage. Because of extremely low yields and dry conditions, the 2015 Rhys Pinot Noirs are very intense and concentrated. The result is that the wines are tight and not forthcoming yet. These three latest releases require decanting if opened now, but should receive further bottle age. Rhys Vineyards wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list at www.rhysvineyards.com.
13.6% alc., $59. 23 acres situated at 300 to 600 feet elevation in the “deep end.” 10”-25” of topsoil over fractured shale, quartz and sandstone. Rhys selection massale and heritage clones. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Very shy aromas of black cherry, fertile earth and spice. More lushness, sap and finish than the Porcupine Hill bottling at this stage. Mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, and boysenberry backed by firm tannins that show up on the finish as slight astringency. More appealing when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the nose was quite earthy, yet the palate was alive with cherry fruit, with still noticeable tannins on the finish. Score: 93
13.6% alc., $79. 3 acres of selection massale and heritage clones. High density vines planted at Bearwallow Vineyard. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of dark raspberry, cherry, turned earth, underbrush and spice lead off. More fruity on the palate, featuring mid weight flavors of cherry and raspberry with a bit of earthiness. Firm tannins show up as astringency on the juicy, cherry-driven finish. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and recorked bottle, the wine was softer in the mouth with delightful cherry fruit and less astringency. Score: 92
12.7% alc. $79. 17.5 acres planted in 2004 at 1360 to 1610 feet elevation. Top soils of 6”-20” over sedimentary rock and volcanic ash. Rhys selection and two heritage clones. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of oak come to the fore in the form of smoke and burnt tobacco. Mid weight flavors of dark cherry, boysenberry, tobacco and toast framed by gutsy tannins. The fruit shows good intensity but is currently swallowed up by the oak imprint and tannins. About the same when re-tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Unbalanced now, but further bottle aging may help. Score: 89
Satyre Wines, Sebastopol
Satyre (“suh-tir”) Wines is the creation of the winemaker (aka the “goat,” Ted Weisser) and the sommelier (aka “the girl,” Nicole Kosta), in love with their life in West Sonoma County, and inspired by the wines of the world. The Satyr is a mythical woodland creature, half man and half goat, who indulged in the great vices of the world, namely wine, dancing and music. Satyrs were companions to Dionysius, God of Wine. The two wines reviewed here were from the winery’s first official vintage. Consulting winemaker is Jeff Restel. Partners in the venture are Blake and Lisa Everett. Visit www.satyrewines.com.
14.0% alc., 74 cases, $54. Aristaeus means “the best” and this wine is the producer’s favorite red wine expression of the vintage. Sourced from Dutton Ranch-Morelli Lane and Dutton Ranch-Manzana. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, blueberry and a hint of oak arrive slowly in the glass. Sleek in the mouth, with mid weight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, blueberry and spice framed by lacy tannins and agreeable acidity. Considerably more expressive when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 92
14.3% alc., 40 cases, $45. Seilenos was the Greek god of winemaking and drunkenness and the father of satyrs. Old vines that struggle in deep sandy soil. Barrel fermented with partial malolactic fermentation and aging for 17 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. This wine was much more appealing when tasted from a previously opened bottle on the following day. Inviting aromas of lemon custard, spiced pear and yellow stone fruits. Richly appointed with robust flavors of Limoncello, grapefruit, pineapple, pear, vanilla and caramel. Slightly creamy in texture, with embedded acidity and a very generous finish that leaves quite an impression. Score: 93
The Winery, San Francisco
San Francisco’s first fully-functional urban winery. Winemaker Bryan Kane. www.winery-sf.com.
14.1% alc., 300 cases, $29.99. Grapes sourced from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Strange nose profile featuring aromas of potpourri, baking spices, clay, greenery, smoke, cigar and toast. Mid weight core of purple fruits have a woody, floral accent. The wine finishes with a sweet and sour tone. Score: 85
14.1% alc., 100 cases, $40. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry preserves, nutty and charred oak and vegetation. Mid weight plus array of purple berry fruit flavors framed by integrated tannins and tart acidity. Very similar to the North Coast bottling but with more mid palate presence and finishing length, but with the same sweet and sour ending. Score: 87
Three Sticks Wines, Sonoma
14.5% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.63, 392 cases, $65. Released February 6, 2018. Sourced from vineyards north of Sebastopol. Open-top bin fermentation, 12% whole cluster, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. Grapes 100% de-stemmed, whole berry fermentation using native and cultured yeast in open-top tanks. Aged for 11+ months in French oak barrels, 38% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Intensive swirling fails to bring out much charm on the nose, revealing only toast, bark, cigar and menthol. The well-ripened black cherry and black raspberry core is accented with notes of cola, dark chocolate and contentious toasty oak. The tannins are quite modest and the fruit-driven finish strives to please, but the oak disguises the Pinot character. Score: 87
14.5% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.62, 265 cases, $65. Released February 6, 2018. Sourced from Rita’s Crown, La Rinconada and Sanford & Benedict vineyards located in the southern part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Open-top fermentation, 22% whole cluster, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Demure aromas of black raspberry, blackberry and toast. Mid weight plus in style, with a core of blackberry and black currant flavors framed by very fine-grained tannins. Toasty oak plies the background as the fruit reaches for expression. The velvety texture is the best feature of this wine. I would hold off a year or so to promote integration of the oak and elevation of the fruit. Score: 90
14.5% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.61, 865 cases, $65. Released February 6, 2018. Sourced from vineyards owned and farmed by Three Sticks owner, Bill Price, and include Gap’s Crown Vineyard, Walala Vineyard, Dupont Vineyard and Durell Vineyard. Open-top bin fermentation, 24% whole cluster, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 60% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of dark strawberry and cherry with an imprint of oak. Mid weight flavors of strawberry, cherry, rhubarb and spice have good lift and freshness. Immersed tannins with a noticeable acidic verve, finishing long with a tart cherry theme. Hopefully, this wine will shed some of its oak overlay with more time in bottle. Score: 92
14.4% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.588, 302 cases, $50. Released February 6, 2018. Fermented in concrete eggs for 25 days, inhibited malolactic fermentation. Aged 11 months in concrete eggs (54%) and stainless steel (46%). · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of lemon creme pie, white peach, yellow apple, and a hint of straw. Crisp and bright on the palate with vivacious flavors of lemon, grapefruit, white peach and pear. Chardonnay that is completely unplugged with no oak infusion. Cleansing instead of creamy in mouthfeel, with deft integration of acidity, plenty of vim and vigor, and a spirited finish. Score: 94
14.6% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.65, 364 cases, $50. Released February 6, 2018. Old Wente selection grown at 900 to 1,100 feet elevation. Soil is red iron volcanic and calcareous strata. Barrel fermented, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 35% new. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Soaring aromas of fresh lemon, caramel apple and sea breeze. Highly flavorful and engaging with rich tastes of lemon, pineapple and tropical fruits. Slightly viscous on the palate with only a hint of oak vanillin. Richness and ripeness, yes, but this beauty is balanced and impossible to resist. Score: 94
14.5% alc., pH 3.37, TA 0.65, 315 cases, $55. Clones 76 and 124. Fermented and aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 26% new. 100% malolactic fermentation. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon, pineapple and pear arrive slowly over time in the glass. Creamy in the mouth, with a gentle soul, offering expressive flavors of lemon-lime, Asian pear, baking spices, caramel and crème brûlée. Nicely composed and easygoing with some finishing persistence. Score: 92
Tulocay Wines, Napa
One of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley, Tulocay Wines was founded in 1974 by Bill Cadman. He has crafted a unique Coombsville (Haynes Vineyard) Pinot Noir since the winery’s beginning. Bill has never submitted his wines for review (purchased these two out of curiosity and prices reflect that), but his wines have won many medals in California wine competitions. Since 2017, a considerable portion of winery operations has been assumed by Bill’s youngest daughter, Brie. Tasting by appointment. Visit www.tulocay.com.
14.0% alc., $29. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The barrel treatment dominates the strawberry and cooked cherry aromas with an overlay of toast and burnt tobacco. Light to mid weight in style with juicy flavors of blackberry and black raspberry framed by toasty oak. Vivid acidity brings the fruit to life and there is enviable finishing persistence, but there is a bit too much imposing oak that did not subside even after the bottle was open for several hours. Score: 88
13.9% alc., $28. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Leading off are welcoming aromas of lemon oil, pineapple, marzipan, butterscotch and honey. Richly fruited in a mid weight plus style with a creamy texture and flavors of lemon, pineapple, toffee, and burnt caramel. There is plenty of goodness to wrap your arms around. Score: 92
Waxwing Wine Cellars, Belmont
12.9% alc., 85 cases, $25. Released March 2018. Pommard 4 harvested at 21.0-22.0º Brix. Whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Aged 3 months in neutral red barrels with occasional lees stirring. · Moderately light pinkish orange color in the glass. Very inviting aromas of blood orange, strawberry, rose petal and spice. Bright and bracing, like biting into a cold naval orange. Added flavors of apricot, strawberry and tart cherry. Easy to cozy up to with a sense of orange hanging onto the finish. Score: 91
14.3% alc., 104 cases, $45. Released March 2018. A blend of grapes from Lester Family Vineyard and Larry’s Vineyard. Clones 115 and 667. 25% of fruit foot stomped whole cluster and the rest de-stemmed into small open-top fermenting bins. 5-day cold soak, vigorous punch downs, and aging in once-used French oak barrels for 15 months. Bottled with a light filtration. · oderately light garnet color in the glass. Nice Pinot perfume of strawberry, raspberry, spice and bark. A demure, but flavorful, lighter weighted wine featuring well-spiced red fruits with dollop of oak in the background. Elegantly composed, with gentle tannins, a good cut of acidity and some finishing purpose. Score: 90
14.5% alc., 49 cases, $65. Vineyard planted in 1998 on a sandy loam hillside bordered by redwoods. Nearly dry farmed and sustainably farmed by Prudy Foxx. Clone 115. A two barrel selection of the richest wines from this vineyard. 100% destemmed, 5-day cold soak in open-top fermenters, aged 15 months in once-used French oak barrels. Bottled with a light filtration. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of darker berries, spice and nutty oak open the way to a mid weight plus styled wine featuring tasty flavors of well-ripened black raspberry, blackberry and black currant. Plenty of fruit to satisfy with a healthy tannic backbone, a complimentary oak thread, and a friendly finish. More engaging when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 92
More Good Wines
Mi Sueño Winery in Napa Valley was founded by Rolando and Lorena Herrera. Beginning in the 1980s, Rolando worked his way up from a harvest laborer to cellar master, and eventually produced wine under his own label in 1997 starting with a Napa Valley Chardonnay. It was the same year that he married Lorena. The winery name was fittingly Spanish for “My Dream.” The first vintages sold out quickly and they were living their dream. In 2003, Rolando founded Herrera Vineyard Management, allowing him to control the farming as well as winemaking.
14.5% alc., 430 cases, $42. Sourced from Tierra Blanca Vineyard in Napa Carneros. Aged 11 months on the lees in French oak barrels, 35% new. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, honey, walnut and toast soar from the glass. Richly fruited and well oaked, with a slightly creamy mouth feel, and flavors of grilled lemon, pineapple, fig, caramelized banana, coconut, and honey. A flamboyant, Caliesque Chardonnay that is well done in this style. Score: 90
14.5% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.59, 5,000 cases, $38. The foundation for this wine is the Frank Family’s Lewis Vineyard located in Napa Carneros near the shores of San Pablo Bay. This 78-acre vineyard has 68 acres planted to Chardonnay and 10 acres planted to Pinot Noir. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33% new, 67% once and twice-filled. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Perfume of black cherry, forest floor, and oak toast and spice. The middleweight, well-ripened flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate please with good intensity. Sleek in the mouth with engaging balance, a noticeable compliment of oak, and some finishing length. Score: 89
14.1% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.62, 275 cases, $50. Released spring 2017. Label owned by the Fieri family and wine crafted by Guy Davis. Named for brothers Hunter and Ryder Fieri. Family vineyard is farmed organically. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 35% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The delivers aromas of black cherry, cola, mocha, baking spice, bark and BBQ smoke. Lush, velvety and sleek in the mouth with endless waves of sweet black cherry goodness accented with notes of dark chocolate, char and smoke. Perfect for drinking now, with fully integrated tannins and a cherry kiss at the end. Score: 90
15.0% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.59, 445 cases, $42. Vineyard is located on a high eastern ridge with soils similar to a Goldridge classification. Clone 667, “828,” and 115. Aged 13 months in 95% French oak barrels, 45% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose combines oak-driven aromas of cardamom spice and vanilla with aromas of mixed berry fruits. Full-bodied and lush on the palate, exhibiting a charge of sweet purple and black berry fruit flavors that are ripe but not overripe that are underscored with a compliment of oak and agreeable tannins. The higher alcohol adds sweetness and luxuriant body to the wine and is well integrated. A hedonistic, masculine Pinot Noir nicely composed in this style. Score: 90
14.2% alc., 860 cases, $50. Pillow Road Vineyard acquired by Pat and Anne Stotesbery in 2006 and an adjacent parcel planted in 2008 to seven acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is located in the Sebastopol Hills and vines are planted in Goldridge soil. Clones are Calera, Swan, 777 and Pommard 4. In 2015, the wines from Pillow Road Vineyard were bottled with the Ladera name for the first time. Grapes harvested at night, hand sorted and de-stemmed. 7-day cold soak, gentle maceration, and aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 65% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose offers a combination of Griottines and oak-driven smoke, toast, spice and vanilla aromas. The mid weight flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and cola speak of the Russian River Valley, but there is simply too much oak tattoo revealed in contentious toast and tobacco flavors. That said, there is commendable tannin and acid balance and some finishing length. Score: 88
14.1% alc., $65. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Perfume of black cherry, rose petal, toast and aromatic cigar. Opulent core of black cherry and purple grape flavors with modest oak in the background. Remarkable intensity with an explosion of fruit and lasting fireworks. The satin texture and lengthy finish set this wine apart. I would prefer less oak enhancement, but otherwise, this is a delightful wine. Score: 92
14.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.62, $82. Released October 2017. Composed of ten French clones from the organic and biodynamic certified Sea Smoke Estate Vineyard. A selection of the most robust wines of the vintage and as a result, the darkest and richest of the Sea Smoke bottlings. In 2015, reduced yields led to a small crop with unusually high grape concentration. Grapes were 100% de-stemmed followed by a 5-day cold soak in open-top fermenters and then inoculated with cultured yeasts. Total maceration 16 to 28 days. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 60% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. A brooding wine that seems reluctant to engage the drinker upon opening. Rustic aromas of clay, earth and dark berry and stone fruits. A voluptuous mouthful of purple and black berry and black plum fruit flavors greet the palate along with firm but not muscled tannins. Harmonious in mouth feel and character with a purple-fruited finish that seems endless. A little more appealing when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more aromatic goodness and fruit expression. The wine was just starting to come out of its shell three days later and was very seductive. Challenging to score this wine as it needs a few more years in bottle. Don’t even think about drinking it now. Score: 93-95