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Mining for Very Good Over-$30 Pinot:Upping the Ante

2007 Tondré Tondré Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 400 cases, $43. Winemaker Anthony Craig (Sonnet, Muns Vineyard, Silver Mountain Vineyards), grower Joe Tondre Alarid. 60% Pommard, 40% 777. 37% Hungarian oak. 100% de-stemmed. · Seductive aromas of dark berry tart, plum sauce with notes of spice and vanilla. Very tasty essence of black raspberries with a complimentary peppery spice and a hint of mocha java. Very charming with impeccable balance and a silky mouth feel that makes an impression. Quintessential Santa Lucia Highlands at a sensible price (Note: retail price is $43 which is not unreasonable considering the quality, but I found it for $23 at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa: apparently a close out on this vintage as it was released December 2009).

2008 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 550 cases, $40. From Garys’ and Pisoni vineyards, about 50% each. · Deep, dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Ripe and raisiny nose with scents of porto and sassafras. The flavors follow in step in this well-balanced wine that is appealingly soft in the mouth. Decent.

2008 Chehalem Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., $36, screw cap. · Aromas of dark red cherries and berries, generously oaked. Very demure and reserved red berry flavors which are rather linear. Soft and smooth with a well-proportioned tannic backbone and oak playing a supporting role. Like many 2008 Pinot Noirs from Oregon, this one needs more time in the cellar. Potentially charming. Good.

2008 Suacci Carciere Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $33. From a 6.5-acre vineyard planted in the especially cool Blucher Valley southwest of Sebastopol. Clones 115 and 777. 100% de-stemmed, indigenous and resident yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels. Winemaker is Ryan Zepaltas (Siduri, Zepaltas). · Moderately light, redder-toned color in the glass. Reduction apparent upon opening and the wine needs some coaxing to emerge. Appealing red berry and cherry flavors, generously spiced, with soft tannins and a welcoming, elegant framework. Considerable more aromatic and flavorful the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. This wine will reward further cellaring. Very good. (Note: the 2007 Suacci Carciere Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay is a stunning wine)

2008 August Truth Split Rock Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.46, $38. Dijon clones. Aged 14 months in oak. Winemaker is Chris Nelson. Deeply colored. · Brooding black fruits which are super ripe with a kiss of oak. Noticeably intense and big-boned array of black raspberry and black plum flavors with a slightly stewed tone, underpinned with notes of earth and oak char. Reserved, slightly grainy tannins with a good acid backbone. Decent.

2007 Valdez Lancel Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $48. · Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Lovely, spirited nose brightly perfumed with black cherries and boysenberries accented with a floral note. Ripely flavored and muscular in style with prodigious black current, black plum and dark berry flavors wrapped in flamboyant tannins. Needs a big steak. Valdez wines are not bashful or demure, and reflect Ulises Valdez’s gregarious personality. Good (+).

2008 Sean Thackrey Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $45. · Moderately light in color. Unique array of aromas including green garden, cut flowers, and Ponzu. The flavors are unusual and challenging to describe in the manner that I have come to expect from this quirky, talented producer. The wine does not follow the usual hardline flavor profile of Pinot Noir but does offer some tasty black cherry and berry fruit. A leafy, green note runs consistently through the taste profile as well as oakderived vanilla. Soft in the mouth and nicely balanced, this wine was more interesting the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Could be very interesting a few years down the road. For the adventurous. Good (+). (Note: Sean Thackrey:Wine Maker website is a highly recommended visit if you have any interest in the history of winemaking)

2008 Bedrock Rebecca’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 189 cases, $34 (sold out). From a tiny winery owned by winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson. Sourced from a 12-year-old vineyard owned by the Hermsmeyer family across the street from Joe Swan Winery and adjacent Kistler’s Vine Hill Vineyard. Native yeast fermentation. Aged in 55% new supertight- grained French oak barrels. Racked once before blending and bottling. · Brooding nose initially, opening slowly to reveal delicate aromas of spiced black cherries and subtle oak notes. Delicious middle to heavy weight core of black cherry and black raspberry fruit with a pouty kiss of cherries that sails smoothly through the long finish. The seductive fruit has a mineral component and is robed in young, healthy tannins. Oak contributes flavors of spice and mocha java. Still young, and deserving of a few years in the cellar to soften the tannins and fully integrate the oak. Great potential here. Very good.

2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $52. The inaugural bottling under the Bien Nacido Vineyards label. · Deep reddishpurple color in the glass. Ripe black cherry and black raspberry aromas with plenty of smoky, toasted oak. Abundance of very ripe-flavored dark berry, black currant and black plum fruit dragged down by too much smoky oak. Softly textured and easy to approach, with the structure to age. Disappointing at this price especially considering the venerated vineyard source. Decent.

2009 Ledson Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.95, 693 cases, $60. Aged 10 months in65% new French oak barrels. · Very dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh ripe, crushed strawberries, dried cherries and spice box. Attacks the palate with a load of Pinot extract, offering a plush drinking experience with subtle oak highlights, but lacking in acid backbone. Plenty of velvety flesh on the bones and fruit-lovers will adore this Caliesque wine, but I don’t think it has enough tannin and acid to go the distance and is best consumed young. Good (+).

2009 Byron Nielson Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 1,028 cases, $34. From Santa Barbara’s first commercial vineyard, planted in 1964. Clones are 2A, Swan, 667, 828, 114, 115, 777. Small yields and tiny berries from a windy, arid site producing low-vigor. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Highly aromatic with scents of plum reduction sauce, dark roses, lavender and Santa Maria spice. The flavors of dark plums, purple grapes and dark berries are quite distinctive and zesty, with an impressive aromatic lift of black cherries on the finish. A little earthy, a little spicy, with well-proportioned fine-grain tannins and a pleasingly smooth mouth feel. Drank beautifully the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Immensely satisfying. (Note: the 2009 Byron Santa Maria Valley bottling at $25 is quite good as well and was reviewed previously)

2008 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $60. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Dark cherry and berry perfume with striking Moroccan spice and an underlying green, stemmy note. A medium-bodied mix of cherries and berries taking on more intensity over time in the glass and assuming a savory herbal tone. I suspect the whole cluster fermentation contributes the attractive spice elements to this wine as well as the unattractive green component. Tasted later in the day with dinner, the wine really sang with the food. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the green edge to the aromas and flavors was still evident. Time will tell whether this will change. Good.

2009 Simple Math Cellars Integer II Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.93, 70 cases, $35. Sourced from Keller, Rodgers Creek and Sangiacomo vineyards. Aged 19 months in 70% 1-year-old Francois Fréres and Demptos French oak barrels. Pommard, Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 828. · Brooding, initially sporting aromas of dark cherries, earth and peat, later becoming smoky and tarry. Dark red cherry essence with toasted oak and spice in the background. Nicely balanced and very Russian River Valley in character. Good.

2009 Tessier Trenton Station Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., pH 3.50, 182 cases, $35. Clone 37 (Mt. Eden). Aged in 35% new French oak. Winemaker Kristie Tacey. · Some reduction upon opening, quickly resolving to reveal aromas of red fruits, fading over time becoming muted and nondescript. Red-fruit driven with flavors of cranberries, cherries and raspberries with some earth and savory herbs in the background. Bright acidity with a cherry-toned tangy finish. Light and elegant, offering more flavor interest over time in the glass. A Burgundian-styled Pinot that grows on you. Good.

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