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Along the Pinot Trail in California: Part I - Central Coast

For those score obsessed, number-centric wine enthusiasts, the conversion for my ratings to numerical scores is begrudgingly provided as follows: Pinot Geek (94-98), Very good (90-93), Good (86-89), and Decent (82-85). Unsatisfactory signifies a wine that is flawed or that I would not recommend. The same ratings apply to Chardonnay, except a Golden Geek icon is used to signify exceptional wines. A (+) would indicate the upper number of the range and a (-) the lower number of the range.

2009 and 2010 vintage comments by Ben Cain, winemaker at Twomey Cellars. “2010 was a long, cool year, 2 to 3 weeks later than 2009, and more akin to a European vintage whereas 2009 was definitely California. This translated into physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels, but greater time to develop more complexity and nuances. Thus the wines are more elegant, but have higher density with great tannin structure, balanced natural acid spines, and very clear terroir-driven expressions of place of origin. I found the 2009 wines were more reflective of their vintage than their sites, but were definitely expressions of place. The 2010 wines show clearer differences and more precise snapshots of place.”

2009 vintage comments by Gary Farrell, winemaker at Alysian Wines. “2009 is a standout vintage among critics and consumers alike, as the wines show tremendous generosity and structural integrity without excessive extract or alcohol. In 2009, cool and steady temperatures slowed the ripening process, and delivered fruit with elevated levels of flavor and acidity at lower sugar levels; an ideal scenario for crafting fully flavored wines with enhanced freshness, impeccable balance and (importantly) lower alcohol levels.”

Take special note of the following producers in Part I and Part 2: Clos Pepe Estate, Dragonette Cellars, McIntyre Vineyards, Big Basin Vineyards, The Donum Estate, Stemmler, Alysian, Scherrer, Twomey, La Rochelle, Waits-Mast, J Vineyards, Canihan and MacPhail. All these wineries have more than one highly rated wine.



Sta. Rita Hills


2010 Clos Pepe Estate Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.71, 915 cases, $54. The Clos Pepe Pinot Noirs in 2010 are bigger and riper than the traditional Clos Pepe restrained style. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Evocative aromas of black cherries, ripe berry jam, spice and subtle oak. Mouth full of generous strawberry, raspberry and red licorice flavors with a satiny smooth mouth feel, and a very long finish displaying a good spark of acidity that keeps the fruit in check and leaves a refreshing memory. This wine is built for enjoyment with food. Very good.

2010 Clos Pepe Estate Vigneron Select Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.68, 72 cases, $59 · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. More subdued on the nose and offering a riper fruit profile. Darker fruits are featured with compliments of savory herbs, leaf and earth. Compared to the Estate bottling, more intensity of dark berry flavor, more fruit presence on the finish, more ripeness, and a hint of alcohol in the background. Very silky with modest tannins, and acidity that is well integrated. A true select bottling but not one defined by more oak as with many reserve wines. Definitely needs more time, say 2 to 3 years for optimum enjoyment. That said, it is hard to keep your hands off it now. Very good (+).

2010 Dragonette Cellars Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 300 cases, $42. Sourced from vineyards on the western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills including Sebastiano, Cargasacchi-Jalama, Cargasacchi, Fiddlestix, La Encantada, and Zotovich. clones Pommard, 113, 114, 115, 667 and 828. Native and commercial yeasts. Aged 16 months in 25% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. A little spicy, a little savory, and plenty of dark red cherry and berry fruit aromas. Discreetly concentrated flavors of red and black raspberries and cherries and red plum cake, with modest tannins and a generous cut on the finish. This is perfect for drinking now. Very good.

2010 Dragonette Cellars Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (“Black Label”)

14.4% alc., 100 cases, $75. Favorite barrels (50% Cargasacchi, 25% Fiddlestix, and 25% La Encantada vineyards). Clones 115 and 667. Native and commercial yeasts. Aged 16 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Deep, dark plum color in the glass. Very reserved, even locked down, barely offering scents of black cherries and vanillin oak. Striking mid palate attack of ripe dark berry and satsuma plum flavors, underlain with notes of oak, chicory and tar. Very soft in the mouth, with modest tannins, finishing with remarkable fruit intensity. Hard to evaluate at this early stage, but the potential is obvious. Very good (+).

2010 Dragonette Cellars Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 150 cases, $54. 17% whole clusters. Native and commercial yeasts. Aged 16 months in 35% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved, but pleasant aromas of dark red cherries and berries, with a hint of herbs. Delicious core of black cherry fruit with accents of spice and oak. Modestly rich and plush. Soft in the mouth with very well managed tannins (this vineyard can produce very tannic wines). Impeccable balance. Very approachable now, but will benefit from a few more years in the cellar. A complete wine and one of many I have had the pleasure of drinking from this venerable vineyard.

2009 Furthermore La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.61, 51 cases, $40. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Aged 12 months in 33% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddishpurple color in the glass. Hi-spirited aromas of fresh darker berries, raisin and spice. Mid weight flavors of moderately dark cherries and raspberries draped in muscular, dry tannins. The most striking fruit, albeit super ripe, of all the 2009 Furthermore wines. This wine displays complimentary acidity so typical of Sta. Rita Hills wines. Still solid the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Quite enjoyable. Very good.

2010 Longoria Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

15.6% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.56, 97 cases, $45. Pommard clone. A heat spell in September caused sugar content of grapes to shoot up quickly and the grapes were harvested at a riper level of sugar than usual. 100% de-stemmed. Aged in 35% new French oak barrels. Fined and filtered. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved aromas of dark cherries, very ripe berries, currants and bark. Fruit-driven on the palate, with plenty of wood-toned dark cherry flavor back by pliant tannins and finishing a little boozy (hot). A little more expressive the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good.

2009 Waits-Mast La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 23 cases, $47. Released September 2011. Clones 115 and 777. 100% whole berry, aged 17 months in 20% new French oak barrel. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black grapes, fruit leather, herbs and tar. Rich, plush and soft on the palate, featuring flavors of earth bound black cherries and plum. A bit ponderous and lacks a spark. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine showed a riper profile including raisin. Good (+).



Santa Maria Valley & Arroyo Grande


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Santa Lucia Highlands & Arroyo Seco


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Santa Cruz Mountains


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