Sips of Recently Tasted California Pinot Noir
Quality is consistently high for the 2012 vintage, with the wines often on the riper, more extracted side
compared to the 2011 vintage. You might ask, “Why all the high scores.” The truth is, I review almost
exclusively ultra premium Pinot Noir and the scores are well deserved.
Alma Fria (“al-mah-free-ah”) translates to the soul of a family or the cold of a geography). A new, very
noteworthy player in the Pinot marketplace. Friendly people too. A member of West Sonoma County Vintners.
Magnums available online too. Visit www.almafria.com
2012 Alma Fria Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 350 cases, $35.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
galss. Nicely scented with hi-tone black cherries, black raspberries and a hint of oak. Strikingly silky on the
palate with a luscious charge of black cherry, huckleberry and Marionberry flavors accented with spice and
peppery herbs. Picks up intensity and interest over time in the glass, showing persistence on the berry-laden
2012 Alma Fria Doña Margarita Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
230 cases, $58. 10% whole cluster. Native yeast fermentation. Aged in
25% new French oak.
Medium reddish purple color in the glass.
Enchanting aromas of Damson plum, cherry and exotic spices which
become more effusive over time. I have nothing but good things to say
about this wine which features delicious dark red cherry, raspberry and
plum flavors, soft tannins, lively acidity, good integration of oak, and
impressive harmony. Exceptional length, cut and class.
2012 Alma Fria Holtermann Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., 185 cases, $58.
reddish purple color in the glass. Attention-getting aromas of cherry, sous-bois, bramble and complimentary
oak spice. Nicely crafted, with flavors of plum, cherry, raspberry and spice and supportive soft tannins.
Welcoming elegance, with a gorgeous note of fresh raspberry juice on the long finish. Even better later in the
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
2012 Bailiwick Borderline Marin County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 300 cases, $28. Sourced from
Kendric and Chileno Valley vineyards.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Bright
berry fruit aromas with hints of toast and herbs. Light to mid weight spice cherry and strawberry
essence with a compliment of oak and a savory herb note in the background. Soft in the mouth, with
supple tannins, a good cut of acidity, and very respectable finishing richness. An elegant, feminine
wine that embraces the gentle side of Pinot Noir.
2012 Bailiwick Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 525 cases, $28. A blend of three vineyards
along the cool Gravenstein Highway corridor.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
aromas of cherry and sous-bois are overwhelmed by oak-driven toast and coffee notes. The
discreetly concentrated core of ripe cherries and raspberries is accented with a hint of red plum and
spice. Less oak overlay is evident on the palate. The wine has balanced tannins and a finish that
offers impressive fruit intensity. A comfortable, easy to drink wine.
2012 Bailiwick Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 100 cases, $38. Sourced from the
Sangiacomo Vineyard on Roberts Road at the base of
Sonoma Mountain in the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast.
Moderately light ruby color in the glass.
Highly fragrant nose with aromas of cherry, spice, dark
chocolate and toasty oak. Fresh and vivid cherry fruit on the
attack, very expansive in the mouth, embellished with generous oak,
finishing with persistent spice-dusted cherry goodness. A very appealing
wine that is ready for enjoyment now.
2012 Byron Monument Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH
3.60, TA 0.53, 412 cases, $60. Composed of the winemaker’s selection
of the finest barrels of the best blocks at the Nielson Estate. Swan, 667
and Pommard clones. Aged 16 months in 70% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas are hitone
right out of the opened bottle, featuring blackberry, black currant,
and plenty of spicy, sweet oak. Full-bodied, with well-ripened flavors of
blackberry, cassis and cola. The wine has heft but is tempered by a juicy
brightness that appeals. Balance is spot on and there is noticeable
length to the fruit-infused finish. The svelte tannins provide good support
and promise of age ability.
2012 Byron Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.53, 344 cases, $45. Sourced from a small block of old vines planted in 1974. Aged 16
months in 50% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. A nose of nuance
with scents of red and black berries, baker’s spice, raw beef, and toasty oak. Full-bodied, oak-infused flavors
of cherries and strawberries. This wine has a bold demeanor, but is not muscular. The tannins are well
integrated and the wine is easy to like, although oak tends to play a prominent role in its demeanor.
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.60, 654 cases, $58. Vineyard is located at the far western edge of the Green Valley
AVA. 8 acres planted in low vigor Goldridge sandy loam soils. Planted in 2002 to clones 667, 777 and 115.
100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, open top fermentation, punch downs. Aged 15 months in 50% new
French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Highly aromatic, with notes of black
cherry, black raspberry, sage and toffee. Middleweight flavors of black raspberry, blackberry and ripe
strawberry are arrayed on a plush, comforting texture. Very juicy and thirst quenching with an uplifting finish.
This wine sports the most oak overlay of the four wines reviewed here.
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.61, 613 cases, $72. This vineyard is located above the town of Freestone on the far
southwestern edge of the Russian River Valley only a few miles inland from Bodega Bay. This very cold site is
suited to Dijon clones. Planted in 1996 and 1997 to 115, 667, 114 and Wädenswil 2A.
Moderately dark reddish
purple color in the glass. Enchanting aromas of raspberry coulis, black cherry pie glaze, spice and toasty oak.
Delicious on entry with expansive fullness and polish, offering intense flavors of darker berries and Asian
spices. The tannic backbone insures age ability while the lengthy finish leaves a memorable impression.
2012 Dutton-Goldfield McDougall Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.60, 390 cases, $58. The
vineyard is on a south-facing ridge close to coast farmed by
Mac, Barbara and Rich McDougall. 2 Dijon clones were planted
on 9 acres in 1998 upon the urging of Warren Dutton. 1,100 feet
elevation. Neighbors are Hirsch and Martinelli vineyards.
Grapes are typically thick skinned with deep color and natural spice.
100% de-stemmed, 7-day cold soak, open-top fermentation with punch
downs. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak barrels.
dark reddish purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of wild
dark raspberries and blueberries, and brambly underbrush. The fruit
really grabs your attention on the mid palate, filling every nook and
cranny in the mouth, and holds on through an intensely fruity finish. There is plenty of blueberry and
blackberry flavor accented with many nuances including cardamom spice, subtle oak, earthy flora, and ironbased
minerality. A special wine of uncommon complexity that can go the distance.
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.61, 431
cases, $68. A steep, terraced vineyard farmed by owner Mark Pasternak. Record crop, yields 1.5 tons per
acre. Very tiny berries.100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak. Aged 17 months in 45% new French oak barrels.
Dark reddish purple hue in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh Bing cherry and black raspberry with a dusting of
cocoa and vanilla powder. My notes say, “WOW!” upon entry, with a deep, vibrant, well-spiced plum and black
raspberry core that makes you sit up in your chair. The supportive tannins are very fine-grained, and their is
enough oak undertow to add interest. The wine is impeccably balanced with a remarkably long finish that
seems to last over a minute.
2011 Furthermore Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 81 cases, $50.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of strawberry, cherry and nutmeg draw you into the glass.
Beautifully composed and harmonious with gentle tannins balancing the flavorful dark red cherry and berry
fruits. There is a touch of dark chocolate, sarsaparilla, vanilla and char adding interest. The attack is
expansive and the finish has impressive length. Rosella’s always is a more feminine wine than many from the
Santa Lucia Highlands and that character is exemplified in this wine.
2011 Furthermore Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 65 cases, $50. A blend of
Wädenswil clone and a Romanee-Conti selection.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. A heavy
tug of oak dominates the nose which offers demure aromas of black cherry and dark berry jam. More
interesting on the palate with less undertow of oak, offering flavors of boysenberry and purple grapes. Rather
closed and reticent, and even a bit shallow, tasting primarily of unadorned grape juice. Worth revisiting in a
year or so.
2011 Furthermore La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., 85 cases, $40.
dark reddish purple color in the glass. This wine speaks of Sta. Rita Hills with good dark fruit intensity and
bright acidity. The aromas of blackberry, black currant and licorice are enticing, and mid weight flavors of
blackberry, black plum, eucalyptus and spice satisfy. A bit of toast and mocha are in the background. The fruit
has good verve, and the mouthfeel is velvety.
2011 Furthermore Nevina’s Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 83 cases, $50. Furthermore’s first estate
vineyard. Located in Occidental six miles from the coast planted
in 2002 to clone 777 by Scott Zeller. The vineyard was formerly
known as Willow Creek and was bottled as a vineyard designate
My first experience with this vineyard and
WOW! Moderately dark reddish purple hue in the glass.
Intoxicating aromas of freshly picked and crushed wild berries, spice,
and ocean breeze. A little bit untamed, rugged and spirited, with
delicious flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, molasses and dark
chocolate and a firm tannic spine. The fruit has character and speaks of
the earth and a sense of place. The experience is like throwing down
fresh, juice berries while sitting on a ridge top overlooking the Pacific
Ocean on the Sonoma Coast. This is one sexy wine that really stands out among the excellent Furthermore
Pinot Noirs in 2011.
2012 Laetitia Single Vineyard Les Galets Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $60. Low yielding blocks. Dijon
115 and Wädenswil 2A clones.
Moderately dark reddish purple
hue in the glass. Deep aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, anise
and vanilla. Full-bodied flavors of dark berries, plum reduction
sauce, and Asian 5-spice. The flavor is amazing! The luscious
fruit load is beautifully balanced by melded tannins and balanced
acidity. Caressing and creamy in the mouth, with a hint of oak enlarging
the envelope, the wine finishes replete with soaring fruit fragrances. I’m in love.
2012 Laetitia Single Vineyard La Colline Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $60. Low yielding
blocks in the estate vineyard. Martini 13 clone.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas and
flavors of black cherry, spice, rose petal and toasty oak are satisfying, with good tension and length. The lovely
cherry fruit is complimented by well-managed oak and bright acidity. A little lighter in weight, with slightly less
ripened and redder fruit than the Les Galets, but still very charming.
2012 Soliste L’Espérance Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 241
cases, $85. Monoclone - 115.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. Intense aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, loamy soil,
baking spice and iron, building in expression with time in the glass. Silky
soft and feminine in character, with layers of black cherry and black
raspberry fruits touched by an array of savory herbs and a floral accent.
The wine fills the mouth with pleasure that carries over to the long and
expansive finish. The wine has a racy energy that primes the palate for
more. Even better the following day from a previously opened and recorked
bottle with aromatics that leap from the glass.
2012 Stomping Girl Lauterbach Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $38. This vineyard is
owned by boutique grower and producer Stew Lauterbach, and is located just off River and Olivet Roads
behind Martinelli Winery. Lee Martinelli, Jr., farms the vineyard. Pommard and Dijon clones. 3 to 5-day cold
soak, 10-day fermentation, basket pressed with only finest press wine kept. Aged in French oak barrels which
are mostly neutral. Racked once, then bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
This beauty smells like cherry pie class at cooking school with added scents of raspberry and dried herbs. The
light to mid weight array of vibrant red fruits are embellished with a subtle savory herb flavor in the background.
Crisp, with well integrated tannins and a juicy, cherry-infused finish.
2012 Stomping Girl Beresini Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
alc., $36. Vineyard planted by Steve Beresini in 1989 using cuttings
from his friend Larry Hyde. Calera, Pommard and 777 clones. Aged in
French oak barrels which are mostly neutral. Racked once, then bottled
unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass.
Interesting aromas of black cherry, mulch, truffle and toasty oak lead to
mid weight palate of earthy and spiced black cherry, tea berry and black
raspberry fruit flavors. Plenty of sap and intensity to satisfy, yet
welcoming and polished. The finish is impressively long and satisfying.
This wine bears the signature of Carneros.
2012 TR Elliott Queste Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 410 cases, $44. Released May 2014. 8
barrels of Hallberg Vineyard clone 115 and 9 barrels of O’Connell Vineyard Pommard clone. Goldridge sandy
loam soils. 20% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation. Aged 11 months in 34% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Fresh aromas of strawberry, cherry, rose petal and spicy oak. Very
nicely composed, with appealing flavors of Bing cherry syrup, cola and baking spices. A cherry-driven wine
with balanced tannins and deft oak compliment. Highly enjoyable now, but has the balance for long term
2012 TR Elliott Burgonet Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
200 cases, $46. Released October 2014. 8 barrels of 2-acre O’Connell
Vineyard. Goldridge sandy loam soils. 100% Pommard clone. 20%
whole cluster. Native yeast fermentation. Aged 11 months in 20% new
and 38% once-used French oak barrels. Unfiltered.
purple color in the glass. Enchanting nose with an array of scents
including black cherry, black raspberry, sweet spice and potpourri. Well-endowed
with flavorful and vivid fruits including dark red cherries,
blueberries and pomegranate. The mid palate attack is attention
grabbing and the finish is generous. This wine aims to please now, but
will drink nicely for several years.
2013 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 4,757 cases, $40. Martini clone own
rooted since 1972. Aged 9 months in French oak.
Dark violet color in the glass. The nose is infused with oak
vanillin as is typical of Belle Glos wines. Added aromas of dark berries and purple rose elevate the nose. Big
and bold, with plenty of sappy boysenberry and black raspberry fruit flavors, accented with espresso, spice and vanilla.
Despite its heft, the wine is not ponderous, and the tannins are well matched. A very stylistic wine that might
not appeal to the Pinot Noir purist, but well done in its style.
2012 Flowers Vineyard & Winery Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
12.9% alc., pH 3.91, TA 0.65. $85.
Organic and biodynamically farmed vineyard at elevations of 1,150 to
1,400 feet with schist and shale soils. Swan, Pommard, 114, 115 and
Wädenswil 2A. 20% whole cluster.. Yields 2.4 tons per acre. 20%
whole cluster. Aged 16 months in 20% new French oak. Unfined and
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Intriguing
aromas of dark cherry sauce, sous-bois, and wood spice. Modest in
weight with a core of spicy red fruits include red grape. Polished with
fine grain tannins and a welcome accent of toasty oak. The finish
impresses with persistent fruit fragrance and bright acidity. This wine
seduces rather than attacks with power.
2012 Garnet Vineyards Monterey County Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $20, screwcap.
Moderately light reddish
purple color in the glass. Smoky oak overrides the fruit in this light to mid weight wine featuring cherry and
black raspberry flavors. Smooth, even slightly creamy, and easy to drink, but oak plays too big a role for me to thoroughly
enjoy the wine.
2011 Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Highliner Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $34.
A highliner is the best fisher in the fleet. This wine honors the men of SE Alaska salmon fishery
alongside whom Gray Hartley fished for 28 years. A barrel selection from two Santa Barbara
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas of blackberry, black raspberry
and spice fill the glass. Modestly weighted flavors of spicy black cherry and blackberry, with a hint of
toast and anise in the background. The wine has soft, ripe tannins, good brightness, and
2010 Kistler Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $N/A.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass.
The nose features aromas of blackberry jam, black currant and black plum with a toasty, smoky oak overlay.
Plenty of weight and sappy presence of purple and black berries on the palate backed by firm, dry tannins. An
undertow of oak shows up on the finish that offers some intensity and length. More swagger than finesse.
2013 Press Cellars Helluva Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $40. New release. From a 5.5-acre vineyard managed by
Sal Galvan who is also the winemaker along with proprietor Patrick
Campbell. Inaugural Pinot Noir release from this winery. 100% destemmed.
Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak barrels.
reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, bacon fat
and nutty oak. Mid weight plus flavors of black cherry, black raspberries,
brown spice and a touch of smoke, anise-laced oak. Nicely balanced
with modest tannin and acidity. The mid palate attack is robust and the
finish is filled with darker fruit goodness. Better the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle with better oak integration and
more soaring aromatics. A solid wine that will find appeal.
2012 SENS3S Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.54,
$40. Sourced from Hillcrest Estate and Tanuda vineyards. Barrel aged
11 months in 25% new French oak.
Noticeably better than when
previously tasted in July 2014. Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. Attractive aromas of black cherry, rose petal, spice and mulch.
Very tasty core of fresh black cherry, blueberry and pomegranate fruits
with some length and intensity on the finish which sports a good cut of
acidity. There is better integration of tannins and oak since last tasted.
2012 St. Rose Nunes Vineyard Ten Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.67,
98 cases, $38. Sampled from all ten blocks of the vineyard. 35% 115, 40% 777, 10% 667, 15% 114. Aged 12
months in 1 and 2-year-old Francois Frères oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple color
in the glass. Aromas of oak-infused cherry syrup, peppery spice and forest floor. Appealing mid weight core of
spicy Bing cherry with an oak overlay and modest tannins. Some finishing power with a tart cherry theme.