Sips of Recently Tasted California Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
Ancillary Cellars, Calistoga
This winery is a collaboration between celebrated Napa Valley vintners Mike Smith and Mark Carter who each
have their own label specializing in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Carter Cellars (Carter founded this label
in 1998) and Myriad (Smith founded this label in 2009). Carter owns the Carter House in Eureka, California,
known for a Wine Spectator Grand Award wine list at its 301 restaurant. Smith began working for Thomas
Rivers Brown in 2001, and Brown introduced Smith to Carter. The first Pinot Noirs under the Ancillary label
were released with the 2012 vintage. The wines are sold through allocation by mailing list at
www.ancillarycellars.com. The three 2013 Pinot Noirs are now released.
2012 Ancillary Cellars Sun Chase Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $50. From a high elevation (900’ to 1400’) vineyard
located in the Petaluma Gap region. Clones 667, 777 and “828.”
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Very nicely perfumed with
scents of black raspberry, black cherry, spice, balsam and subtle oak.
Silky, elegant and refined, with layers of black cherry and pomegranate
flavor accented by complimentary tobacco-laced oak. Very soft and
polished on the finish.
2012 Ancillary Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $50. From Robert’s
Road Vineyard, located directly below Gap’s Crown and Sun Chase vineyards. Clones are 115 and Pommard.
Aged on the lees for 10 months.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, red berry,
Provencal spices and underbrush lead to a light to medium weight core of cherry and strawberry fruits. More
savory than the Sun Chase with a vein of herbs in the background. Elegant and easy to drink with supple
tannins and some finishing length.
2012 Ancillary Cellars Sun Chase Vineyard Whole Cluster Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $55.
This wine is meant to bridge the gap between the ripe California style of Pinot Noir and the Old World style.
Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose is pleasant but unusual and hard to describe
with only a hint of black cherry and a touch of floral bouquet. Very soft and smooth on the palate with an earth-kissed
core of cherry fruit. Not as giving and a little more structured than the regular Sun Chase bottling,
although the tannins are still rather suave.
Bernardus Winery, Carmel Valley
Pinot Noirs are hand-picked and sorted, 100% de-stemmed, fermented in small open-tops with twice daily
hand punch downs. They are aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels (40%-50% new) before final
blending and bottling. The Chardonnays are whole cluster pressed and fermented with a special selections of
yeasts. They undergo 100% malolactic fermentation and are aged sur lie with stirring every two weeks until
shortly before blending and bottling.
2012 Bernardus Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
14.5% alc., 225 cases, $40.
Moderate golden yellow color
and clear in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, yellow apple, toasted
coconut and nutty oak. Robust flavors of lemon, peach, poached pear
and toasty oak. A rich, California-styled Chardonnay with mature fruit
flavors and plenty of oak flourish. Very silky and ephemeral mouth feel.
2012 Bernardus Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
14.7% alc., 343 cases, $40.
A unique bottling reflecting a special vintage and deserving of a vineyard designation. Moderate
golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Exotic array of aromas including white grape, mango and
lemongrass. Ripe and rich with flavors of cooked apple, lemon curd and caramel. Slightly creamy on the
palate with a compliment of oak in the background.
2013 Bernardus Saignée Santa Lucia Highlands Saignée De Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., 414 cases, $24,
screwcap. A saignée of Pinot Noir that is cold fermented in stainless steel at cold temperatures.
pink salmon color in the glass. Aromas of alpine strawberry peach and fig leading to flavors of strawberry,
blood orange, raspberry and citrus. Slightly creamy, refreshing and easy to like. Chill for most enjoyment.
2012 Bernardus Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 4,773 cases, $35. A blend of several
vineyards. Aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels of which 40% were new.
Moderately dark reddish
purple color in the glass. The aromas trump the flavors in this very smoky wine. Scents of blackberry, plum,
spice and tobacco lead to a mid weight core of dark berry fruit enveloped by smoky and spicy oak and black
tea flavors. Easy too drink with modest tannins, but oak intrudes on the pleasure.
2012 Bernardus Ingrid’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 124 cases, $70. This 3.5-
acre estate vineyard was planted in 1999 with clones 667, 777 and Pommard.
Moderately dark reddish purple
hue in the glass. The wine is very shy and brooding upon opening with only cedary oak evident on the nose.
Flavors of black raspberry and black cherry brighten the palate and exhibit staying power on the smooth finish.
This wine will probably garner a higher score with more time in bottle.
2012 Bernardus Sierra Mar Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 453 cases, $55. “828”
and Pisoni clones. Aged in 100% new French oak barrels of which 40% were new.
Dark reddish purple color
in the glass. This wine is big, bold and luscious, but tannins are in their place, and the wine is in impeccable
balance. The mouth coating flavors of black and purple berries, spice and anise are imposing, yet charming.
2012 Bernardus Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 451 cases, $55. 667
and Pisoni clone. Aged in 100% French oak barrels of which 40% were new.
Dark reddish purple color in the
glass. Aromas and flavors of black raspberry, blackberry and oak are presented in a mid weight plus wine that
is fruity but not complex. Nothing really stands out at this time and seems to need more time in bottle. A bit of
alcoholic heat peaks out on the finish.
2012 Bernardus Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 418 cases, $65. Clone
777 and Pisoni. Aged in 100% French oak barrels of which 40% were new.
Moderate reddish purple hue in
the glass. Inviting aromas of ripe strawberries, black raspberry, spice and floral goodness. Very charming,
with plenty of black raspberry, plum and spice flavors that persist on the long finish infused with a plethora of
dark berries. The wine’s modest tannins and restrained oak make for pleasing drinking now.
2012 Bernardus Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 165 cases, $65. Pisoni clone. Aged in 100% French oak
barrels of which 40% were new.
Medium reddish purple hue in the glass.
Friendly aromas of darker berries plum sauce and subtle smoky oak.
Very smooth and refined on the palate with intensely flavorful blackberry,
black raspberry and black plum fruits backed by modest tannins.
Impressive persistence on the glorious fruit-driven finish. The fruit really
stands out in this wine.
2012 Bernardus Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 448 cases, $70. Pisoni
clone. Aged in 100% French oak barrels of which 50% were new.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the
glass. The brooding nose offers restrained aromas of blackberry, cassis and black tea. A bruiser with fruit that
really grabs hold on entry, offering flavors of blackberry and cassis that build in intensity on the huge finish.
The onslaught of fruit and tannins is daunting now and this wine should benefit from several years in the cellar.
2012 DuMOL eoin Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $90.
Sourced from Sonoma Stage Vineyard located at the southern edge of
the Sonoma Coast AVA. Unfiltered.
Moderately dark reddish purple
color in the glass. Ripe fruited aromas of black cherry and black
raspberry with a hint of oak. Deliciously rich core of black cherry and
black raspberry fruits with a touch of spice, cola, anise and earth. Very
forward and giving, yet has the balance and the structure to age. The
noticeably long finish is appealing. More Carneros in character than
2012 DuMOL ryan Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $90.
Sourced from Dutton-Widdoes Vineyard located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA. Unfiltered.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Very shy nose that never really comes around in the glass over
time. More expressive on the palate and packed with dark red cherry and berry flavors wrapped in significant
tannins and oak. Despite its heft, the wine has a gentle demeanor and is quite silky in texture. Rather
brooding and in need of more time in bottle.
Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Russian River Valley
2013 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.61, $38. The heart of
this wine is old vine and old clone vineyards located in the
Green Valley: Mill Station, Walker Hill and Rued. Rounded out
with Morelli Lane Vineyard Hyde clone and some Dijon 95
from JJJS by the old Dutton shop. Indigenous and inoculated
yeast strains. 100% malolactic fermentation, aged sur lie with
twice monthly stirring through the winter. Aged a total of 10
months in French oak barrels (40% new).
Moderate golden straw color
and clear in the glass. Inviting aromas of pear, peach skin, lemon and
fresh butter. Somewhat richly fruited with flavors of lemon curd,
pineapple, green apple and poached pear. Nicely balanced with
complimentary oak treatment, finishing dry with bright acidity. A complete
wine of considerable charm.
2013 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.58, $40.
100% de-stemmed into small open-top fermenters where must is cold soaked for 5 days. 14-20 days on the
skins. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels (40% new).
Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass.
Lovely Pinot perfume of rose petals, spice and Bing cherry. Discreetly concentrated flavors of strawberry,
cherry, nutmeg spice, and cola with a compliment of oak. Easy to like with modest tannins and a bashful fruitfilled
finish. A solid appellation wine that should benefit from another 6 months in bottle.
2012 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Cherry Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Syrah
13.8% alc., pH
3.60, TA 0.67, 501 cases, $50. Clones 470, 383 and 877. Vinified similar to Pinot Noir but aged 20 months in
French oak barrels (40% new). Racked twice for initial blending and barrel honing, and a second time to
further develop flavors and tannins.
Deep, dark reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry jam,
boysenberry, white pepper, wintergreen, malt and mocha. Bright flavors of blueberries and blackberries,
pomegranate and iodine with matching tannins. Made in a Pinot Noir style but with more sap but with similar
crisp acidity. The finish is very fruity and seductive. A Pinot lover’s Syrah.
Laetitia Vineyards & Winery, Arroyo Grande Valley
2013 Laetitia Arroyo Grande Valley Chardonnay
13.8% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.67, 15,000 cases,
$20. Harvest Brix 23.7º-25.8º. Clones 96, 97, Wente 17 and Clone 4. Whole cluster pressed, 75%
malolactic fermentation. 100% barrel fermented for 9 months in Francois Frères and Rousseau
French oak barrels (25% new, 75% neutral).
Moderately light golden straw color and clear in the
glass. A pleasing compliment of aromas including lemon, tropical fruits, vanilla cream and buttery
oak. Crisp and bright in the mouth with flavors of citrus, lemongrass, grilled white peach, brioche and
baking spices. The wine finishes clean with a refreshing cut of lemon zest on the finish.
2013 Laetitia Estate Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.63, 32,000 cases, $25. Harvest
Brix 23.6º-26.1º. Clones 113, 115, 959, 667, 777, “828,”
Pommard 5, Wädenswil 2A, Martini 13 and Mt Eden. 100%
de-stemmed, 3-day cold soak, quick fermentation lasting 4
days, aged 11 months in a combination of Francois Frères
and Rousseau French oak barrels (30% new, 70% neutral).
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Fragrant with aromas of
plum reduction sauce, boysenberry, blackberry, oak spice and vanilla. A
big mouthful of well-spiced purple berry fruits in a mid weight style with a
hint of savory tea and earth in the background. Very satisfying and
expansive on the palate with a fruit-driven, long finish of some note that
offers a subtle citric tang. Tremendous value and amazing quality for
such large production.
Nelson Hill Winery, Anderson Valley
Greg and Barbara Hill acquired a ranch in Philo in 1999 located close to Goldeneye, Roederer Estate and
Husch. They rebuilt one of the valley’s oldest farmhouses and planted a small vineyard to Pinot Noir clones
114, 115 and 777 and a small amount of Pommard. Deny Dudzik is the vineyard manager and winemaker with
Phil Baxter, Jr., of Baxter Winery providing consultation. My initial impressions of the 2009 vintage estate Pinot
Noir were not particularly favorable, but re-tasting recently changed my opinion. Tasting by appointment. Visit
2009 Nelson Hill Deep End Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 300 cases, $42.
light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromatically pleasing with scents of black cherry, rose petal, spice and
herbs. Moderately rich core of black cherry, black raspberry and pomegranate fruits backed by soft but
supportive tannins. A slight herbal vein peeks out in the background. A little more ripeness than the 2010
vintage of this wine with a bigger, lush fruit-filled finish.
2010 Nelson Hill Deep End Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 300 cases, $42.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the
glass. Shy initially, but opens nicely over time, offering scents of black
cherry and sandalwood. Light to mid weight cherry essence that really
pops like a cherry pie out of the oven. Silky in the mouth with balanced
tannins and a very tasty and lively cherry-driven finish. Definitely better
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.
Roadhouse Winery, Russian River Valley
Proprietor Eric Hall launched Roadhouse Winery in downtown Healdsburg in 2008. He has a spirited passion
for Pinot Noir which led him to be one of the founders of the annual Pinot on the River Festival in 2004. Much of his winemaking experience
came from work at Papapietro Perry Winery. A tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg next door to
Oakville Grocery. His wines have colorful labels and wax-dipped tops. Visit www.roadhousewinery.com.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Russian River Valley Pink Label Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.65, 150
cases, $59. Sourced primarily from Nunes Vineyard. Clones 114, 115, 667, 777 and Pommard. 100% destemmed,
5-day cold soak, inoculated fermentations, aged 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, 20% of
which were new. Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries,
brewed tea, forest floor and oak spice. Solid mid palate attack of very ripe Bing cherry and black raspberry fruit
with a hint of cola and anise, and some oak in the background. The wine’s finish is lip-smacking.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Martini Clone Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.54, 250
cases, $49. Sourced from Vine Hill Road Vineyard planted to Martini clone in 1989. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day
cold soak, inoculated fermentations, aged 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, 20% of which were new.
Unfined and unfiltered.
Light red cherry color in the glass. The nose reluctantly opens slowly over time to
reveal demure aromas of ripe cherry pie glaze, rose petal and oak. The cherry fruit core seems a bit roasted
and is dominated by oak-driven flavors of coffee nibs, dark chocolate, cola and spice. The fine-grain tannins
offer textural interest and the finish is long and plush with black cherry goodness.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Sonoma Coast Green Label Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.62, 300 cases,
$59. Sourced from Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Pommard clone. 100% destemmed,
5-day cold soak, 14 days total cuvaison, inoculated fermentations, aged 20 months in 100% French
oak barrels, 20% new. Unifined and unfiltered.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Intriguing
aromas of clove, cardamom, peppercorn, forest floor, mushroom and raisin. Very ripe fruited, featuring flavors
of black cherry, black raspberry, and sassafras. Silky smooth on the palate with balanced tannins and a dry,
mouthwatering finish. Nicely crafted in a ripe, dark fruited style.
2012 Roadhouse Winery Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.58, 150 cases, $75.
Sourced from Weir Vineyard. DRC selection and Wädenswil 2A clone planted in 1992. 100% de-stemmed, 5-
day cold soak, inoculated fermentations, aged 20 months in 100% French oak barrels, 20% of which were new.
Unfined and unfiltered.
Moderate light red cherry color in the glass. Perfumed with effusive scents of cherry,
leafy herbs, sous-bois and woodpile. Very elegant, soft and smooth in the mouth with refined tannins, offering
light to mid weight flavors of red cherries and berries, with hints of spice and red plum, that hold your attention
on the finish. This wine shows more finesse than others in the 2012 Roadhouse lineup.
Whitethorn Winery, Humboldt County
This southern Humboldt County producer was founded by Tasha McCorkle McKee, a graduate of University of
California at Davis with a degree in fermentation science. This was a remarkable achievement considering she
left high school before graduating to work in the carpentry business with her father. She rose to an assistant
winemaking position at Simi Winery under Zelma Long before launching her Whitethorn label in 1991 with the
assistance of her father and Joe and Maggie Collins of nearby Briceland Winery. I was impressed with her
Pinot Noirs from Hyde and Hirsch vineyards and her wines became well known among the San Francisco Bay
Area restaurant community. Some personal lifestyle issues and a desire to devote her energies to the nonprofit
Sanctuary Forest that addresses stream flow for fisheries and wildlife habitats led her to cease winemaking
with the 2002 vintage. Tasha’s son, Galen, has taken over the operations of the winery. Tasting is by
appointment - 707-986-1658. The wines can be found at select wine retailers and restaurants in the San
Francisco Bay Area. Two annual open houses are held Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends.
2002 Whitethorn Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $27.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass: still bright in color with no bricking. Primary black cherry fruit aromas persist along with secondary
aromas of cigar box, black tea leaves and old trunk. Very tasty black cherry and raspberry fruits that veer to
the ripe side with a hint of tobacco and tea in the background. A delightful aged California Pinot Noir with
merged tannins, and a long, juicy finish.
2009 Whitethorn Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $35.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
nose opens slowly in the glass to reveal inviting aromas of cherry and
dark red berries. Delicious spiced cherry and raspberry flavor with
supple tannins and an impressive, cherry-fueled finish of unusual length.
Very Pinot in character with appealing finesse and impeccable balance.
2009 Whitethorn Elk Prairie Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $40.
Ripe fruit aromas and
mid weight plus, sappy flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and cassis are featured. Lovely fruit, which
stars on the generous finish, but is somewhat buried by muscular tannins. Need a big ribeye steak for this one.
2012 Cameron Hughes Lot 409 Central Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $16. A large negociant producer
producing a diverse range of wines with lot numbers on the labels. This wine was sold by Costco.
reddish purple color in the glass. The aromas of black plum, black currant, cardamom spice and toasty oak
really attack the senses. Soft and easy to drink with suave tannins, sporting mid weight flavors of black plum,
cassis, black raspberry and spicy oak. A good value priced wine that will please depending on the drinker’s
tolerance for oak.
2012 North Wines Edna Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $74. A new wine from John and Lorraine Alban,
Rhone varietal specialists, sourced from Alban Estate fruit. Label says, “Grown, produced and bottled by Perro
Docs Cellars in Arroyo Grande.” Highly rated by critics, but this bottle, which was heavy with an impressive
label and long cork, was not to my liking. 100% de-stemmed and aged in 60% new French oak barrels.
reddish purple color in the glass. Very ripe, roasted fruits including prune aroma on the nose. Full-bodied
flavors of very ripe dark berries and cassis with balanced tannins and a noticeable overlay of cedary oak.
Lacks Pinot charm.
2013 Vivier Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $37. Sourced from vineyards in the Petaluma Gap region
of the Sonoma Coast. Aged in French oak barrels without fining or filtration.
Moderately dark reddish purple
color in the glass. Very shy aromatics with only a peek of fruit and cedary oak. Middleweight flavors of purple
and black fruits with balanced tannins and acidity. Pleasant, but nothing stands out. Check back in a year.