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Recently Tasted Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

Although new domestic winery openings have slowed since 2008, I continue to discover new entries producing Pinot Noir every week. Tasting rooms continue to open at a furious pace. I read a report recently that urban tasting rooms do not perform as well as winery tasting rooms in terms of sales. That said, a winery has no choice if they don’t have an appealing winery with its own incorporated tasting room.



Alma Fria (Holtermann Family Wines), Sebastopol, CA

After three generations in the wine import business. the Jan Holtermann found roots in the remote ridge tops of Annapolis on the West Sonoma Coast, committed to producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.Alma Fria means “the soul of the family” and/or “the cold of a geography.” The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list at www.almafria.com. Recently, Carroll Kemp, former owner and winemaker at Red Car, has joined Jan, his good friend, at Alma Fria as partner and winemaker.

2015 Alma Fria Plural Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 300 cases, $40. Native fermentation, 10% whole cluster, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Hints of whole cluster are revealed in the nose that shows aromas of cherry, rose petal, spice and pipe smoke. The mid weight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and tobacco are welcome and supported by filigree tannins, but the acid is out of balance in this wine. The vibrant finish is bitter and woody as well as tasting of pink grapefruit. Score: 87

2015 Alma Fria Doña Margarita Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 172 cases, $62. Vineyard planted in 2002 in Freestone at 500-625 feet elevation. 15% whole cluster, wild yeast fermentation, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Nice whole cluster imprint on the nose with aromas of dark cherry, exotic spices and pine sap. Slightly plush in the mouth in a mid weight plus style offering delicious flavors of black cherry, blueberry, cardamom spice and dried herbs. Adept harmony with fully integrated tannins and proper uplifting acidity on the juicy finish. I liked this wine. Score: 93

2015 Alma Fria Holtermann Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., 95 cases, $62. Vineyard planted in Annapolis in 2002 at 700-800 feet elevation. 15% whole cluster, wild yeast fermentation, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Entirely different aromatic profile from Dona Margarita Vineyard, offering aromas of earthy flora, mushroom, nutty oak and purple and black fruits. A feral, savory wine that speaks of the earth and forest. Mid weight plus fruit flavors of black raspberry and blackberry framed by modest tannins, finish on a feral note. Score: 92

2015 Alma Fria Plural Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.4% alc., 180 cases, $40. Native yeast fermentation, aged 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Lean citrus aromas along with more penetrating aromas of dried apple, pear and white flower blossom. Bright in the mouth with leaner, yet appealing flavors of green apple, pear and white grape. Excellent friendliness, with spirited acidity and a taut finish. An edgy wine that is stylish and sophisticated. Exceptional at this price point. Score: 93

2015 Alma Fria Campbell Ranch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.3% alc., 95 cases, $50. Vines planted in 2008 in Annapolis at 750 feet elevation. Wild yeast fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 10% new. Native yeast fermentation, aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Richly perfumed with aromas of lemon creme, pie crust and custard. Lighter and leaner in style with vivacious acidity, offering flavors of green apple, lemon-lime and a hint of tangerine and caramel. Only the slightest tannin in the background and a finish if grandeur that leaves persistent aromatic memories and quenching acidity. Score: 93



Asuncion Ridge Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA

A producer of Pinot Noir from the Estate Asuncion Ridge Vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Paso Robles vineyards. The winery’s tasting room is in downtown Paso Robles at 725 12th Street on the City Park and is open daily. The success of the winery has led the owners, Philip Krumal and business partner to plant new vineyards and build a new winery with a tasting room. Three 5-star vineyard view house rentals are available through Asuncion Ridge. Visit www.asuncionridge.com.

2015 Asuncion Ridge Vineyards San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $45. Released May 2018. Estate vineyard is planted in the southern Santa Lucia Highlands mountains at 2000 feet elevation, a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Winemaker Philip Krumal crafts his wines under the mentorship of winemaker Marc Goldberg and the inspiration of Yvonne Rich. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The offers aromas of earth, potpourri, spice box and cigar smoke. Full bodied in the mouth, featuring generous flavors of black grape, black raspberry spiced with vanilla. Very agreeable, with a velvety texture, integrated tannins, appropriate oak input, and some finish. Reminds me of Meiomi Pinot Noir but better. Score: 90

2015 Asuncion Ridge Vineyards San Luis Obispo County Barrel Select Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., $65. Released May 2018. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Shy dark fruit aromas along with oak spice and barrel notes. Very plush in the mouth in a mid weight plus style, with flavors of boysenberry and blackberry. The vanilla note found in the regular bottling shows up here as well. Big, ripe and boisterous, yet the tannins are restrained, the fruit is bright and not jammy, and oak adds agreeable highlights. A little more enjoyable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Not my preferred style, but will find a good number of fans. Score: 92



Child’s Play (Tendril Wine Cellars), Gaston, OR

This is a value-priced play(sic) from proprietor and renowned Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders of Tendril Wine Cellars,.The labels feature artwork by his two daughters. The marketplace needs more reasonably priced wines made by experienced winemakers. So far, the project has not succeeded with Pinot Noir. I reviewed the 2014 WV Pinot Noir and scored it 86. Visit www.tendrilwines.com/wines/childs-play.

2015 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 868 cases, $30, screw cap. Aged 10 months in primarily neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Off putting nose featuring aromas of charcoal and ash with fruit never showing up. Mid weighted, oak-infused, black cherry, black raspberry and plum flavors backed by dusty tannins. The oak treatment is imposing and the finish is astringent. Score: 84

2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 48 cases, $30, screw cap. Raised 6 months in stainless steel. · Moderate ruby red color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of dark red raspberry, spice box and rose petal. Bright, clean and seemingly dry, with flavors of red berry, cherry and savory herbs. A silky mouthfeel is enticing. This wine has had significant skin contact and is most like a Pinot Noir raised in neutral oak. Score: 89

2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 175 cases, $30. screw cap. This is the most successful wine in the Child’s Play lineup. 70% Chardonnay and 30% “White” Pinot Noir, the only still blend of its kind in the US. Raised 6 months in stainless steel. · Light golden yellow color in the glass with the slightest pink tinge. The nose is unusual but very appealing, offering scents of woodsy cologne, warm brioche, white stone fruits and green apple. Refreshing in the mouth with a flavor profile similar to a Pinot Noir Blanc. Lighter in weight, with redeeming white peach, pear and nutty oak flavors in a nicely balanced, easy going style. Cool it down a bit and it will become an ideal summer wine. Skillfully composed. Score: 90



Emeritus Vineyards, Sebastopol

Over the years, I have tasted many Pinot Noir wines from Hallberg Ranch but I haven’t tried the wine that Emeritus produces from their estate vineyard. The winery dates to 1999 when Brice Cutrer Jones purchased Don and Marcia Hallberg’s prime 115-acre apple orchard in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Before that purchase, Jones had acquired a plot of land in Annapolis on the West Sonoma Coast, that was to become William Wesley Vineyard. A third vineyard, Pinot Hill, was acquired by Emeritus in 2008, and is located in Sebastopol Hills area of the Sonoma Coast. All vineyards are dry-farmed. A Pinot Noir is offered from each of these three estate vineyards.

The current winemaker, David Lattin, brings 32 vintages of winemaking experience to his role at Emeritus. To purchase wines, visit www.emeritusvineyards.com.

2015 Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $44. Soils here are Goldridge sandy loam. Multiple clones are planted over 107.76 acres, including 4, 5, 115, 459, 667, 777, “828,” Cruz, Elite and Hyde. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. This wine takes awhile to open and my comments are based on sampling the wine after the bottle had been opened several hours. Aromas of purple berries, spice and floral esters. An array of fruits great the palate including dark red cherry, raspberry and boysenberry arrayed in a mid weight style. Satiny in texture with modest tannins and bright acidity on the succulent yet uplifting finish. Great harmony at play here. Score: 93



[ess·eff] Wines, San Francisco, CA

This is a relatively new commercial winery based in San Francisco. Four friends (Jeremy Barry, Chip O’Connell, Ethan Smith and Tom Witczak) joined in 2012 to explore winemaking after living in The City. What started out as a side hobby, quickly became a business venture.

The name of the winery is a phonetic play on the abbreviation of S.F. The current releases include a Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a Keller Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and a Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. The wines are produced a Dogpatch Wine Works, a custom crush facility in San Francisco. Visit www.esseffwines.com for availability.

2016 ess·eff Keller Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.53, 24 cases, $42. Clones 123 and 777 co-fermented.Harvest Brix 24.5º. 100% whole berry. 2-day cold soak, aged 9 months in French oak barrels. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, spice, turned earth and slightly herbal. Light to mid weight flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate that are giving upon opening. This wine has good intentions, with balanced tannins, folded-in alcohol and a crisp finish that showed a little astringency initially but resolved when tasted the following day. The nose was more spirited the following day as well. Score: 90



Frank Family Vineyards, Calistoga, CA

The Frank Family Estate Lewis Vineyard is located in the heart of Napa-Carneros, near the shores of San Pablo Bay. The Lewis Vineyard was purchased by Rich Frank in 2000 and is named for Paul Frank’s son Lewis. The site consists of 86 acres, with 59 acres planted to Chardonnay and 10 acres to Pinot Noir. There is considerable maritime influence that makes the region ideal for cool climate varieties.

The winemaker for this popular winery is Todd Graff. I have reviewed many wines from this winery over the years and they have been consistently excellent in their vivacious style. Visit www.frankfamilyvineyards.com.

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Lewis Vineyard Napa Valley Reserve Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.59, 1,000 cases, $65. Released March 2018. Heavy bottle with embossed label. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Aged 10 months in 50% new and 50% once-filled French oak barrels. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Initially, the nose offers only toast and lite cigar aromas, but with swirling, ripe, black fruit aromas show up. Full-bodied, velvety and fat in the mouth with waves of blackberry and cassis fruit flavors. The oak is intrusive upon opening with flavors of vanilla and taste chiming in. The tannins are well-proportioned, the finish is not as intense as the fruit load would suggest and a bit of alcohol awareness peaks out at the end. The wine is accessible now but certainly should show less oak overlay with more time in bottle. Still, a lot of fruit and oak to get your arms around. Score: 89

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Lewis Vineyard Napa Carneros Reserve Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.60, 1,000 cases, $65. Released March 2018. Heavy bottle with embossed label. Dijon clones. Aged 11 months in 100% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely aromas of lemon curd, ripe yellow apple and crème brûlée. Creamy, and quite flavorful on the palate in a rich style popularized in California. Flavors of lemon, pineapple, tropical fruits and yellow grapefruit. Comforting to drink with a seductive mouth feel, but this is not particularly acid-driven wine as far as vibrancy or mineral content. The decadent fruit sops up the lavish oak such that the oak blends in and becomes complimentary. There are many fans who relish this style of Chardonnay. Score: 92

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Beckstoffer Lake Vineyard Reserve Napa Carneros Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.44, TA 0.60, 200 cases, Wine Club only. Released March 2018. Inaugural bottling. Heavy bottle with embossed label. Barrel fermented in 50% new and 60% once-filled French oak barrels for 9 months. Regular lees stirring to promote depth. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. This wine has considerable “minerality” on the nose with aromas of riverbed, slate and lemon peel. Big and saucy for a Chardonnay, yet everything is kept in balance. The flavors of pear and apple and offer only subtle citrus notes. Creamy in the mouth from full malolactic fermentation. The wine’s bright acidity and firm structure holds the rich fruit in check. Stylistically, this wine is similar to the Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay, but but it is more in tune with my palate. Score: 94



Gary Farrell, Healdsburg, CA

2015 Gary Farrell McDonald Mountain Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.26, TA 0.74, 585 cases, $65. Released May 2018.This vineyard is located in a souther cool area bordering the Petaluma Gap. Planted in 2008 to a diverse clonal selection including 115, 667, 777, Pommard, “828,” and Elite(?). 80% of grapes de-stemmed and 20% whole clusters added later. 5-day cold soak, 10-15 day extended maceration. Aged 16 months on the primary lees in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of peppery dark fruits, exotic spices and toasty oak. A flood of purple berry and spice flavors greet the palate in a mid weight plush style flaunting an intense mid palate presence and a big, long finish. Soft in the mouth, with balanced tannins and righteous oak. More luscious and fruit-driven than usual for a Gary Farrell Pinot. Score: 93

2015 Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.37, TA 0.70, 494 cases, $75. Released May 2018. 106 acres of Pinot Noir first planted in 2002 in the new, cool Petaluma Gap AVA. Clones “828” and 667. 85% de-stemmed and 15% whole cluster added later. 5-day cold soak, 10-15 days of extended maceration, aged 16 months on the primary lees in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasant aromas of purple and black berry fruits plus fertile earth. A startling attack of boysenberry, black raspberry and dark strawberry fruit with a touch of spice in a mid weight plus style. Flat-out delicious, with amazing length in the mouth and a gracious, flavorful finish. The combination of boisterous fruit, enviable harmony, and polished mouthfeel makes for an invigorating experience. I recently wrote about this vineyard in the PinotFile as it has become one of California’s most provocative sources for Pinot Noir grapes. Score: 94

2015 Gary Farrell Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.37, TA 0.68, 591 cases, $65. Released May 2018. Release date May 2018. Sourced from Bacigalupi Frost Ranch and planted entirely to Wente selection. 85% de-stemmed, 15% of fruit added later as whole clusters. 6-day cold soak. 10-15 day extended maceration. Aged on the primary lees for 16 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Demure aromas of dark red and blue berries with a bit of earthy flora. This wine is a little more acid driven and earthy and less fruity than the Gap’s and McDonald wines. Mid weight flavors of dusty dark red fruits uplifted with vibrant acidity, finishing long and cherry-driven. There is a curious thread of decaying matter in the background. Score: 92

2015 Gary Farrell Westside Farms Russian River Valley Chardonnay

13.9% alc., pH 3.12, TA 0.83, 631 cases, $55. Released May 2018. A 40-acre vineyard just four miles up Westside Road from the Gary Farrell Winery. The Chardonnay vines were planted in 1989 to clone 4. Harvest Brix 22º-23º. Gently whole cluster pressed, inoculated with Montrachet yeast, and aged 9 months in French oak barrels (both traditional barrels and 500-L puncheons), 35% new. Racked off primary lees only once, just before bottling. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Terrific aromas of lemon curd, pineapple, buttery brioche, ripe melon, flint, caramel and nuts holds up in the glass over time. Richly fruited such that the wine has Russian River Valley written all over it, offering flavors of lemon, Golden Delicious apple, and pineapple. Slightly creamy on the palate, with an uptick of acidity on the refreshing finish that shows some length. A Caliesque style that often receives widespread embrace for its fruit, but different because of the energizing acidity that accompanies it in this wine. Score: 93



Joseph Jewell Wines, Cloverdale, CA

Founders Micah Joseph Wirth and Adrian Jewell Manspeaker have been producing PInot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay from vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Humboldt County. The business partners share the winemaking duties. They started very modestly, with just one ton of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir grapes, two French oak barrels and a small basket press. Currently, they produce 2500 cases annually. A tasting room is located in Forestville and the wines are produced in Cloverdale. For more information, visit www.josephjewell.com.

2014 Joseph Jewell Starscape Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.61, 200 cases, $N/A. Clones 777, “828,” and 115. Harvest Brix 24.2. 8% whole cluster, 12-day fermentation , aging for 11 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Nice floral, pine forest and spiced cherry perfume. Luxurious and polished in the mouth, featuring a mid weight core of black cherry, and purple and black berry fruits. Admirable balance with only a hint of oak, finishing modestly. Charming upon opening but lost appeal when re-tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 90

2014 Joseph Jewell Starscape Vineyard Martini Clone - Old Girls Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.59, 75 cases, $65, white wax topper. Grapes were sourced from some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Sonoma, first taking root in 1971. Yield 1 ton/acre. 100% de-stemmed, fermented 7-14 days in stainless open-top tanks. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The aromatic profile is very similar to the regular Starscape bottling in this vintage but more sexy. Aromas of black cherry, underbrush, pine and floral bouquet. Noticeably more attacking on entry with a definite mid palate impression of dark cherry and boysenberry fruits, finishing with good persistence. Well-structured with very fine-grain tannins contributing to a polished mouthfeel. The fruit is quite ripe and the slightest alcoholic heat shows up in the glass over time as the wine warms in the glass. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, there was some volatile acidity (apple core aroma) on the nose but the wine still tasted fine. This wine has many good traits but there are a few nits. Score: 90

2015 Joseph Jewell Ryan Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.54, TA 0.62, 100 cases, $39. Clones 115 (80%), 777 (10%) and 667 (10%). Harvest Brix 23.5º. 100% de-stemmed, fermented 15 days in stainless open-top tanks. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Leading off are aromas of purple grape and berry, baking spice and wood pile. Very pleasant in the mouth in a light to mid weight style, featuring vibrant flavors of black cherry and black raspberry. Simple, but soothing and very like able, although the wine had lost some appeal when retasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle (nose more vegetative and earthy and less flavorful). Should be drunk chilled on release. Score: 89

2015 Joseph Jewell Elk Prairie Vineyard Humboldt County Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.58, 75 cases, $42. Organically farmed Martini clone planted own-rooted in 1991. Harvest Brix 24.2º. 100% destemmed, native yeast fermentation in stainless open-top tanks. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose starts out quite vegetative with aromas of turned earth and peat that give way over time to black cherry, berry jam and oak spice aromas. The mid weight flavors of dark red berries and cherries are accompanied by green tobacco and earth notes. The fruit tries hard to impress on the mid palate, but gives way on the short finish. Green tobacco and earth notes lean heavily on the fruit expression, and there is a bit of alcoholic heat on the finish. Score: 88

2015 Joseph Jewell Bucher Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.57, 100 cases, $50. Swan and Pommard clones. 100% de-stemmed, 10-day fermentation in stainless open-top tanks. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Accessible nose offering aromas of floral cologne, black cherry, spice, and earthy flora. The light to mid weight core of red cherry fruit is underlain with a fecal/barnyard/tobacco/herbaceous thread that is typical of wines from this vineyard. The wine is nicely balanced, sleek in the mouth, with a juicy finish of modest length. The savory aspect of this wine is welcomed by many or may not appeal to drinkers like me. Score: 89

2017 Joseph Jewell Ryan Vineyard Humboldt County Rosé of Pinot Noir

12.9% alc., pH 3.22, TA 0.68, 370 cases, $24. Clone 115 organically farmed. 31 days whole cluster pressed, fermented in stainless tank. · Pretty pink salmon color in the glass. Gorgeous aromas of strawberry, orange zest and peach that soar over time in the glass. Plenty of expressive flavor with orange, yellow peach and guava fruits melded with the slightest dry tannins and a bolt of active acidity. A remarkably good and thoroughly dry rosé that is the perfect summer wine. Score: 92



La Crema, Santa Rosa, CA

One of California’s most reliable and consistent producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.The wines are widely distributed and represent excellent values. This family-owned winery has been in business for more than 35 years and has spawned many notable winemakers who went on to found their own wineries. GRapes are now sourced from cool-climate appellations, from the Russian River Valley south to Monterey in California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The current winemaker is Craig McAllister.

Tasting rooms are now open daily at Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor and just off the square in Healdsburg. For more information, visit www.lacrema.com.

2016 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.54, <100,000 cases, $25, Diam closure. Sourced from multiple vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA.Clones 23, 37, 115, 667, 777, “828,” Pommard, Calera, Swan and Martini. 100% de-stemmed with 70% whole berries in tank. 3-day cold soak, fermented primarily in open-top tanks. Aged 9 months in 97% French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Reserved aromas of dark berries and barrel room. Rich and bold in a mid weight plus style, offering an array of purple and black fruit flavors. Oak contributes flavors of black licorice and toast. There is an assertive tannic backbone creating some astringency on the finish. Highly fruit-driven and one-dimensional, but still manages to offer some redemptive vibrancy. Certainly, no sense of place in this wine. Score: 88

2016 La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.52, >100,000 cases, $23, Diam closure. 3-day cold soak, no post-fermentation maceration. Aged 9 months in French oak barrels, 21% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of cherry, sandalwood and fertile earth. Forward-drinking style, offering satisfying flavors of black cherry, dark red raspberry and the slightest hint of oak. Soft tannins make for easy drinking and the modest finish is just good enough. Score: 89

2016 La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.58, 15, 138 cases, $30, Diam closure. Grapes sourced from ten vineyards spread across the Russian River Valley AVA and sub-AVA of Chalk Hill. Clones were 4, 76, 95, 96 and 809. Whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented, and aged for 9 months with lees stirring 1-2 times per month. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon zest, white peach warm brioche and toast lead off. A riper, luscious style featuring flavors of lemon, pineapple and honey. Slightly creamy in the mouth in a lower acid-driven style that seduces with richness and ripeness. Oak is involved but is not overbearing. Score: 90



LICHEN Estate, Boonville, CA

The Lichen Estate Vineyard overlook Highway 128 from the 203-acre Lichen Estate in Anderson Valley. Prepared in 2007 and planted in 2008 on meter-by-meter spacing, the vineyard comprises 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Gris vines. The vineyard is farmed organically. Pinot Noir clones are Martini, Wädenwil, Pommard and 667 on three rootstocks. The wines seem to improve with each vintage. The winery website is www.lichenestate.com.

NV LICHEN Estate Solera Volume 5 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., $50. A multi-vintage blend, including vintages from 2011 to 2016. 75% 2016 and 25% a blend of the previous five vintages. A unique combination offering fresh fruit from the recent vintage and complexity from the extended barrel aging. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Accessible aromas of cherry, raspberry, baking spice, savory herbs and sandalwood. Nicely composed with a tasty cherry core, a very suave texture, adequate structure, and some generous finishing purpose. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 92

2015 LICHEN Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.56, 136 cases, $65. Released October 2017. 14 to 17-day fermentation in 500-liter oak puncheon after a 5 to 6-day cold soak. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, Francoise Frères 3-year and 4- year dried, extra tight grain, medium plus toast, 25% new. Aged additional 8 months prior to bottling. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Enviable aromas of black cherry, fertile earth and underbrush. Imagine kicking dirt in a vineyard while chomping on a fresh cherry. Nothing but good things to say about this mid weight styled wine offering plenty of cherry and black raspberry goodness on the attack, mid palate and lengthy finish. Beautiful composure with adequate structure and expressive fruit. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93

2016 LICHEN Estate Moonglow Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.55, 324 cases, $35. Released October 2017. 100% estate grapes. 1-4 day cold soak, fermented in closedtop fermenters and open-top bins. Native yeast fermentation. Aged in a majority of Francoise Frères 3-year and 4-year dried, extra tight grain, medium toast oak barrels.About 10% new barrels with remainder 10 to 40 months used. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very shy, but pleasant aromas of black cherry, pomegranate, bittersweet chocolate and toasted barrel. Mid weight plus in concentration featuring black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors framed by muscular tannins. Fruit-driven, with oak in the background. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the tannins had resolved somewhat but the wine remained tannic. A young wine searching for its ultimate potential. Score: 90



Lingua Franca, Salem, OR

Billed as “French Adventures in Oregon,” this winery was co-founded in 2015 by well-known sommelier Larry Stone, David Honig and Dominique Lafon. The exceptional vineyard site in the Eola-Amity Hills near Seven Springs Vineyard was bought by Larry in 2012. Brilliant French winemaker Thomas Savre, who had worked at some of the best domains in Burgundy was hired, with Dominique Lafon consulting. A spectacular winemaking facility has been built and tasting is now available by appointment.

This is a winery to get to know. Attention to farming and winemaking detail is beyond reproach. The 2016 vintage represents the first release from the estate vineyard. The wines are sold primarily through a mailing list and wine club at www.linguafranca.wine.

2016 Lingua Franca AVNI Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $35. This wine represents the fruit flavor profile of the Eola-Amity Hills. Grapes sourced primarily from neighbors in Hopewell. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas brighten over time with air, revealing dark cherry, baking spices and turned earth. A bit forceful and tannic upon opening, becoming more seductive when tasted several hours after opening. Pretty mid weight black cherry and raspberry fruit flavors that hold on to the finish. Satisfying, with tannins that melt away in time, becoming more balanced and enriching. Score: 92

2016 Lingua Franca Estate Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $50. Inaugural release from the Estate Vineyard. Dry farmed organically on Basalt Jory and Nekia soils. Fruit is sorted in vineyard, then sorted by hand, and then sorted by a special de-stemmer/sorter. · Dark garnet color in the glass. The black cherry aromas are very slow to arrive in the glass. A bit brutish on the palate upon opening, but blossoming from a bottle opened several hours prior. A step up from the AVNI with more fruit intensity and more finishing length. Excellent pizazz with ideal tannin and acid integration and a suede texture. I absolutely loved this wine over time. Recommend decanting if you open now. Score: 94

2016 Lingua Franca Bunker Hill Vineyard Estate Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.0% alc., $50. Vineyard planted in 1995 in stony volcanic soils in the Salem Hills. Clone 76 on pure Nekia soils at an altitude of about 800 feet. Vineyard is directly exposed to cooling ocean winds of the Van Duzer corridor. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Complex nose offering scents of lemon rind, sagebrush, buttercream, spice and men’s cologne. Riveting on the palate, with flavors of lemon, pineapple, slate, yellow grapefruit, and yellow peach flanked by spirited acidity. Finishes clean and tight with flinty acidity. Still special when an opened bottle was re-tasted the following day. Score: 94



Sarah’s Vineyard, Gilroy, CA

2016 Sarah’s Vineyard Tondre’s Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 160 cases, $38. This vineyard is the prize of Sarah’s Vineyard and is capable of producing extraordinary Pinot Noir. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. Fantastic quality at a reasonable price. · Moderately light ruby red color in the glass. Clinging aroma of an array of red berries and a perfect compliment of oak. Somewhat light in color and lighter in weight and elegantly composed, but highly flavorful offering vibrant flavors of cherry and raspberry. Very charming and caressing in the mouth with a lacy texture and an appealing compliment of oak. This is a high fashion Pinot Noir that exemplifies what Pinot Noir should be - does not taste extracted or manipulated. Still delightful the following day. I have had many great wines from this vineyard. Score: 94



Sonoma-Loeb, (Chappellet Vineyard), St. Helena, CA

Ambassador John Loeb Jr. sold his winery to Chappellet Vineyards in 2011. Sonoma-Loeb wines were already being produced at the Chappellet winery by winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus. The Sonoma-Loeb wines have a depth and richness that they are known for, but Phillip has energized the Chardonnay wines in particular with more acidity, and has used less lees stirring and malolactic fermentation. As far as the Pinot Noir wines, they are stuffed with ripe fruit and fat in the mouth. This is not my preferred style of Pinot Noir but the wines are well crafted in this style. Visit www.sonomaloeb.com.

2016 Sonoma-Loeb Apple Lane Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.58, $60. Inaugural release from this site. Vineyard has a marine climate, Goldridge sandy loam soils. Harvest Brix 27.0º. Clones 667, 777 and 115. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Soaring aromas of dark berries, cassis, baking spices and seasoned oak. Husky in the mouth, yet silky, blessed with a mid weight plus core of blackberry, cassis and boysenberry fruit flavors. Subtle oak in the background with polished tannins and enough acidity to temper the fruit load. A wine for fruit hedonists that finishes silky with generous sweet berry fruit. Score: 92

2016 Sonoma-Loeb Bateman Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.70, TA 0.59, $60. Vineyard is located on Mill Station Road in Graton in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA. Goldridge sandy loam soils. Harvest Brix 25.5º. Clones 777 and 115. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of fertile earth and black grape juice preview a mid weight plus styled wine with a core of purple and black berry fruit, a touch of spice and more noticeable oak. Well-structured, with a pleasing finish that reveals a slight sense of alcoholic heat. The wine improves over time in the glass. Score: 90

2016 Sonoma-Loeb Sangiacomo Vineyard Fedrick Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.59, $60. Vineyard is located on a bench land overlooking Petaluma River and San Pablo Bay. Harvest Brix 25.3º. Fermented with yeast strains from Burgundy and Germany, aged 11 months in French oak barrels. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Aromas of mushroom, wet log and blackberry. Mid weight essence of blueberrypomegranate juice with some toasty oak support. Silky in the mouth and lighter on its feet than the other two Sonoma-Loeb wines reviewed here, with some indulgent tannins and some length on the sweet-fruited finish. Score: 92

2016 Sonoma-Loeb Sonoma County Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.61, $25. Harvest Brix 23.8º. Aged in French oak barrels. · Flashy aromas of butter, lemon, white peach and toast. Flavors of buttery fruits including lemon and pear. Slightly creamy in texture with noticeable toasty oak. Slight bitterness, but enough refreshing acidity. Doesn’t grab your attention. Score: 88

2016 Sonoma-Loeb Private Reserve Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.44, TA o.63, $27. Harvest Brix 23.8º. Sourced from several of Sangiacomo’s best blocks as well as grapes from other exceptional Carneros vineyards. Emphasis on Wente, Robert Young and Catrina clone Chardonnay. Barrel fermented and aged on the lees for 8 months with partial malolactic fermentation. · Modest, but pleasing aromas of apple, pear, yeast and seaweed. Excellent brightness in the mouth, with engaging flavors of lemon, dried apple, pear, and herbs. Sophisticated, with a good acid underbelly, no oak intrusion, and noticeable finishing length. Score: 91



Ten Acre Winery (Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves), Santa Rosa, CA

This is an upcoming winery to keep your eye on. Founded in 2008, by Lynn and Scott Adams, who have two decades of winegrowing experience in Sonoma County, they have gathered an impressive team that includes Vineyard Manager Charlie Chenoweth and acclaimed Winemaker Michael Zardo (formerly of Pisoni Vineyards).

Tasting is available daily at Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg. Winery and cave tours are available by appointment with a two-week advance notice. Visit www.tenacrewinery.com.

In the 2015 vintage, Ten Acre Winery also released a Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay. This was such a spectacular wine that I will devote an entire feature to it in the next issue.

2015 Ten Acre Jenkins Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.65, 150 cases, $65. Vineyard planted by Charlie Chenoweth in 2001. Clones 115 and 667 planted in Goldridge gravelly loam soils. 5-day cold soak, native yeast fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Deep Bing cherry perfume along with a compliment of oak and spice rub. Black cherry and blackberry goodness floods the mouth in a mid weight styled wine with a rounded, soft texture. A brotherly touch of oak and friendly tannins are in harmony with the well-endowed fruit. Elegantly aggressive and quintessential Russian River Valley. Score: 94

2015 Ten Acre Soberanes Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.64, 100 cases, $65. Winermaker Michael Zardo first made a Soberanes vineyard-designate Pinot Noir while working as an assistant winemaker at Pisoni Vineyards. The vineyard is ideally located with exposure to Salinas Valley fog and wind, Soils are well-draining sandy loam and rocky decomposed granite. Pisoni clone planted in 2009. Yield 1.5 tons per acre. Aged 11 months in Taransaud French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Leading off are aromas of black cherry, underbrush and oak char. Intensely flavored and succulent, in a mid weight plus style featuring flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate. A silky texture is seductive, the tannins are well matched and the toothsome fruit drives the finish. Tobacco oak plies the background and there is the slightest hint of alcohol on the finish. Score: 91



The Potter’s Vineyard & Vino Vasai Vintners, Newberg, OR

Some readers will remember that this vineyard was previously owned by Laura Volkman. Winemakers Bill and Sandy Sanchez acquired the property from Laura in 2012 and have established their own identity and stamp on the wines produced from this vineyard. The name of the wines, “Vino Vasai,” translates to “Potter’s Wine” in Italian and reflects the Sanchez’s interest in handcrafted clay art that they display for sale in their tasting room. Visit www.pottersvineyard.com.

2015 Vino Vasai Dario Potter’s Vineyard Estate Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., 275 cases, $28. 3-acre vineyard planted in 2001 in Laurelwood and Jory soils. Dijon 114, 115 and 777. Harvest Brix 23.0º. Aged 11 months on the lees with stirring in French oak barrels, 35% new. Free run and press wine. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Black cherry and dark rose petal aromas frame the nose. Juicy, with good fruit ripeness and purpose, featuring dark red cherry and blueberry flavors. Structured, but with tempered tannins, no oak intrusion, and some finishing length. More expressive when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle two days later. Score: 91

2015 Vino Vasai Barrel 17 Select Potter’s Vineyard Estate Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., 98 cases, $38. A selection of the best neutral barrels. Aged 11 months on the lees with stirring in neutral French oak barrels. Free run and press wine. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, peppery spices and green growth. Very similar to the Estate bottling but with less aromatic appeal, but a more heavenly satin texture. Middleweight in concentration featuring black cherry and raspberry fruit flavors that show some persistence on the finish. A fine unoaked wine that wants for a little more complexity. Score: 90

2015 Vino Vasai Potter’s Vineyard Estate Reserve Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 98 cases, $50. Primarily Pommard clones. Harvest Brix 23.5º. Aged 11 months on the lees with stirring in French oak barrels, 75% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Oak plays more of a role in the nose and tannin structure of this wine. Black cherry is the theme as is usually the case with Pommard clone, with the perfectly ripened fruit showing good attack, mid palate presence and finishing generosity. There is a very healthy tannic backbone that leads to mild astringency on the finish. This wine showed better integration of tannins when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, indicating some cellaring is advised. Score: 92



Waits-Mast Family Cellars, San Francisco, CA

2015 Waits-Mast Mendocino County Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 75 cases, $35. Released November 2017. A select blend of different barrels from the winery’s vineyard-designate wines: Mariah Vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge and Oppenlander Vineyard in Mendocino County. Harvest Brix 23.9º (Mariah) and 26.5º (Oppenlander). 100% de-stemmed, native yeast (Oppenlander) and proprietary yeast (Mariah). Aged 16 months in neutral French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry and sandalwood lead to a lighter weighted wine featuring cherry and blueberry fruit flavors that are simple but satisfying. Sleek in the mouth with good t n’ a balance and some red cherry finish. A very good daily drinker. Score: 89

2015 Waits-Mast Deer Meadows Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 70 cases, $58. Released March 2018. Vineyard is situated at 1600 feet elevation above Boonville. Owned and farmed by Rich Savoy. Harvest Brix 22.8º and 23.4º. Clones 115, 777 and Calera. 100% de-stemmed, native fermentation, aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Bright aromas of black cherry, fertile earth and friendly oak. Mid weight flavors of red cherry and berry and blueberry with a savory herbal thread. Silken tannins, with deft oak management. A solid wine but doesn’t overly excite. Score: 90

2015 Waits-Mast Nash Mill Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 70 cases, $42. Released November 2017. Average harvest Brix 23.5º. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. 100% de-stemmed, proprietary yeast fermentation. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 33% new, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Lovable aromas of red berries, fresh cherry, spice and sandalwood. Discretely concentrated essence of cherry and raspberry with impressive length in the mouth and on the finish.Luxurious mouthfeel, with very fine-grain tannins and a compliment of toasty oak in the background. This is clearly a special vineyard. Score: 93


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