VOLUME 12, ISSUE 2
February 17, 2020

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Pinot Noir & Chardonnay I Highly Recommend


I have stopped doing formal reviews of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but I still drink those wines regularly. On a typical evening before dinner, I will open a bottle or two or three until I find one worth drinking. Life is too short to drink ordinary wine. Below are amazeballs wines that I have enjoyed over the past few months listed by vintage year. My impressions are based on drinking the wines before dinner and with food rather than critical tasting and spitting.

2014 Phelps Creek Vineyards Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 416 cases, $54. Crafted by fourth generation Burgundian winemaker Alexandrine Roy who choses the best barrels from the estate fruit. · One of the greatest domestic Pinot Noirs I have had in recent memory! The complete package and drinking beautiful now at 5+ years of age. I reviewed this wine in February 2017 and scored it 96, stating that it needed more time in the cellar. That prediction has come to fruition and the wine would score more like 97-98 now. Note: The 2015 and 2016 vintages of this wine are currently available on the winery’s website ($54). Score: 97-98

2014 Soliste Solitaire Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 63 cases, $100. A selection of the very best grapes through multiple passes at harvest at Guidici Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast near Occidental. A monoclone wine of Dijon “828.” 50% whole cluster fermentation. Aged in one 600-liter oak barrel for an extended 28 months. · Rather unctuous yet polished in this vintage, with a complex nose of black cherry and blackberry, forest floor and rose petal and a mid weight plus array of fresh dark fruits kissed by earth and savory herb notes with gracious oak support. The mouth feel is particularly dreamy. Juicy, with amorous tannins and a gutsy finish that persists. Still outstanding the following day from a previously opened and recorked bottle. This wine is built for the long haul and I almost regret popping the cork so soon. However, the extended elevage has rendered the wine approachable now. Score range 94-95. Note: This wine is still available through the winery’s website store. Score: 94-95

2015 Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” California Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 750 cases, $50. A unique wine that is a blend of barrels from the best vineyards from Santa Maria Valley with Russian River Valley and Monterey County sources included in some years. The blend, assembled by Jim Clendenen, is different each year. · Everything you could ask for in a California Pinot Noir. Elegant, sexy and balanced. This one bowled me over like it did when I reviewed it July 20, 2019. Still giving when sampled the following day after opening. I scored it 96 6 months ago and I still stick with that rating. The 2016 vintage version of this wine is currently available on the winery’s website and at $50 is one of the greatest bargains available in California ultrapremium Pinot Noir. Note: the 2016 vintage of this wine is available on the winery’s website store. Score: 96

2015 Guillén Family Wines Damian Winemaker’s Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8%, 73 cases, $40. Jesus Guillén was a brilliant, young, and self-taught winemaker that I met and tasted with on a number of occasions before his untimely passing in November 2018. He was both the head winemaker at White Rose Estate Winery and Vineyard and winemaker for his own label. This terrific wine, now five years of age, is drinking perfectly. A winemaker’s selection on the best barrels in the cellar, it is a blend of three vineyards and two clones: Pommard and Dijon 667. 100% whole cluster, native fermentation. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new. · This wine really blew me away and I wished that I had more in my cellar. The exotic aromas reflected all the good that whole cluster can bring to Pinot Noir with notes of dark berry, rose petal, cardamom and burnt tobacco. Modest in weight, but highly flavorful, featuring a range of purple and black fruits backed by firm, but not unwieldy tannins. Sterling acidity and a boisterous finish complete the picture. Extraordinary now, but will age beautifully. I scored the wine 94 in early 2018, but this bottle was more in the 97-98 range. Note: the winery is still operated by Jesus’ widow. Curiously, the winery’s website has not been updated to indicate Jesus’ demise and I am uncertain who has taken over the winemaking duties. Tresider Burns has been hired as the winemaker for White Rose Estate Winery & Vineyard while Dago Guillén continues as tasting room manager and Gavin Joll as general manager at White Rose. Score: 97-98

2017 Big Basin Alfaro Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 155 cases, $60 (magnums $129). Winemaker Bradley Brown incorporates a significant amount of whole cluster in his fermentations and this beauty was made with the full monty - 100% whole cluster. 18-year-old vines. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Native primary and malolactic fermentations. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered and finished under NormaCork without risk of cork taint. This wine is the standout among the 2017 Big Basin offerings. · Lovely aromas of black cherry compote, spice and burnt tobacco. Sterling balance with plenty of upfront pleasure, packing good ripeness at a modest ABV. Luscious black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and a hint of turmeric spice. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. 94-95 score range. Note: the wine is available through the winery’s website store. The Lester Family Vineyard bottling has also been a top performer but the 2017 vintage is sold out. Score: 94-95

2017 Drew Estate Mid-Slope Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., $70. Jason Drew has been crafted terrific wines from his off-the-grid winery in Elk, overlooking the Anderson Valley to the East and the Pacific Ocean 3 miles to the West at 1,250 feet elevation in the Mendocino Ridge AVA. The 7.5-acre estate vineyard (Drew Ranch) is one of the most westerly vineyards on the North Coast. Clones include Pommard, 943, 115, 667, Mt. Eden, Calera and a Swan selection. The first vintage from this vineyard was 2014 and with this vintage the vineyard is beginning to show its metal. Drew tends to use about 30%-50% whole cluster in most vintages (30% for this wine). The Pinot Noir wines are aged 11 months in about 33% new French oak barrels. Mt Eden clone and Calera and Swan selections. · Engaging aromas of black cherries, black plums, turkey spices and forest floor. Beautifully composed with layers of flavor mimicking the nose and finishing long and pure. 94-95 score range. Note: Drew continues to source fruit from Morning Dew Ranch, the vineyard planted and formerly owned by Burt Williams. This is always an exceptional bottling as well. Drew wines are sold through a mailing list. Score: 94-95

2017 DION Old Vines Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $60. This winery produces an exceptional lineup of wines from the 60-acre estate DION Vineyard. This limited release bottling is produced from vines planted in 1976 on the 10-acre Winery Block. The Pommard vines are self-rooted and non-irrigated. The winery’s most special wine. · Clearly a special wine, with aromas of exotic spices, black stone and berry fruits along with dark rose petal. Bolder and riper in this vintage in a mid-weight plus style offering delicious flavors of black raspberry and blackberry fruits framed by modest fine-grain tannins. Impeccably balanced, with a surge of black cherry goodness exhumed over time in the glass on the long finish. A very classy old vines treasure that scores in the 93-94 range. Note: the 2015 Old Vines Pinot Noir ($55, my score 93) and 2016 Old Vines Pinot Noir ($60, my score 96) are still available. The winery’s Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, based on Dijon clones, is also a consistent star in the winery’s Pinot Noir lineup. I am not sure this wine has been released as of yet. Score: 93-94

2017 Occidental Freestone-Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $65. Steve Kistler departed Kistler Vineyards as winemaker to concentrate on growing and crafting Pinot Noir from West Sonoma Coast vineyards extending to Bodega Headlands, almost a rock’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. Steve started his label in 2011, hoping to have a project he could pass on to his daughters. The 20-acres of land for the vineyards was acquired in 1999, later adding more parcels to bring the total to 85 acres. The vineyards for the Occidental Wines label were planted in the early 2000s with a Calera selection and field selections from Vosne Romanée that Kistler acquired in the early 1990s and propagated. The four vineyards in 2020 were: Bodega Headlands, Running Fence, SWK and Occidental Station. Kistler built a winery east of the town of Bodega on a ridge next to the Bodega Headlands Vineyard. The wines were initially marketed through the Kistler mailing list, but now the winery is independent and focusing solely on Pinot Noir. For the 2017 vintage, there are four single-vineyard Pinot Noirs offered. The wines feature native primary and malolactic fermentations, and free-run juice only. The wines are aged in Francois Frères oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine is a blend of fruit from the estate vineyards and is essentially an appellation wine. 20-30% whole clusters. Aged in 25% new French oak. · A sophisticated offering that rivals the single-vineyard wines produced in this vintage. Medium plus in weight with an array of enticing dark red and purple fruits on the nose and palate. Beautifully composed with fruit, acid and tannin all in complimentary balance and finishing with lingering purple fruit goodness. Noticeably better with improved oak integration when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score range 93-94. Note: I was never enamored with Kistler Vineyard Pinot Noirs as they were too ripe and rich for my palate, more in tune with the palate of Robert Parker who in essence has been the only critic to review Kistler’s wines over the years. I am much more intrigued with this Occidental wine which that is not as lavishly fruited but more refined and I consider more age-worthy. Occidental wines are sold through a mailing list. Members of the mailing list can visit by appointment the winery and modern tasting room located at the estate. Score: 93-94

2018 Loring Wine Company Cortada Alta Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 400 cases, $N/A, screwcap. Clones 23 and “828.” Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 15% new. This is my first encounter with this vineyard that was planted by John Peterson high on a hillside, the highest elevation site in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of spiced black cherries lead to an elegantly-styled, mid weight wine that charms with fine-tuned acidity and juiciness. The flavors of black cherry and black raspberry are infused with spice and linger on the palate through an uplifting finish. The tannins are suave, the mouth feel is polished and the overall impression is one of gracious harmony. Still terrific when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score range: 93-94. Note: The 2018 lineup of Pinot Noir wines from Loring are outstanding. Brian Loring has bottled his wines under screwcap since 2004 Score: 93-94

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2016 Lavinea Lazy River Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 220 cases, $45. Winemaker Isabelle Meunier, formerly of Evening Land, crafts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in five AVAs in the northern Willamette Valley. This was my first experience with a Lavinea wine. A Wine Enthusiast top 100 Cellar Selection for 2019. Barrel fermented in 20% new French oak. · This is a stunning wine that is a dead ringer for a Grand Cru Chablis. Aromas and flavors of lemon curd, yellow peaches, lime and melon. Bright and slightly tart with a clean, brisk arrow of acidity. Still great when sampled the following day from a previously opened bottle. 93-94 score range. Note: available from K&L Wine Merchants online. Score: 93-94

2017 Evening Land Summum Seven Springs Estate Eola- Amity Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.0% alc., 337 cases, $100. Yes, this is expensive, but worth every penny. Produced from just 14 rows of the best Chardonnay vines at the top of Seven Springs Vineyard. The winery considers this offering their “utmost” and I agree. Gentle whole cluster Champagne press cycle and aged in neutral Stockinger 500 ml puncheons. Indigenous fermentation and aged 12 months in puncheon and 6 months in tank. Light fining without filtration. · The glorious potential of Oregon Chardonnay is exemplified in this classy wine. Perfumed with aromas of Meyer lemon, poached pear, and slight matchstick reduction. The flavors of lemon-lime and Granny Smith apple are uplifting and long in the mouth. A good compliment of bright acidity infuses the fruit flavors with “minerality” and juiciness. 95-96 score range. Note: the wine is still available from the winery. Score: 95-96

2017 DuMOL Chloe Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., 724 cases, $65. As regular readers know, I consider Ritchie Vineyard California’s top Chardonnay source. Long-time DuMOL winemaker, Andy Smith, has been crafting Old Wente Chardonnay from this vineyard for seventeen years. Vines were 45 years of age in this vintage. Barrel aged 12 months in 33% new French oak followed by 6 months of settling in tank. This is typically a lower-acid Chardonnay with rich, California sun-blessed fruit. · An opulent Chardonnay offering waves of succulent stone fruits and citrus offering an unctuous drinking experience. That said, the wine is not overblown and has good focus and finishing citric drive. I happen to relish this style of Chardonnay and have drank many bottles of this wine over the years. 95-96 score range. Note: DuMOL wines are sold primarily through a mailing list but bottles do show up at retailers such as K&L Wine Merchants. Score: 95-96


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