Monterey County: Great Pinot Values
Monterey County winegrowers are prospering in this recession as consumers seek out more value priced
wines. With 42,000 acres planted, Monterey County has only slightly less vineyard acreage than Napa Valley
(43,000 acres). 75% of Monterey County grapes are sent out of the county to be incorporated into wines from
Napa and Sonoma that often say, “California” on the label. This trend is slowly changing as Monterey gains
more cachet among consumers. Many wineries both in and outside of Monterey County are now bottling
Monterey County appellation wines, including Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir thrives in the northern parts of Monterey County including the Carmel Valley, Chalone, Arroyo Seco
and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations (see map below). The plum of Monterey County is the Santa Lucia
Highlands. This prestigious grape growing region sits directly opposite the low-lying vegetable plains of the
Salinas Valley. The maritime climate is well suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which represent 78% of the
Santa Lucia Highlands appellation’s 5,500 acres of vineyards. The Pinot Noirs from this appellation are
primarily vineyard-designated, with more appellation wines certain to appear as plantings increase and newer
plantings come into production.
I recently sampled a number of value-priced Monterey County Pinot Noirs that are currently on the market.
Monterey County has only 30 wineries, so many producers are located outside the Monterey appellation. The
quality was consistently solid and this is a region to look to for reliable, value-priced, varietally true Pinot Noir.
The Monterey Pinot Noirs tend to be darkly colored and well-endowed with dark fruits.
Will success spoil Pinot Noir? Basically, there are three tiers of Pinot Noir from California and Oregon: (1) <
$25, (2) $25-$60, and (3) > $60. The differences between the three tiers are subtle and often only detectable
by experienced tasters. The average consumer may not see the justification for the higher priced wines. Is the
$60 Pinot Noir three times better than the $20 Pinot Noir? In recent years, there has been a remarkable
advance in quality of low-priced Pinot Noir from California and Oregon and this will certainly pressure the
economic viability of higher priced examples of the varietal. Will there be enough Pinot geeks to support the multitude of high-priced Pinot Noirs? I had a subscriber recently cancel his subscription to the PinotFile saying,
“I am tired of paying for overpriced California Pinot Noirs.” Only time will tell.
2007 Castle Rock Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $10.
Very dark ruby color. On the nose the dark
fruit is overshadowed by some fecal notes (organic) with hints of spice and stem. Tasty sweet dark fruits on
the macho attack with respectable persistence on the finish. Smoothly textured with supple tannins. People
will like this wine. Tastes much better than it smells.
2007 Poppy Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $10.
Slightly confected strawberry aromas wrapped in
sweet oak with a touch of funk. Decent, but dilute, black cherry flavors with an oaky edge. Supple dry tannins
make for easy drinking.
2007 Chalone Vineyard Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $15.
Attractive cherry and raspberry
scents veering toward raisin. More redder fruited than many wines in this lineup featuring summer strawberries
and raspberries with a touch of tutti-fruity and sassafras. Flavors are on the ripe side.
2007 Carmel Road Winery Monterey Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $16.
From Arroyo Seco vineyards in Monterey County where most
mornings the vineyards are shrouded in fog. Afternoon breezes from
the Pacific Ocean deliver cool, maritime air. This winery has
specialized in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Monterey since 1999
and was a featured winery at this year’s International Pinot Noir
Celebration. The winemaker is Ivan Giotenov.
On the nose there is
intense black cherry and raspberry scents with a touch of fig and floral breeze.
Delicious black cherry core that is juicy and satisfying. Silky textured with a
clean and refreshing finish. One of the better value-priced Monterey Pinot Noirs.
2007 Paraiso Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $16. Pronounced
“pa-rye-zo,” a name given to the early Spanish explorers “Because it was like
heaven.” The Smith family has practiced sustainable farming for 35 years on this
Dark fruits are prominent on the nose which has an appealing underlying
minerality. Light on the palate with mild ripe dry tannins and balanced acidity.
2007 Praxis Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $16.
good and very true to the varietal. Fresh berries and warm brioche on the
nose followed on the palate with delicious compote of black cherries,
blueberries and blackberries. There is a complimentary underpinning of
smoky oak. Impressive mid-palate fullness but a bit thin on the short
2007 Candela Mission Ranch Monterey Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $20. Second label of Miura Vineyards.
Restrained dark fruits and crushed black grapes on the nose. Medium concentration of black cherries with
some earth and tea influence. Decent.
2007 La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $24.
explode from the glass over time with heavenly scents of dark Pinot fruits,
cardamon spice and a whiff of smoky oak. Perfectly composed with an
array of flavors including plum, blackberry, raspberry, tea and smoke. A
fruit-driven wine with a generosity that fills the mouth. Perfect harmony.
Clearly, the best wine in this lineup.
2007 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $34. From
the Pisoni family vineyards.
Powerful and very sexy deep berry and black
cherry aromas with whiffs of roses and vanillin. Satisfying core of
raspberry and blueberry fruit flavors with some persistence on the back
end. Nicely balanced with reserved tannins and a soft texture. Highly
recommended for an introduction to the gout de terroir of this appellation.
2007 Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $36.
garnet color. Aromas of berries and cherries with competing notes of oak char
and oak spice. On the palate there is respectable richness of black raspberry fruit
with hints of tar and black tea. The tannins are soft and the finish is crisp and
refreshing. The vein of noticeable oak that runs through this wine spoils the
experience for me.
2006 Lockwood Vineyard Block 7 Monterey Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $14. Estate grown and bottled.
Appealing aromas of black cherries, wildflowers, cedar and oak. Discreetly concentrated cherry and blueberry
flavors with the tannic backbone to age. Very soft in the mouth. No complaints, just doesn’t thrill.
2006 Estancia Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $24.
Sourced from the Stonewall
Vineyard Estate. Moderately deep reddish-purple color. Bright black cherry and strawberry perfume. Earthy
dark red fruits with a hint of raisin, tar and oak on the palate. Medium-weighted with respectable silkiness and