Pinot noir


Well, rats, there were supposed to be 20 wines in this post, but one seems to have disappeared. The world and its ways are so mysterious! Anyway, here’s a roster of 19 pinot noir wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, rated from Very Good+ to Exceptional, so, generally, I liked these wines a great deal, with quibbles here and there. With a couple of exceptions, these are from 2014. Many are produced in small quantities. As is the case with Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all (or at least most) technical, historical, geographical and personnel information for the sake of incisive reviewers ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook. (“Ripped” may be taken literally, since a dog narfed a number of pages of this particular notebook and tore the covers off. Bad Dog!) These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and consume in moderation.

A lack of label or bottle images for some of these selections is a result of winery websites not providing adequate (or any) help in that direction.
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Alloro Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.1% alc. 1,600 cases. Transparent medium mulberry-magenta hue; cloves, sandalwood and loam; smoky black cherries and currants; beetroot, rhubarb and sassafras; crush violets and lavender; dense, supple and super satiny; surging acidity like an electrical current; a lively and dynamic pinot noir that demands further sipping as you go. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Alloro Vineyard Estate Riservata Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.1 percent alcohol. 300 cases. Medium transparent ruby; dark, rich, warm and spicy; straight from the exotic spice box; macerated and slightly roasted black and red cherries and currants; sandalwood, sassafras, hint of cumin; briers, brambles and loam, intriguing note of fennel seed; slightly sinewy tannins; dense, satiny, hefty on the palate but elegant and well-knit; lovely balance and integrity. Not through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. Lovely transparent mulberry hue; intense aromas and flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and currants with wood smoke, heather and autumn leaves; a few moments in the glass open notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; dense and satiny, rich in loam; from mid-palate back through the finish oak that had been in the background comes forward, lightly dusted and burnished, and the graphite-iodine minerality burgeons. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
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Brooks Wines “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. Transparent medium ruby with a magenta tinge; opens the whole box of spices and dried fruit: cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, macerated black cherries and currants; delivers a real tannic and earthy presence, and you feel the oak as a subtle framing device, but a sleek, supple texture; builds a floral character as the moments pass, while the whole package feels spontaneous, individual and feral; becomes quite rooty and woodsy, with depths of iodine and iron. A spectacular performance of detail and dimension that remains true to the grape. Now through 2024 to ’28. Exceptional. About $38.
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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District. 13.9% alc. 520 cases. A color both transparent and intense, medium ruby-mulberry shading to cerise delicacy; an exotic pinot noir, featuring sandalwood and sassafras, smoked red and black cherries and currants, loam, lavender and lilac; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cloves, allspice and new leather; supple, lithe and satiny, with lovely, almost weightless heft on the palate, yet gaining substance and deliberation as the moments pass; though the wine remains fresh and appealing, you feel the tug of slightly dusty oak from mid-palate back through the graphite, underbrush and iodine-infused finish. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2026 to ’28. A great achievement. Exceptional. About $42.
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Ghost Hill Cellars Prospector’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District. 13.5 percent alc. 141 cases. Entrancing transparent ruby-garnet with an invisible rim; a multi-layered bouquet of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, sandalwood, loam and forest floor, smoke, tobacco and cigarette paper; intense and concentrated black cherry, plum and blueberry scents; all segues seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine is supple and satiny yet feels slightly roughened, with a hint of resistance, as if lightly rubbed with fine sandpaper; as a whole, dense, tense, dynamic and pretty damned exotic. Now through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $55.
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Illahe Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Dark ruby graduating to a transparent mulberry rim; cranberry and pomegranate, loam, briers and an intriguing note of mint; lavender and iodine under red and black cherries; silky and supple, acidity cuts a swath; uncomplicated, with direct appeal to nose and palate. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe Vineyards “Percheron” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 14.5% alc. 270 cases. Dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; loam, cherry pit and skin, briers and brambles, sandalwood and cloves; a blossoming compote of red and black cherries and currants loaded with violets and lilac, all with an intense graphite background; super satiny texture riven by incisive acidity that cuts a swath; a hefty, sumptuous pinot noir that brings out the oak on the spice-and-mineral flecked finish. Now through 2021 to ’24. Perhaps a bit too sizable for its own good. Very Good+. About $40.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 14.2% alc. 250 cases. Intense dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; plums and black currants, distinctly loamy, leathery and briery; cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and violets; very lively and alluring; dense and velvety, with dusty tannins, very brambly and brushy; gains depths of spiced and macerated black fruit; notes of moss and autumn leaves. An intriguing earthy style, quite palatable yet serious. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Lenné Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton. 14.2% alc. 100 cases. A dark, earthy, spicy and intense wine, featuring a dark ruby color shading to a transparent mulberry rim and notes of espresso, tobacco and tar, concentrated black cherry and raspberry scents and flavors and a super-satiny texture that carries lots of heft on the palate; in its briery-brambly nature, its fairly shaggy tannins and its long loamy, mineral-laden finish, this is a pretty darned syrah-like pinot noir. From 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Lenné cinq élus Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District. 14.2% alc. 100 cases. Intense ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; nothing ethereal here, but expresses the grape’s deep, dark, earthy side; cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with the latter’s hint of fragrant woody astringency; blueberry and black cherry, notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; loam, beetroot and old leather; velvety texture laced with iron, delivers real heft and substance. Try 2019 through 2025 to ’26. Excellent. About $72.
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Montinore Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley. 13.9% alc. Medium ruby fading to a delicate rim; quite a loamy, foresty pinot noir; raspberry, cranberry and raspberry leaf, hint of black cherry; graphite and iodine, leather, dried thyme and rosemary, briery and brambly, notes of moss, wood-smoke and dried porcini; sleek and lithe, quite animated; keeps you going after another sip. Now through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Nicolas & Jay Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. 2,400 cases. A collaboration between Jean-Nicolas Meo of Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy and music and media entrepreneur Jay Boberg. Beautiful deep ruby-mulberry hue shading to transparent magenta; very clean, pure and intense; black cherries and plums, sandalwood and sassafras, notes of violets, rose petals and loam; in fact, a definitive loamy character that connects the wine to the earth; with dusty, graphite-ridden tannins, yet expresses the elegance and nuance of pinot noir. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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Vidon Vineyard 3-Clones Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.3% alc. 710 cases. Transparent medium ruby hue; offers the spectrum of earthy loam, roots and autumn leaf qualities with deeply spiced raspberries and plums; texture feels like silk slightly roughened by sandalwood; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while moderate and lightly dusted tannins provide structure. A lovely pinot noir. Now through 2019 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Vidon Vineyard Brigita Clone 777 Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.3% alc. 125 cases. Vibrant ruby color shading to a transparent rim; woody spices and loam; macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and blueberries, though more spicy than fruity; a firm foundation of lightly dusty tannins and oak; feels more about structure now. Try 2019 through 2014 or ’25. Very Good+. About $50.
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Vidon Vineyard Hans Clone Pommard Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.3% alc. 148 cases. Beguiling transparent ruby hue fading to an invisible rim; a stalwart pinot noir, the intensity, concentration and oak much in evidence; earthy and loamy; very dry; fruitcake, cloves, sandalwood, black fruit scents and flavors very deep, spiced and macerated, rooty and intense; a powerful and muscular expression of the grape. Try from 2019 through 2024 or ’25. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $50.
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Vidon Vineyard Mirabelle Clone 115 Pinot Noir 2014, Chehalem Mountains. 14.3% alc. 100 cases. Dark to medium ruby; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; sandalwood, lavender, lilac and loam, with notes of tobacco and cumin; deeply spicy, rooty and earthy, quite dry, spare yet juicy, sleek, almost sumptuous but saved by keen acidity; tremendous presence and density. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Youngberg Hill “Jordan” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 13.7% alc. 448 cases. Medium transparent cherry-red hue; loam, iodine and iron; raspberry and plum, slightly spiced and macerated; autumnal forest floor, raspberry leaf and briers; acidity cuts a swath; texture like satin slightly roughened by sandpaper; epitome of a deftly balanced earthy style of pinot noir, spare, elegant and nuanced. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Youngberg Hill “Natasha” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 137 cases(?) The color a riveting medium mulberry-magenta hue; exotic and seductive yet rigorous on the palate; loam, rhubarb and beetroot, cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, macerated black cherries and currants; lovely, lithe satiny texture through which urgent acidity plows a furrow; shadings of dusty graphite and tannin lend darkness to the bright red and black fruit flavors. An entrancing pinot noir to drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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The good news is that the Iron Horse Gratitude Brut Rosé 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is superb. Also good news is that $5 from each bottle sold will go to The Redwood Empire Food Bank, which is providing critical supplies to evacuation centers and shelters in Sonoma County for people displaced by the recent devastating wild-fires, while working to ensure that those who needed food assistance before the fires are still able to receive help. It’s a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, resulting in an entrancing hue of very pale coral-smoky topaz, enlivened by a fervent upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. The first impression is of pure strawberry, a notion quickly subsumed by delicate notes of macerated peaches and spiced pears, highlighted by apple skin, blood orange and seashell and limestone minerality; in the background blossoms a trace of fresh-baked brioche. The lithe dynamic mineral element dominates the palate along with crystalline acidity for raciness and verve; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lime peel and almond skin. The whole package is dry, spare and elegant, adding up to the best brut rosé sparkling wine I have tasted this year. 13.5 percent alcohol. Proprietor of Iron Horse is Joy Sterling; winemaker is David Munksgard. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

Jed Steele is assured a place in the annals of the California wine industry — and in the chronicle of American consumer taste — because he formulated the character of the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, a ripe, slightly florid and slightly sweet chardonnay that tickled American palates to the tune of millions of cases. The wine was introduced in 1982, when proprietor Jess Jackson was getting started in the business. Steele had worked at Stony Hill and Edmeades and brought a wealth of knowledge, as well as instinct and intuition, to Kendall-Jackson, an ever expanding winery for which he worked until 1991, when Jackson fired Steele amid contentious accusations leading to suits and counter-suits. Jackson asserted that the “formula” for the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay was a trade secret owned by the company, not by the man who created the wine. Surprisingly, a court agreed with Jackson. Water under the bridge, right. That year, the winemaker started Steele Wines, based in Lake County but drawing grapes from the breadth of California’s wine regions. While he makes a dizzying array of wines from multiple grape varieties, Steele produces several pinot noirs, both on a regional basis and from the single-vineyard standpoint. In today’s post, we look at an inexpensive and approachable example from Lake County, under the Shooting Star label; models from 2013 and ’14 from Santa Barbara County and Carneros; and a single-vineyard offering from the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara. No one would mistake these wines for anything other than pinot noir, yet Jed Steele imprints his individuality on each one, allowing the grape to express itself while keeping to his vision of what the grape can be.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with the Shooting Star Pinot Noir 2015, Lake County, under a label that’s one of Steele Wines’ subsidiary (and competitively priced) efforts. The wine aged nine months in French and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; aromas and flavors of black cherries and currants are lightly spiced with sassafras and cloves, with a note of red cherry in the background. The texture is silky smooth and animated by brisk acidity; the finish brings in hints of loam and graphite. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. A Real Bargain at about $14.
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The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged eight months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, shading to a medium transparent rim; the beguiling and seductive bouquet offers notes of violets and rose petals, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, with a complex weaving of sassafras, rhubarb, sandalwood and cloves and tantalizing hints of cranberry and sour cherry. The texture is supernally satiny, but make no mistake, this pinot noir delivers a real mouthful of loamy-spicy black and red fruit flavors and vivid acidity, while the finish brings in elements of new leather and graphite. 14.5 percent alcohol. An exotic and highly individual pinot noir drinking beautifully at four years; it should develop well through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.
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Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Barbara County. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; this pinot noir is dense with black and red fruit and exotic spice, feeling macerated and slightly fleshy and roasted; black and red cherries and currants display a hint of plum; a ballooning floral element wreathes violets and rose petals, while a penetrating graphite quality arrows through the svelte, succulent texture; lip-smacking acidity keeps the whole package lively. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $21.
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The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 10 to 12 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, a percentage I like. The color is medium ruby-garnet with a transparent rim; the impression is of spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, fairly ripe and fleshy and permeated by notes of an element slightly resinous and herbal, like fresh rosemary, and by deeper hints of cranberry and pomegranate, violets and dusty loam. The texture is irresistibly satiny-smooth. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $21.
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As with the other pinot noirs in this post, the Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, delivers a well-modulated, almost subliminal oak presence that doesn’t interfere with its aromas — both lovely and intense — of red cherries and currants permeated by blossoming notes of violets and lavender, sassafras and sandalwood or its expansive flavors of ripe red and black fruit that after a few minutes in the glass take on hints of loam and new leather, bittersweet chocolate and graphite. The whole package is driven by acidity that cuts a path on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
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The Steele Wines Bien Nacido Vineyard Block N Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. An entrancing medium transparent ruby hue shades to a delicate rim; very pure, intense yet generous black and red cherry and currant scents and flavors are permeated by pronounced elements of pomegranate and cranberry, sandalwood and sassafras. On the palate, this pinot noir is lithe, supple and suave, animated by bright acidity and given a firm mineral backbone of graphite and loam. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 150 cases. Should drink beautifully through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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Here’s a pinot noir wine that lovers of the grape should buy by the case. The Averaen Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Willamette Valley, is a product of the same team that owns Banshee Wines in Sonoma County. The grapes derive from vineyards found in four of Willamette’s sub-AVAs: McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity Hills and Van Duzen Corridor. The grapes fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks and well-used French foudres, that is, quite large barrels, followed by aging 10 months in French barriques. The color is an entrancing, totally transparent medium to light ruby hue; aromas of sandalwood and sassafras, black and red cherries and pomegranate are delicate yet tensile, gaining deliberation through subtle notes of graphite and loam, rose petals and lilacs. The texture is pure, light, winsome satin, lithe and lovely; it’s a dry pinot noir yet juicy with red and black berry flavors upheld by bright acidity and given a touch of seriousness by a burgeoning structure dark with elements of underbrush and forest floor. 14.1 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Adam Smith. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. This was a local purchase; prices nationally are about $19 to $22, representing Good Value.

So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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I’ll say right here, at the beginning of this post, that the result of tasting a short roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the acclaimed Patz & Hall Wines was a conclusion too common in this series: I loved the pinot noirs, abhorred the chardonnays. The former I found exciting, multi-layered and slightly unpredictable, replete with pinot noir character yet each creating its own sense of detail and dimension. The chardonnays were entirely too predictable in the line of the dominant California style: too ripe and sweet with baked fruit qualities, too spicy, too oaky and intrinsically unbalanced. Those who disagree with me about these chardonnays and consider them and others like them some sort of epitome are, I know, manifold, and they are entitled to their opinion. The factors involved and of most importance for this blog are my nose and palate, and I can do naught else but follow their dictates.

Donald Patz and James Hall, who met while working for Flora Springs Winery, founded their enterprise, with their partners, in 1988. The winery owns no vineyards but makes wine on long-term contracts from highly acclaimed vineyards, primarily in Sonoma County. They sold the company to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in April 2016.

These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby fading to a transparent and then ethereal magenta rim. The wine aged in 40 percent new French oak barrels. This is a pure, bright, intriguing pinot noir, whose scents of red, black and blue fruit compote are spiked with notes of beetroot and rose petals, sandalwood and lavender; the wine is lithe, lean and supple on the palate, taut and spicy, and a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of wood smoke and autumn leaves, along with hints of pomegranate and cranberry. This is a cuvee blended from a roster of top Sonoma Coast vineyards, including Chenoweth, Dutton and Gap’s Crown. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $48.
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The Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged in 50 percent new French oak barrels. The color is a beautiful dark mulberry shading to a lighter magenta rim; concentrated aromas of black cherries, currants and plums feel dredged in dried baking spices and hints of rose petals and sassafras, fig and braised fennel. The wine displays a loamy, untamed character, framed by moderately dusty tannins and a burnished, slightly sanded texture, through which bright acidity cuts a swath; macerated and lightly roasted red and black fruit flavors open notes of smoke and damp ash, leading to a finish both generous and chiseled. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The chardonnays in question are the Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast ($40); Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley ($44); Patz & Hall Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino ($60). These are bold and assertive wines in every respect: super-ripe fruit with baked apple and roasted pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, dense textures, no-holds-barred spiciness and drenching oak. I understand that many critics and consumers adore chardonnays fashioned in this manner, but I find them to be ruinous to the potential purity and crystalline clarity of which the chardonnay grape is wonderfully capable. The Alder Springs I found to be particularly egregious in its stiff and drying oak influence. If these rich, glossy and exaggerated examples mark your favorite style of chardonnay, go for them by all means. For me and my palate, I find them unpleasant, strident and undrinkable, either on their own or with food.
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Winemaker Chris Williams produces an array of pinot noirs for Brooks Wines every year, but today we looks at his basic or entry-level model, the Brooks Runaway Red Pinot Noir 2015, derived from nine vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Yes, that’s a depiction of Leon Trotsky on the label. The wine fermented by native yeast and aged 10 months in French oak barrels. The color is a beguiling transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; elevating aromas of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants take on, after a few moments in the glass, a cast of ripe raspberry and the slight rasp of raspberry leaf and stem; all of these immensely pleasing elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where they expand into notes of woodsmoke, tobacco and balsam. Plenty of loamy, rooty qualities betoken a grasp of the vineyards and their underlying strata, all upheld by incisive acidity and a finish lightly tinged by iodine and graphite. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2022. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.

Here’s a beautiful pinot noir for lovers of the style that toes a line between lush and lovely, on one hand, and sinewy and dynamic, on the other. What I’m saying is that the FEL Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County), strikes a perfect balance in nose and palate in terms of the elegant, the ethereal, and the powerful. The wine, made by Ryan Hodgins, aged 16 months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels. The color is an alluring dark ruby that shades to an utterly transparent magenta rim; ripe and spicy black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lilac and rose petals and subtle undertones of loam and oolong tea. Lip-smacking density is riven by persistent acidity that enlivens flavors of black and blue fruit leaning toward plum and mulberry, all set in a compelling, lithe, satiny texture; a tide of slightly dusty, velvety tannins brings a sense of framing and foundation that joins with a wisp of oak and all that dark, spicy fruit compote for a succulent finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with a roasted chicken, seared duck magret, pork tenderloin. Anderson Valley’s FEL Wines is an adjunct of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.


It’s not easy to produce an inexpensive pinot noir, one that expresses real varietal character in an easy-to-drink package, but Toad Hollow Vineyards seems to succeed every year with its offering from Monterey County. Don’t look to the bright and totally transparent ruby-cranberry hued Toad Hollow Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey County, for great depth and dimension. Find satisfaction and pleasure, instead, in its scents of smoky and slightly fleshy red and black cherries imbued with cloves, rhubarb and mulberries; its super satiny and supple texture; its sleek, fine-boned structure; and its delicious and darkly-spiced flavors of black cherries and currants animated by clean acidity and, from mid-palate back, a nicely chiseled mineral quality that gains some heft as the moments pass. 14.2 percent alcohol. This pinot noir would sell like crazy in wine-by-the-glass programs at bars and restaurants. Now through 2019. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

Fathers & Daughters Cellars only made its first wine in 2015, though the family, longtime owners of the Ferrington Vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, for many years sold primarily pinot noir grapes to such highly regarded labels as Williams-Selyam, Flowers and Arista. The winery represents a collaborative and multi-generational effort of the “fathers and daughters” in the family: Patriarch Kurt Schoeneman, his daughter Sarah, Sarah’s husband Guy Pacurar, their daughter, Ella, and Guy’s older daughter, Taylor. Winemaker is Phillip Baxter. I was mightily and sort of incrementally impressed with the trio of wines reviewed on this page today, particularly the limited production Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, which any devotee of West Coast pinot noirs should search for diligently.

These wines were samples for review.
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First, a sort of jeu d’esprit of a lightly effervescent sparkling wine, the Fathers & Daughters Cellars Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles 2016, Anderson Valley. With no second fermentation in the bottle as is the case with most sparkling wines, including Champagne (or in tank, in the Charmat process), this delightful and intriguing wine is made in what in parts of France is called the methode ancestrale or methode rurale, that is, a young wine is bottled before all the residual sugar has transformed into alcohol, so the fermentation that continues in the bottle produces carbon dioxide, hence: bubbles. For this wine, the initial fermentation was in all neutral French oak barrels. Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles ’16 was made completely from chardonnay grapes, being, in reality, a blanc de blancs. The color is pale yellow-gold, animated by a steady but narrow stream of tiny, foaming bubbles; the bouquet is characterized by freshly cut lemons, ginger, cloves and seashell salinity; the whole effect is of light, delicate brightness, garden freshness, but exhibiting a touch of muscat’s foxy petrol nature and hints of peach, heather and chalk. 13.9 percent alcohol. Could be an essential Summer quaff, except that production was 100 cases. Contact the winery to see if the tasting room can ship you a few bottles. Very Good+. About $19.
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A blend of sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer and chardonnay, the Father’s & Daughters “The Dance” 2016, Anderson Valley, is a perfect wine for Summer sipping. Fresh as a daisy, with a sort of fruit cocktail-pear compote quality, the wine offers a pale straw-gold color and a light, delicately sweet apple character touched by a broad floral nature and hints of straw and meadowy herbs and flowers. It’s a bit musky — the gewurztraminer speaking — and very dry from mid-palate back through the finish blithely furnished with notes of spiced peaches, quince, lemongrass and limestone minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. This one really grew on me. Excellent. About $28.
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All right, the previously mentioned wines were attractive, interesting and entertaining, certainly worthy of attention. The Father’s & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, however, is something else, as in among the very best pinot noirs I have tasted this year, a wine of profound yet ineffable elegance and power. The grapes were hand-harvested, and fermentation was accomplished by native yeasts; the wine saw no new oak but aged 18 months in 30 percent once-used French barrels and 70 percent neutral barrels. The color is lovely limpid cherry shading to a delicate invisible rim; aromas of ripe black and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves and rose petals, cranberry and loam, beetroot and rhubarb. The wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, lithe, supple and satiny on the palate but pulling up a burgeoning tide of iodine and graphite, briers and brambles and a touch of flinty austerity; a few moments in the glass unfold elements of sandalwood and cherry compote. Energized by bright acidity, the wine delivers a long follow-through for the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Production was 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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