Pinot noir


Champ de Rêves was founded in 2010 to exploit the potential of the 85-acre Boone Ridge Vineyard CDR_13PNoir (WebLowRes)that lies at 1,400 to 2,000 feet above sea level in Mendocino County’s cool-climate Anderson Valley. The winery is a project of Jackson Family Wines. Winemaker is Eric Johannsen, who previously worked at such pinot noir-centric wineries as La Crema, Cuvaison and Williams Selyem. The Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged nine months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels, the sort of judicious use of wood that I like to see. The name means “field of dreams,” and indeed the wine is a sort of drowsy daydream of pinot noir beauty. The color is dark ruby shading to transparent magenta; aromas of ripe and smoky black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of violets and rose petals, and the whole package blossoms with hints of heather and loam, cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, a cedar box of dried spices and potpourri. The texture is superbly sleek and shapely, its lovely suppleness animated by bright acidity and an elusive edge of graphite minerality. Give the wine a few moments, and it brings up elements of pomegranate and cranberry and layers of underbrush, briers and brambles. It’s quite dry, and after an hour or so expands into considerable tannins, slightly dusty, chiseled and flecked with ebony. 14.5 percent alcohol. A marvelous expression of the grape from a high-altitude vineyard, for drinking through 2020 to ’23 with roasted chicken, seared magret of duck, squab or pork tenderloin. Exceptional About $45.

A sample for review.

O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
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FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
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Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
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Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
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Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.
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I have long been a fan of the pinor noir wines from Pfendler Vineyards, a small producer located in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. I rated the 2010 and 2012 Exceptional and the 2013 Excellent; all appeared on the list of “50 Great Wines” of the appropriate review year. Oddly, though, the only chardonnay I have written about from Pfendler is the 2010. Here is that mention, in the Weekend Wine post for March 22, 2013:

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.

The key to the wine seems to be a sense of risk — “bold and rich,” “oak comes through from mid-palate back” — combined with an effort toward elegance and balance. I wish I could say the same for the version under review today.
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I don’t know if the oak regimen at Pfendler changed recently; the winery’s website is still on pfendler chard2013. It seems to me that winemaker Greg Bjornstad has always favored a hands-off approach, though the Pfendler Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, exhibits a strangely marked presence of wood. The color is bright medium straw-gold, and the initial aromas consist of attractive notes of green apple, grapefruit and pineapple tinged with fresh coconut and lemongrass. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in touches of oak-influenced toffee and burnt-match, and on the palate the wine displays a stridently spicy character that leads to an astringent finish. No balance or elegance here. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Not recommended. About $38.
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No such worries about the Pfendler Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, an exemplar from beginning to pfendler pinotend. The color is an entrancing transparent medium cranberry-mulberry hue shading to an invisible rim; I could read my handwritten notes through this wine. It’s a bosky pinot noir that offers notes of foresty herbs and flowers, briers, brambles and loam, all to support scents and flavors of ripe and dried black cherries with currant and plum undertones; as the moments pass, this wine develops hints of cloves and rhubarb, lilac and rose petals. Bright acidity cuts a swath through a super-satiny texture, serving as counterpoint to elements of graphite and mildly dusty tannins; plenty of lithe, supple structure here, but not at the expense of generous fruit flavors or a mineral-flecked finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, rabbit and duck terrine. Excellent. About $45.
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These wines were samples for review.

The history of Byron Vineyards and Winery is as Byzantine as any of the wineries in a state where convoluted narratives of origins, founders, failures, buy-outs, consolidation and recovery SBCare common. It’s too easy to say that Byron Ken Brown founded his winery in the eastern reaches of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley in 1984. We have to go back to 1964, when Uriel Nielson planted the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, in an area considered too cool to grow grapes. Brown, the first winemaker at Zaca Mesa (for six vintages), purchased the Nielson Vineyard in 1989, and it became his estate vineyard. The people at Robert Mondavi Winery were impressed by the quality of Byron’s wines — mostly chardonnay and pinot noir — with the result that Mondavi bought the winery in 1990, retaining Ken Brown as winemaker. Such was the new owner’s faith in Byron’s potential that in 1995, Mondavi financed the creation of a technically advanced 32,000-square-foot winery.

O.K., now, when Constellation bought Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 for $1 billion, the giant drinks company signaled that it would divest itself of Mondavi’s individual winery properties, selling Byron to Legacy Estates Group, founded in 2000 by brothers Calvin and Dev Sidhu. Legacy had purchased Freemark Abbey in 2001 and followed with Arrowood and Byron in 2005, purchased for $40 million from Constellation. Eight months later, Legacy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Waiting in the wings was Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson and owner, with his wife Barbara Banke, of Jackson Family Wines. He acquired Legacy for $97 million, and it’s with Jackson Family Wines that Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron remain. Byron, not coincidentally, lies next to JFW’s Cambria Estate, and Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy produces pinot noir from Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard (see review below). Nagy came to Byron in 2001 as assistant winemaker and became director of winemaking there in 2003.

The four pinot noirs under review today from single vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. Byron also makes pinot noir and chardonnay from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, southeast of Santa Maria in the Santa Ynez Valley. While this quartet offers differing quotients of detail and dimension, the wines feature a similarity of seductive fruity, floral and spicy bouquets; dense enveloping textures; and loamy, slightly granitic earthiness and minerality.

These wines were samples for review. Map of Santa Barbara County AVAs from sbcountywines.com.
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At about 1,750 cases, the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria ECM306808Valley, offers by far the largest production of these four single-vineyard wines. The south-facing vineyard lies 18 miles from the coast, some 500 to 800 feet above sea level, on benchland overlooking the Santa Maria River. The site contains a mixture of alluvial, decomposing rock and older soils that have washed down from the foothills to the north. Nielson is the warmest of Byron’s vineyards in the valley, though still quite cool. The wine aged approximately 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels.

The color is a beautiful medium ruby shading to transparent magenta; aromas of ripe black cherries, raspberries and plums are permeated by hints of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, with high notes of rose petals and lilac. This is a sultry and satiny pinot noir, deeply spicy and almost luxuriously textured, though cut by vivid acidity and a tinge of slightly dusty tannins. The black fruit flavors are bolstered by an intense core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, while a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of mint and talc. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely dimension and detail. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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Planted in 1974, the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard, the coolest of Byron’s Santa Maria Valley sites, sits 10 miles from the Pacific at about 215 feet elevation. The environment is the sort of poor, sandy-loamy soil that forces vines to search deeply for water and nutrients. No pain, no gain, n’est-ce pas? The Byron Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels.

The color is a beguiling medium transparent ruby-mulberry hue; it’s a dark and slightly brooding pinot noir, pungent with cloves, sassafras and beetroot, smoky black cherries, and notes of violets, lavender and graphite. On the palate, it feels burnished, polished and sleek, flowing across the tongue in a sensuous satiny fashion, though it develops a serious loamy-musky-graphite element that speaks of profound depths and roots in the earth. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Julia’s Vineyard encompasses some of the oldest pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County, having been planted in 1970 and 1971. The location is two miles west of the Nielson Vineyard, situated at 500 feet elevation and running east-west. The soil is poor sandy limestone, requiring hard work on the part of the vines. The Byron Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. An entrancing transparent medium ruby hue shades to an invisible rim; you would be hard-pressed not to love this bouquet that seethes with smoky black cherries and currants imbued with hints of cedar and cloves, sage, rose petals and lilac, flint and graphite and revealing poignant notes of rhubarb and pomegranate. Totally seductive in its lovely weight and viscosity, uttering beguiling in its nuance and detail (and spicy black fruit flavors tinged with blue), this pinot noir does not neglect the structural elements of clean, bright acidity or an almost subliminal tannic edge etched with flint-like minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 115 cases. Prodigiously satisfying. Now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $45.
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The Byron Monument Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, is composed of grapes chosen from the best blocks of the winery’s estate Nielson Vineyard. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, 78 percent new barrels. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to an ephemeral magenta rim; aromas of black cherries steeped in oolong tea, notes of rhubarb and cola, cloves, an aura like clean linens snapping in an urgent breeze, fresh and dried fruit and flowers — all contribute to a wonderfully layered and appealing bouquet. The wine is dark and spicy on the palate, woodsy and loamy, dense and chewy, yet it displays ineffable delicacy and elegance despite its size and presence. It’s vivid and vital, a pinot noir whose languid satiny drape on the tongue belies its energy and elan. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 120 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Typically around the middle of April, I and my fellow wine writer/blogger colleagues begin rose brutreceiving marketing messages about brut rosé Champagnes and sparkling wine for Mother’s Day. Not long after, the suggestions about Port for Father’s Day gifts begin to pour in. It’s as if there’s some sacred PR tenet that dictates Pink for Moms and Port for Dads, in some sort of Venus/Mars dichotomy. Now I truly love Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines — and I like Port too — so I don’t mind playing along with the game, though my real inclination is not to limit these products to the days that honor our individual parents but to indulge all year round. Here, then, are six brut rosé examples from a variety of countries and regions, mostly composed of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but featuring some outliers too. Prices range from $18 to $70. Your mothers will thank you. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
Image from traveleatlove.com.
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The Vilarnau Brut Rosé Reserva, nv, Cava, is a blend of the indigenous red trepat grape, commonly used for rosé wines in Catalonia, (90 percent) with the remainder pinot noir. It spends 12 months or more in the bottle before disgorgement. A delightful, dry and delicious brut rosé, it offers a very pale copper-salmon color, with a supercharged surge of tiny bubbles, and pert aromas of strawberries and orange zest, somewhat tea-like and floral, and a slightly candied note of orange marmalade. The wine is lively with bright acidity and a keen-edged limestone element. 12 percent alcohol. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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A blend of 75 percent pinor noir and 25 percent chardonnay, the Rotari Brut Rosé 2013, Trento, Italy, offers a very pale onion skin hue and attractive aromas of strawberries, orange rind, apple peel and almond skin. This sparkling wine is very dry, spare, almost elegant, with crystalline acidity and chiming limestone-and-flint minerality, all enlivened by a sort of spanking fresh seashell-sea breeze salinity and savoriness. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
Imported by Rotari USA,
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The Szigeti Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, nv, Burgenland, Austria, is 100 percent varietal and aged on the yeast 12 months in the bottle. The color is a soft salmon-copper hue, energized by a constant stream of tiny bubbles. This is a very attractive and rather exotic sparkling wine that along with the usual elements of orange zest and strawberries includes notes of cloves and red currants, brambles and rose petals, in a dry, tart package framed by flint and chalk minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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La Valle Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, Italy, sees no oak or malolactic fermentation, the philosophy being to produce a sparkling wine that reflects freshness and purity and the influence of the vineyard. I can’t speak about the last aspect, but as to the first two, yes, this is a wonderfully fresh and pure brut rosé, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue and a fabulous frothing of tiny bubbles. (It’s 100 percent pinot noir and spent 30 months on the lees in the bottle.) It’s a sparking wine that depends on delicacy and elegance for its effects, yet hinges on a display of tensile strength in its crisp, vibrant, austere, stony-steely structure. A lovely nuance of faint raspberry, orange zest and brioche completes the picture. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Excellent. About $55.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York.
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The current issue of the Champagne Veuve Fourny et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 85 Fourny_Rose_nonvintage(12)_webpercent chardonnay (30 percent of which is reserve wine) and 15 percent pinot noir. It rested on the lees in the bottle two years before release. The wines are primarily 2011, with portions of 2010, ’09 and ’08. The color is an entrancing pale copper-salmon hue, animated by a torrent of glinting bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries and permeated by notes of toasted almonds and almond skin, heather, apple peel and orange rind. This is a juicy, close to delicious but very dry Champagne of ice and snow, bolstered by ample limestone minerality and vibrant acidity that push it toward glacial, Olympian heights and crystalline purity. 12 percent alcohol. Always a favorite in our house. This recent release, disgorged in 2014, should drink well through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65, a local purchase.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
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The color of the Möet et Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2008 is vivid blood-orange-red with a sheen of tarnished silver; blood orange shows up, too, in aromas redolent of that fruit, with notes of raspberry, heather and wildflowers, a touch of orange liqueur and the vibrancy of damp limestone. This Champagne is quite dry, savory and saline, with a depth of clove spiciness, macerated strawberries, seashell minerality and a distinct flint-chalk element; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of apple peel, heather and peach fuzz. It’s taut with acidity yet generous and enveloping, and it finishes slightly briery and with a yin and yang suggestion of orange marmalade, both the faint sweetness and the echo of bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is a blend of 46 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged seven years on the lees in bottle. Now through 2020 to 2025. Wonderful weight, presence and tone. Excellent. About $70.
Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.
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There’s nothing seditious about the Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River sedition-bottle-of-wine2Valley. Rather, the wine displays an awesome intensification of everything that we love about pinot noir from this well-known appellation in Sonoma County. Sedition Wine is a partnership between Jigar Patel and winemaker Josh Bartels, Midwesterners who met at Purdue University more than 20 years ago. This wine marks the first release from their venture. Though the single-vineyard designated on the label is Chenoweth, some portion of the grapes in the wine derived from the Graham Family Vineyards. And though the listed appellation is Sonoma County, the real origin is the narrower realm of the Green Valley sub-AVA. The Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 aged 16 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; seductive aromas of smoky, spicy and macerated red and black cherries are permeated by notes of rhubarb and sassafras, lavender and violets, licorice and sandalwood, all borne by a wafting of dusty graphite. This pinot noir registers both dense and juicy on the palate, particularly in the area of ripe, spiced plums, but whatever the near viscosity of a super-satiny texture, the wine is certainly animated by lip-smacking acidity that plows a furrow and the energy inherent in slightly dusty tannins; layers of brambly-briery influence and hints of leather and loam contribute a slightly roughened character, as if the wine knew that being too sophisticated, too polished were a grave fault. A sensible 13.8 percent alcohol. A superb pinot noir for drinking now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 230 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

A sample for review.

Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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I am fond of pinot noir wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, particularly for what I perceive to be a general feature of such wines, a thread of rich, damp loamy character that bolsters the other qualities of fruit, acidity and minerality. I love this sensation that feels like a grounding in the earth, this evidence of things unseen under the vineyard. The Willamette Valley AVA was approved in 1984, and over the years was divided into six sub-AVAs as variations in micro-climate and soil were identified. The smaller AVAs are Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton. What’s interesting about the last region is that only grapes grown in vineyards from 200 to 1,000-feet elevation are entitled to the appellation; the federal government is typically not so fastidious about such matters. The wines under review today originate from the general Willamette AVA and from three of the sub-AVAs. The vintages run from 2011 to 2014, but are mainly 2012 and ’13, both excellent years for the area. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes posts, I eschew details of technical, historical, geographical and personality elements for the sake for incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. With two exceptions, duly noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Argyle Nuthouse Lone Star Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills. 13.5% alc. Beguiling 15112_ARG-NHPN-13-F_1transparent medium ruby hue; a complex and seamless layering of iodine, plums and graphite, sassafras, rhubarb and pomegranate, with plenty of smoked black cherries as highlights; supple, light and racy but offering pleasing depth and dimension in texture and structure; almost succulent in its tasty ripeness but honed by bright acidity; some time in the glass brings in hints of leather and loam. Pretty much a masterpiece, for drinking through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $50.
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David Hill Vineyards and Winery Black Jack Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. This pinot noir spent two years in new and used French oak, a device that contributes both to its superficial exoticism and to a general flattening and muting of varietal character. Very Good. About $55.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette valley. 13.1% alc. Medium ruby color with a brick-red rim; cloves and sandalwood, violets and lavender, graphite and loam; spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a background of plums; displays the profound structure and presence that a reserve wine should evince, but not without elegance and finesse; a deep foresty element with a glossy iodine and iron sheen. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $75. (A local purchase, about $85.)
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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills. 13.5% alc. Limpid medium ruby color; first come exotic notes of cloves, sandalwood and rose petals, followed by red cherries and currants, leather and loam, briers and brambles; a lithe and sinewy interpretation of the grape, with acid that plows a furrow on the palate and a background of graphite minerality; soft, slightly talc-like tannins take on more rigor as the moments pass, serving as framework for red berries seemingly steeped in some rooty black tea. Elemental. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyards Pinot Noir Blanc 2013, Yamhill-carlton. 13.5% alc. I ghostfind the white pinot noir phenomenon inexplicable, though this example is appealing enough, with laudable delicacy and elegance. Brilliant topaz-light copper hue; orange zest and peaches, notes of red cherries and currants; slightly loamy, a touch meadowy; bright acidity but still, the wine is curiously characterless. Drink up. Very Good. About $25.
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Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby-garnet; earthy grochau-cellars-logoand spicy, with loam, briers and brambles, cloves and allspice; macerated red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry; spare and sinewy, with acidity that plows a furrow; very dry, a lovely texture, but a fairly rigorous and demanding pinot noir (which I like). Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $33.
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Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir 2012, Eola-Amity. 14.1% alc. Slightly darker ruby color with a tinge grochau-cellars-logoof magenta; red currants and cherries with a note of pomegranate; dense, spicy; graphite-edged tannins and a lithe, supple texture; you feel the earth, the leather, some root-like tea and smoke-etched autumn leaves; grows loamier and spicier as the moments pass, while the hints of dried red berries circulate. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $33.
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Lenne Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill-Carlton. 14.5% alc. 586 cases. A delicate medium ruby hue; red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, cloves, sassafras and white pepper; just a lovely, lithe, graceful pinot noir that gradually pulls up elements of loam, sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles; it gets denser and more intense as the moments pass, but never loses its foothold in elegance and an eloquent expression of the grape. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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Lenne Estate Kill Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Yamhill-Carlton. 13.5% alc. 75 cases. Transcendent medium ruby hue shading to magenta; cloves and sassafras, black cherries and currants freighted by a seam of loam, briers and brambles; a sort of talc-like powderiness about the texture cut by bright acidity; a finish of leather, loam and graphite and a high note of cranberry. Beguiling marriage of elegance and energy. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Medium ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants, iodine and mint, loam and licorice; quite lively and engaging, with resonant acidity and scintillating graphite minerality, these elements bolstering a compote of red and black berry flavors whose hints of dried spices and herbs — cloves, sage, thyme — serve to point up the wine’s purity and intensity. Try from 2017 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $25. (A local purchase, $28.)
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Ponzi Vineyards Tavola Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. 13.7% alc. Medium transparent ponzi logoruby-magenta color; smoky and spicy black cherries, opens to cloves, sandalwood and rose petals; lots of energy and presence and a definite tannic structure; super-satiny texture laves the palate; the loamy aspects burgeon; terrific substance but at the expense of elegance and finesse. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $27.
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Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Chehalem mountain. 14.3% alc. 480 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; bright, fresh and vital, with red cherries and raspberries and a hint of cranberry, notes of cloves, rhubarb and beetroot; incisive acidity cuts a swath; quite graceful, nothing obvious or opulent; pulls up more spice and a slightly dusty tannic element; touches of melon, sour cherry and apple skin on the elegant finish. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Chehalem Mountain. 13.9% alc. 518 cases. Medium Ruby-garnet hue; heady aromas of mint and sassafras, cranberry, pomegranate and cloves, dried cherries and currants; almost supernaturally sleek, supple and satiny in texture, with a chiseled arrow of acidity that lends spareness to a fairly rigorous structure; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of underbrush and loam. A beautifully constructed pinot noir, now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Youngberg Hill Jordan Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 12% alc. It’s interesting that I wrote 2012-Jordan-PN-300x207about the 2012 versions of these Youngberg Hill wines a year ago but received the 2011s for review later; here’s a link to those reviews. A lovely limpid light ruby color; lean and incisive, with elevating aromas of cranberry and cloves, sassafras, a hint of rhubarb and pomegranate, red raspberries and currants; beautifully-wrought, with acidity that carves a path through tasty red berry flavors and a haze of leafy-herbal notes; the spice element expands through the graphite-laden finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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Youngberg Hill Natasha Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette valley. 11.5% alc. Entrancing transparent 13_NatashaPinotNoir-300x210ruby hue; first come earth and leather, loam and briers, presaging a pinot noir focused on structure; smolders with smoke and graphite, buoying ripe, dark and spicy red cherries and raspberries, permeated by dried sage and heather; the texture is silky, lithe, spare; acidity cuts a path through the foresty-underbrush elements; a few minutes in the glass unfold whiffs of tobacco and cigarette paper. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
As you can see, these label images are for later vintages of the wines mentioned here.
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March seems to be making its egress in lamb-like fashion in our neck o’ the woods, after a month of torrential rain. The weather is balmy, the dogwoods are pushing out their bone-colored 2015RoseFrontblossoms, the birds are tweeting — even lacking opposable thumbs! — and the tree-frogs are tuning their lugubrious bagpipes. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to open a bottle of rosé wine and allow gratitude to flourish. Today I mention the Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma County — the grapes from Carneros — though since we rarely see sweet rosés any more, I wonder about the necessity of the qualifier “dry” in the wine’s title. As stated, then, this is indeed a dry rosé, lively, lithe and tasty. The color is medium salmon-copper; pert aromas of lightly spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries carry notes of watermelon and pomegranate, with an undertone of flint. The texture offers some of the satiny quality of pinot noir, though enlivened by crisp acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality. The emphasis, however, is on ripe but spare red berry flavors that on the finish encompass hints of peach and almond skin. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2016 as a charming aperitif or with such picnic fare as cold fried chicken, deviled eggs and cucumber sandwiches or with a duck and rabbit terrine, crusty bread and a wedge of cheddar cheese. Very Good+. About $14, marking Decent Value.

A sample for review.

The idea behind producing wines from one designated vineyard is that such a piece of land, its geology and geography, its soil, bedrock and micro-climate, will result in a wine distinctive in character from a different vineyard, say one across the valley or even down the road. That macphailprinciple drives the fame and fortune of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, for example, because the reputation of that narrow region in eastern France rests on the individual nuances supposedly expressed by vineyards that lie across a country lane from each other or a ball-toss across an ancient stone wall. A slightly different tilt of a slope toward the southeast, a minute diversion in a vineyard’s elevation at exactly the perfect pitch on a hillside, a variation in the type of underlying limestone: These factors influence the quality and character of Burgundy’s renowned and rare Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines and help determine their stratospheric prices.

We must remember that these vineyards in the Côte d’Or, many of minute size, have been cultivated, discussed, parsed and celebrated for upwards of 1,000 years. That cannot be said of vineyards in California, yet the belief inheres in the state’s wine industry — and in Oregon and, to a lesser extent, in Washington — that wines from single vineyards are (potentially) superior to wines that derive from a more general regional application. The stature of such vineyards as Bien Nacido, Durell, Sangiacomo, Beckstoffer George III and To-Kalon, Old Hill and many others testifies to the efficacious effect of individual micro-climates on vines and grapes. The point, however, is that the wines produced from such hallowed areas honor not only the character of the vineyard but the nature of the grape. Great wines perform both functions, seamlessly, with balance and integration.

These remarks serve as prelude to reviews of a handful of single-vineyard pinot noirs produced by MacPhail Family Wines, a division of Hess Family Wine Estates. Three of these pinot noirs originate in the Sonoma Coast AVA, the other three from the Anderson Valley AVA in Mendocino County. The first wine is not single-vineyard designated, while the rest in this roster are.

James MacPhail launched his brand in 2002, focusing on pinot noir and chardonnay from Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. He built his winery in Healdsburg, in his backyard, in 2008. Hess Collection acquired the Macphail brand and inventory — but not the winery — in 2011, freeing James MacPhail to make wine and not concentrate on the business side of wine-producing and -selling.

I like these wines a great deal, though they emphasize the muscular and dimensional possibilities of the pinot noir grape rather than its elegance and delicacy. Still, in their wealth of detail and their thoughtful background, they remain fine examples of the potential of single-vineyard bottlings.

These wines were samples for review.
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We begin with a wine that is not single-vineyard designated, the MacPhail Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, drawing on eight vineyards from areas in the vast Sonoma Coast appellation, including the well-known Dutton, Pratt and Sangiacomo vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, 30 percent one-year-old and 30 percent two-years-old. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; cherries, cherries and cherries in every form — black and red, spiced and macerated, slightly fleshy and roasted — characterize the aromas and flavors here, with hints of plum, pomegranate, cranberry and sassafras. The texture is sleek, lithe and supple, while the wine’s structure feels large-framed, deep, a bit brooding, all leading to a finish packed with fruit and spice and dominated by graphite minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,025 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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We’ll stay in Sonoma Coast — a widely diverse AVA more than 500,000 acres in extent — for the MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is owned by Steve MacRostie, no slouch himself when it comes to making pinot noir, and perches on a hillside in the Petaluma Gap, straddling Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs, where the maritime winds and fogs are a profound influence. A dark ruby hue shades to a transparent garnet rim; the first impression is of red and black cherries and currants infused with rhubarb, cranberry, sassafras and cloves, with high notes of graphite and mint and low tones of leather and loam, picking up, with air, interesting hints of melon and apple skin, iodine and iron. In other words, lovely and intriguing complexity but leaning toward the grape’s muscular potential, its darkness and power. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $49.
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Nineteen wineries make designated pinot noir from grapes purchased from Sangiacomo Vineyards in Petaluma Gap. The MacPhail Sangiacomo Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a luminous, transparent medium ruby color and aromas of ripe and slightly roasted red and black cherries and raspberries. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of violets, sassafras, smoke and tobacco and notes of plum and sour cherry. There’s a slight aura of dried herbs here — sage, cedar — and a tang of acidity to keep the wine lively and engaging. A silky-smooth texture benefits from a lift of graphite minerality and lightly dusted tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $49.
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For the remaining wines, we move north to Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. The MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one- and two-years old. Though the color is transparent medium ruby, there’s nothing shy or ephemeral about this pinot noir, which builds power, depth and presence in the glass. It’s a warm and spicy wine, bursting with notes of lightly braised cranberries, black and red currants and hints of cola, cloves and smoke, violets and lavender, briers and brambles, while a few minutes in the glass produce elements of leather and loam. This is a fleshy, full-bodied pinot noir, gushing with ripe, meaty, spicy red and black berry flavors in a structure that grows increasingly dense, chewy, velvety and tannic. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 525 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 through ’24. Not my favorite style of pinot noir, but certainly well-made. Excellent. About $49.
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The MacPhail Anderson Creek Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, comes on rather strong for my taste, being a wine whose lip-smacking viscosity and keen acidity augment a lack of grace and elegance. It aged the standard 11 months in French oak, new barrels at 40 percent, if you believe the back label, or 50 percent, if you go by the printed technical sheet. (Let’s coordinate, team!) Pungent with aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, cherries and plums, the wine is supremely satiny and drapery-like on the palate, admitting touches of loam and mocha and a bit more oak than its cousins in this roster. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $49.
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OK, now we’re talking. The MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, derives from a two-acre vineyard planted to one clone, the Martini; it aged 11 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is medium transparent ruby shading to an almost invisible rim; aromas of spiced and slightly macerated black cherries and raspberries are preceded by notes of iodine and beetroot, with hints of violets, lavender and cloves; the whole effect is exotic without being pushy or flamboyant. This is an intense pinot noir, dense and chewy with dusty, velvety tannins and enlivened by bright acidity that powers the wine from mid-palate back through the graphite-laced finish. Though it sounds as if the entire motif here rests on authority and substance, the wine achieves a fine balance between energy and the elegance of tendril-like effects centered on mint, black tea, delicate roots and filigrees of wild blueberries. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. A great effort for drinking now through 2020 to 2024 or ’25. Exceptional. About $55.
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