Pinot noir


Francois Drappier launched the Champagne house that bears the family’s surname in 1803, though the family had been in the region since the 17th Century. The estate goes back to the 12th Century, when Cistercian monks founded a monastery, planted vineyards and dug the vaulted cellars that are still a vital part of the property. The Drappiers, now in the eighth generation, continue to own and operate the estate, tending vines on their 57 hectares and having 50 hectares under contract with other owners. Champagne Drappier employs a minimal approach in many ways, particularly in the liqueurs d’expedition and in the smallest amounts of sulfur that can possibly be used. The Champagne Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage, nv, is 100 percent pinot noir, aged 30 months in bottle. The color is pure limpid pale gold, and the bubbles, without which any sparkling wine would not sparkle, n’est-ce pas, surge upward in a gushing froth. Notes of lime peel, pear, hay and heather open to a hint of fresh-baked brioche and the tang of preserved lemon and seashell salinity. With its incisive acidity and scintillating limestone element, this dry Champagne offers tremendous verve and energetic elan, leading to a finish that feels paradoxically delicate, elegant and finely etched. 12 percent alcohol. I could drink this one all day and night. Excellent. About $60.

December 26 is the day of St. Stephen, protomartyr, on which good King Wenceslas looked out on the snow that was deep and crisp and even. In the United Kingdom, it’s Boxing Day, not set aside for pugilistic activity but for presenting gifts or money to servants and other service people. If one was going about visiting on Boxing Day, then you also provided gifts to other peoples’ servants.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.


Let’s launch this edition of “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” with a product from a Champagne house fairly new to the American market. Champagne Boizel was founded by Auguste and Julie Boizel in 1834 and is led today by the family’s fifth and sixth generations – Evelyne and Christophe Roques-Boizel and their sons Florent and Lionel. Even before establishing the business, the family cultivated vineyards in many of the region’s best crus, developing a knowledge of the terrain and terroir that now goes back two centuries. The Boizel Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 50 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay aged on the lees in bottle for three years; 20 percent of reserve wines from the previous two vintages are included in the blend. The color is pale coral-topaz, enlivened by a steady upward froth of tiny bubbles; the immediate impression is of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry, highlighted by notes of seashell and flint and a hint of fresh-baked bread; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of lime peel, heather and acacia. This is a dry, sleek, elegant Champagne, chiseled from limestone, animated by bright, clean acidity and aimed toward a slightly austere mineral-packed finish. 12 percent alcohol. A real pleasure to drink. Excellent. About $50.

I hope all my readers of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion are enjoying a day of peace and joy, or at least some well-earned quiet. Yule in many traditions is a day of celebration and revels, of wassailing and pantomimes, of gifts and feasting. Whatever the case, Merry Christmas to you all.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

Boy, here’s a pinot noir from Chile’s cool-climate Casablanca Valley that goes down with silky suppleness and nuance. The Ritual Pinot Noir 2015 aged 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, a regimen that seems perfect for the wine. The color is intense ruby-magenta that shades to an utterly transparent rim; you’ll find it difficult to resist this bouquet that weaves talc and lavender with ripe and abundantly spicy black cherries, raspberries and plums; a few moments in the glass open to notes of cloves, cranberries, rose petals and sandalwood. The wine reveals lovely purity of character on the palate, with a sense of dark fruit and a sleek texture enlivened by bright acidity and bolstered by burgeoning elements of dusty graphite and moderate tannins that express an elegant, almost ethereal structure. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely effort, for drinking through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

Imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review.

Tongue Dancer Wines is a project of longtime winemaker James MacPhail and Kerry MacPhail, listed on labels as “Knowledgeable One.” The MacPhails produce minuscule amounts of pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and sell them only by mailing list. I’m a huge fan of the Tonge Dancer pinot noirs, which seem to encompass all the aspects I adore about the grape, from elegance to boldness, from the ethereal to the lithe and muscular, usually presented in a dynamic and superbly poised fashion. Unfortunately, I have to enter a dissenting voice for the winery’s first chardonnay, a model I thought embodied all the worst elements of over-determined California chardonnay. The pinot noir reviewed in this post, however, is a real gem of nuance and complexity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Tongue Dancer Wines Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the winery’s first chardonnay, received all sorts of high scores from various sources, but I’ll say, as politely as possible, that I didn’t care for it one bit. I found it too rich, too spicy, over-oaked, with fruit character that tasted more like dessert cordials than wine, too toasty and altogether unbalanced. But that’s just me. 14.5 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Not recommended. About $50.
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The color of the Tongue Dancer “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby shading to an utterly transparent magenta rim; it’s a deeply scented and flavorful pinot noir that offers hints of black and red cherries and currants with touches of plums, sassafras and sandalwood, loam and beetroot; potent graphite minerality penetrates a supple and lithe texture animated by vivid acidity. This pinot noir deftly balances a feeling of warm spices and cool minerals, while a few moments in the glass unfurl high notes of lilac and lavender and low tones of tar and espresso.
14.5 percent alcohol. A truly eloquent pinot noir that delivers pleasure and intrigue. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Technically, these three pinot noir wines (and one riesling) from Penner-Ash Wine Cellar’s 2015 vintage are not products of Jackson Family Wines, because that ever-expanding entity didn’t purchase Penner-Ash until April 2016. Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash founded the winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1998, launched with 125 cases, developing over the years to about 12,000 cases annually. The winery specializes in single-vineyard pinot noirs, made by Lynn Penner-Ash, of which I look at three today. She’s a meticulous winemaker, as you can see by the carefully calibrated oak regimens these wines are given, none exactly alike, and she will remain on board in that position under JFW’s regime. These are impressive wines, fine in detail, deep in dimension, and they will benefit from several years aging.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Penner-Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels, 33 percent one-year-old, 23 percent two-years-old, 13 percent neutral. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; it’s a pinot noir of blazing purity and intensity, featuring spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums permeated by cloves and ground cumin, hints of sandalwood and sassafras and a touch of pomegranate; the super-satiny texture drapes the tongue in a dense, almost chewy enfolding, though kept dynamic through elemental bright acidity; the wine becomes increasingly loamy and foresty through the intense and concentrated finish. 13.7 percent alcohol. One of the best pinot noirs I tasted this year. Drink through 2022 to ’25. Production was 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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The color of the Penner-Ash Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, is very dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; it’s a wine formidable in size and dimension, starting with its potent elements of loam and graphite minerality, its heady and intense aromas of lilacs and rose petals, its deeply spicy scents and flavors of black and red cherry and currant compote; dense, chewy and succulent, it’s a powerful and muscular expression of the grape, its texture equal parts talc and flint, its electric acid strain seemingly chiseled from granite. 14.1 percent alcohol. The oak regimen was 10 months in French barrels, 27 percent new, 35 percent one-year-old, 27 percent two-years-old, 11 percent neutral. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2025 to ’28. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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The Penner-Ash Zena Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Eola-Amity Hills, reveals a large-framed, intense and concentrated wine animated by penetrating graphite minerality and vibrant acidity while unfolding lovely details of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants infused with pomegranate and cranberry, sandalwood and sassafras; as with its stablemates mentioned above, texture and structure are fused by the power of its slightly dusty, velvety tannins — it’s the most tannic of this trio — leading to a sleek finish packed with cedar and tobacco, flint and juicy black fruit. 14.5 percent alcohol. Wood regimen was 10 months in oak, 30 percent new barrels, 46 percent one-year-old, 12 percent two-years-old, 12 percent neutral. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 500 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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By the way, don’t miss the Penner-Ash Hyland Vineyard Old Vine Riesling 2015, McMinnville, a true classic of a pale, dry riesling that makes a powerful expression of petrol, heather, peaches, lime peel and intense aromas of jasmine and gardenia, its lithe texture wrapped in vibrant and vigorous acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Excellent. About $35.
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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 his wife Barbara 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 the roster has expanded tremendously in the past few years. The website for the winery — the estate is run by Barbara Banke, Jess Jackson’s widow, and daughters Katie and Julia Jackson — lists five chardonnays and 11 pinot noirs for 2014 and ’15, as well as pinot gris, viognier, syrah and a rosé.

Today, we look at two pairs of wines, chardonnays and pinot noirs from designated areas of the Cambria estate. Winemaker for these wines was Denise Shurtleff. She remains as Cambria’s general manager, as Jill Delariva Russell takes the reins as winemaker. As you will see in the notes below, I was impressed by the pinot noirs and absolutely put off by the chardonnays. Why even go to the trouble to make limited edition wines when they turn out, like these chardonnays, to be not only similar in character but packed with qualities that strenuously detract from the nature of the grape?

These wines were samples for review.
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O.K., let’s get the chardonnays out of the way, because, frankly, I cared for them not one whit. The Cambria Fog Tide Chardonnay 2015 and Cambria West Point Chardonnay 2015, both Santa Maria Valley AVA, represented every aspect that I believe is wrong-headed about chardonnay in California. Though the oak regimen was mild and new oak was kept to a minimum, I found these wines unreasonably tropical and cloying with sweet ripeness and elements of buttery caramel and toffee, all smoky and toasty and unbalanced. Each costs $38 but I don’t recommend them.
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We’re on steadier ground with the pinot noirs, fashioned in a big-hearted, full-throated style that touches on many aspects of the grape. The Cambria “Element” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; it starts with notes of iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black cherries and raspberries, with hints of cranberry, pomegranate and sassafras; it emphasizes the dark, earthy and loamy character of the grape, though also its potential for a satiny, supple texture and succulent fruit; this is very dry, quite lively and spicy, and a few moments in the glass bring in touches of raspberry with slightly raspy and astringent raspberry skin and stem. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very pleasing in depth and complexity, for drinking through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Cambria “Mesa Terrace” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged in a different direction, 10 months in French oak but with 62 percent new barrels. The color is a similar dark ruby shading to an invisible rim, but the focus here is on red fruit — cherries and currants — and a fuller exploitation of spice in the form of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, with a smoky-beetroot background; it’s a dense and chewy pinot noir, not just satiny and succulent but close to opulent on the palate, though balanced by keen acidity and a scintillating flinty quality; the finish adds loam and forest floor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Again, a pinot noir that’s impressive for its detail and dimension. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Part of the portfolio of Jackson Family Wines, Carmel Road was founded in 1997 to exploit the possibilities for pinot noir in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco AVA in the Salinas Valley, where the 415-acre Panorama Vineyard perches on the east side under the Pinnacles. The valley is subjected to the fogs and chilly winds of the Blue Grand Canyon, a stupendous geological formation and weather-generator under Monterey Bay that encompasses 60 miles in length and 10,00 feet in depth. Winemaker at Carmel Road is Kris Kato, who brings to the fashioning of these wines a light touch with new oak and what seems to be a profound understanding of the pinot noir grape. I enjoyed these wines a great deal, a feeling reflected, I’m sure, in the notes that follow.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Carmel Road Pinot Noir 2015, Monterey County, aged 9 months in French oak, only 16 percent new barrels, resulting in an oak influence that’s almost subliminal in its shaping factor. The color is transparent medium ruby fading to an invisible rim; pert aromas and flavors of black and red cherries and currants are touched with notes of pomegranate and plum highlighted by hints of black tea, loam and sassafras. The wine is satiny smooth on the palate but enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through to a finish lightly wrapped in graphite-tinged tannin. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Attractive and expressive. Very Good+. About $25.
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As one would expect for a single-vineyard wine, the Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, received more wood treatment than did its more generalized stablemate, in this case 13 months in French oak, 24 percent new barrels. The color is a hypnotic limpid medium ruby of utter transparency; the bouquet is an irresistible amalgam of black and red cherry compote heightened by notes of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and pomegranate, with high tones of smoke, loam and cigarette paper. The wine is lithe, sleek and supple on the palate, spare, muscular and moderately tannic, those tannins folded around dusty velvet. The whole package is deftly balanced and integrated. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $35, marking Good Value.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “First Row” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, received 13 months aging in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. A wholly transparent medium ruby hue with an ephemeral rim leads to a heady melange of cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and crushed violets, red and black cherries and currants with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cola, loam and cherry pit; the wine is sleek and suave on the palate, with satiny drape on the tongue and delicious berry fruit for the taste-buds, all energized by bracing acidity and a hint of flinty minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “North Crest” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, offers a muscular rendition of the grape, though the color, a lucent medium ruby-magenta with an diaphanous rim, might suggest otherwise. Yes, the same 13 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Vivacious and fleshy notes of black currants and cherries with a red undertone unfold hints of loam, beetroot and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and ground cumin; a few minutes in the glass unfurl touches of pomegranate and cranberry. This is dense and chewy and fairly intense, and its silky texture feels slightly roughened, as if by very fine sandpaper; it gets increasingly loamy as the moments pass, though keen acidity keeps it dynamic and enticing. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “South Crest” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, is a bit more opulent than its cousins also reviewed in this post, and since it received the same oak treatment — 13 months, 20 percent new French oak — I would attribute the difference to the location of these blocks in the vineyard. A totally limpid and transparent medium ruby hue precedes a wine richly laved with loam and exotic spices, crushed and macerated black and red currants and cherries with a hint of plum; a few moments in the glass add notes of cranberry and pomegranate, sour cherry and cherry pit, with a background of briers and brambles. In this wine, you feel the luxury of which the pinot noir grape is capable, though leavened by coursing acidity and a bit of cheeky tartness. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.
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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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