Pinot noir



The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

Almost 50 years after its founding in 1965, on a property purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram, it has become a cliche that Schramsberg is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in California and that Jack and Jamie Davies, both deceased, were pioneering visionaries in the field, especially in Napa Valley. Cliche or not, however, under the leadership of Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh — winemaker along with Keith Hock — the Schramsberg winery continues to produce world-class sparkling wine using the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was a pleasure to taste — nay, drink — these three examples of the Schramsberg line sent to me as review samples. My notes follow. Each of these, or all of them, would make ideal additions to your roster of Yuletide and New Year libations.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2010, North Coast, is made completely from chardonnay grapes — “white from white” — that derive from these North Coast counties: Napa 60 percent, Sonoma 37 percent, Marin 2 percent and Mendocino 1 percent. The color is shimmering pale gold; the effervescence is exuberant and persistent. Notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by quince and ginger, hints of lime peel and grapefruit, freshly baked bread and limestone. This sparkling wine is bright and crisp on the palate, with tingling acidity that buoys a lovely, almost creamy texture that nonetheless is characterized by lithe and lively and slightly angular minerality. The overall effect is of balletic elegance and finely-wrought stones and bones. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The composition of the Schramberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2009 — “white from black” — is 87 percent pinot noir and 13 percent chardonnay; the North Coast county components are 34 percent Sonoma, 32 percent Napa, 26 percent Mendocino and 8 percent Marin. Pale gold in color, this sparkling wine features a constant stream of tiny silvery shivery bubbles; the initial impression is clean and fresh, with aromas of slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, lightly buttered cinnamon toast with cloves and candied orange rind. These elements persist into the flavor profile, where the wine takes on degrees of earthy, flinty minerality and notably crisp acidity, arrayed in a spare, elegant body for a high-toned character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Last of this trio is my favorite, the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009, a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, with North Coast contributions of 44 percent Sonoma, 28 percent Napa, 24 percent Mendocino and 4 percent Marin counties. The color is old rose-gold enlivened by an upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries carry hints of peach, orange rind and a touch of tropical fruit, all enveloped in limestone; a few minutes in the glass add notes of pomegranate and biscuits. This sparkling wine is juicy but very dry, a tissue of delicate nuance, spare and elegant, wrapped in a fleet-footed expression of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; its elegance does not belie a sense of tautness and urgency. A beautifully-wrought brut rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $43.
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Belle Glos is the pinot noir arm of the Wagner Family of Wines that includes the iconic Caymus cabernet sauvignons and the popular Conundrum white and red blends (yes, there’s a red now). The Meiomi label represents the more moderately priced and accessible pinot noir from the Belle Glos line. Winemaker is Joseph J. Wagner. Meiomi means “coast” in the languages of the Wappo and Yuki tribes that once thrived in California, and the wine is indeed a coastal product, derived from vineyards in three coastal counties, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma. (Though I have to say that every time I see a bottle of this wine I think, “Me-oh-my!”) The color of the Meiomi Pinot Noir 2012 is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine generally is dark, spicy, berryish, with heady aromas of black and red cherries and currants and plums touched with cranberries and cloves and a hint of sassafras. It’s super satiny on the palate, and its ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are permeated by smoke and leather that lead out to a keen graphite edge, all set midst moderately dense, dry and slightly dusty tannins. At 13.8 percent alcohol and with this panoply of effects, it’s a stylish crowd-pleaser. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

The history of Laetitia Vineyards and Winery begins in 1981, when a joint venture between Deutz Champagne and the old Beringer Estates established a facility for making sparkling wine — they were good, too — in San Luis Obispo’s Arroyo Grande Valley, until the partnership was rent asunder in 1996. The next year, Jean-Claude Tardivat acquired the property and named it Laetitia, after his daughter; the name means joy or happiness in Latin. Tardivat’s tenure was brief; in 1998, he sold the winery to a partnership that included Selim Zilkha, who became sole owner, with her daughter Nadia Wellisz, in 2001. The concentration at this large estate — 1,900 acres with 620 acres of vines — is on pinot noir and sparkling wines, the latter production meaning that chardonnay is also grown, produced both as a still wine and for blending in sparking wine. My focus today is on Laetitia’s reserve and single-vineyard pinot noirs, some of which I tasted as recent review samples and others on a visit to the winery late in April this year. The pinot noirs from Laetitia do not fall into the category of delicate and elegant; these are full-bodied and substantial pinots, tending even toward muscular, yet they are never over-ripe or too high in alcohol. Ultimately, they are primarily well-balanced and integrated. Winemaker is Eric Hickey, son of Laetitia’s sparkling winemaker, Dave Hickey, who has been in that job since 1990.

Image of the Laetitta tasting room from winelinesonline.com.

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Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2011, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. The grapes are a selection from the best areas of the winery’s vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; aromas of intensely fragrant black cherries and raspberries are permeated with notes of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb, with underlying layers of briers and brambles and forest floor. This is the point at which to mention the dynamic and muscular character of Laetitia’s pinot noirs, qualities this example prominently displays, though the spicy black and blue fruit flavors and the texture are almost succulent but cut with a line of bracing acidity and graphite minerality. The model here is nothing delicate or ephemeral, yet you would not mistake the wine for anything other than pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Of the 2010 version of this wine, tasted at the property on April 26, I noted: “acidity cuts a swath and minerality plows the furrows… one from the dark side of pinot noir.” 14.3% alc.
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Laetitia La Coupelle Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby, a lighter hue than the previous wine; the aroma profile leans in a different direction, with red and black currants, plums and leather, dust and graphite and just a note of violets. It’s dense and chewy in the mouth, a pinot noir with lots of presence, but it’s not significantly earthy or briery; despite its substantial nature this pinot exudes an aura of radiant varietal purity and intensity, with a super-satiny texture buoyed by bright acidity and well-spiced and slightly macerated red and black fruit flavors. 14.7 percent alcohol. 311 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.

Of the 2009 redition of La Coupelle, tasted at the winery on April 29, I wrote, “big one… more aggressive, a little tighter [than La Colline 09]… very deep, lots of spice… a real edge… great.” 14.7% alc.
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Laetitia Les Galets Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a sultry ruby-mulberry hue; scents of black cherries, black raspberries and plums are infused with hints of rose petals, rhubarb and pomegranate, and the whole package is invested with a subtle earthy element. This is a supple, lithe pinot noir, more sinewy than muscular and propelled by blade-like acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of dusty graphite, while ripe black fruit flavors are slightly roasted and fleshy and supported by touches of sleek tannins and polished oak. Lovely tone and balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 233 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.
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Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. Aging for this wine was 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, obviously the standard for this group except for the Reserve du Domaine. The color is medium ruby with a slight magenta cast, a fitting color for a wine that offers beguiling aromas of red currants, blueberries and mulberries, heightened by notes of cherry cola, cloves and graphite with a hint of lilac. Despite the mildness of the alcohol content — 13.3 percent — and the similarity of the oak regimen, La Colline 2010 feels a bit rough-shod and perhaps a little more rigorous than the three wines mentioned above; possibly it simply needs time for the elements to come together and achieve balance. Try from 2015 through 2020. Production was 190 cases. Very Good+. About $60.

And of La Colline 2009, tasted at the property on April 26, I said, “lovely medium cerise color, brambly raspberry and blueberry, touch of cranberry, rhubarb and sassafras… gets hints of tannin and underbrush in mid-palate.” 13.8% alc.
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Josh Jensen worked two harvests in Burgundy — at Domaine Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti — and became convinced that he could make great pinot noir wines in California if he could find the right limestone-based terroir. After a couple years search, he found what he wanted in the Gavilan Mountains, high on Mt. Harlan above the city of Hollister, in San Benito County. He planted four vineyards and founded Calera Wine Company, named for an old limestone kiln on the property, in 1976. His intuition was correct. The pinot noirs that issue from Calera’s original vineyards and several planted subsequently are not only among the best in California but among the best in the world. Jensen utilizes natural yeasts and doesn’t overwhelm the wines with new oak. He pushes for vibrant acidity and fairly rigorous structure, with the result that Calera pinot noirs deliver plenty of character but exhibit long aging potential. The wines under review today I purchased locally, paying about $4 or $5 above the suggested retail prices, which I list with the individual reviews. I received samples from Calera only once, four bottles from the 1995 vintage that I wrote about in my weekly syndicated wine column on June 30, 1999. I thought that it would be interesting to read these reviews from 15 years ago and see how consistent the wines are over time:

It was not merely a pleasure, it was an epiphany to taste the 1995 pinot noirs from Calera Wine Co., whose four pinot vineyards are perched in the Gavilan Mountains in San Benito County. Owner Josh Jensen, dedicated to a Burgundian vision, has been a pioneer of great pinot in California since 1972. The wines carry a Mt. Harlan appellation.

The gorgeous Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995 smells like old English churches – rich, dusty, floral, imbued with incense – and brandishes an extraordinary scent of baked plums and black cherries combined with sweet oak and a meaty, animal quality; it offers incredible weight and density, luscious cherry-cranberry flavors that pull up leather and dried herbs and a dim circumference of brown sugar. Exceptional. About $38.

Where the Jensen is warm, the Calera Reed 1995 is cooler, more minerally but also funkier, more “barnyardy”; it brims with cranberry and cola flavors rimmed with brown sugar and trimmed with deft, spicy oak. Excellent. About $35.

If garnets had a flavor, it would be embodied by the Calera Mills 1995, a pinot noir more reticent, more intense and concentrated than its cousins. Provocative smoke curls at the core, while at the top of its range shimmers a floral scent almost like camillas; currants and plums, wheatmeal and beet-root, thyme and lavender teem in the mouth. Exceptional. About $35.

Finally, the Calera Selleck 1995 is an example of utter purity and richness, seamless balance and integration; its hallmark is not intensity but completeness and generosity. Excellent. About $38.

Winemaker at Calera is Mike Waller, who has been at the winery since 2007. Image of Josh Jensen from The Underground Wineletter.

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Calera “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The Ryan Vineyard consists of an upper portion of 9.4 acres, planted in 1998, and a lower portion of 3.7 acres planted in 2001. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet burgeons with exotic spice, fresh and dried red currants and raspberries with a hint of blueberry and a note of violets; the texture is spare and lithe, and acidity cuts a swathe on the palate; more than an any other of this quartet, the influence of fine-grained tannins and oak and graphite minerality is apparent, creating a slight rasp or sense of resistance in the wine’s flow. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now or wait until 2015 and consume through 2019 to ’21. Production was 2,218 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
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Calera “Mills” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 14.4-acre Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984; an additional acre was planted in 1998. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; this is a subtle and supple pinot noir, highly structured but displaying plenty of spicy fruit scents and flavors in the range of red currants, red cherries and plums; the mode of the wine, however, is earthy and lithic, cool and minerally; it’s half juicy, half rigorous. The Calera “Mills” 09 offers great depth of character and dense, almost chewy tannins that feel legitimately hard-earned. Delicious stuff, but demanding too. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,599 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
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Calera “Reed” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 4.4-acre Reed vineyard was planted in 1975. The wine aged 16 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The entrancing color is limpid medium ruby; aromas of cloves, cola, rhubarb and cranberry feel slightly macerated and roasted. This is a delicate, elusive and haunting pinot noir with a supremely satiny texture and keen acidity that combs the palate; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briars and brambles and forest floor, with notes of graphite and loam, every quality combined with elegance, tensile strength and inevitability. 13.6 percent alcohol. 398 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.
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Calera “Jensen” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlen, San Benito County. Jensen, 13.8 acres, was planted in 1975. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of dark plums, red currents and potpourri are wreathed with notes of old leather, lavender, potpourri and a trace of pomegranate and cola; the real thing, heady yet subtle, nuanced and balanced. Matters become a bit more structured in the mouth, where acidity plows a straight furrow and elements of leather and spicy oak emerge more prominently; the texture is satiny smooth, supernally so, but lithe and sinewy, so you feel the bones and muscles of its essence as well as the supple smoothness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,072 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $75.
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I could have called this post, “The Pinot Noirs of Inman Family Wines,” but since the small winery is a very personal enterprise and since Kathleen Inman’s physical and philosophical fingerprints seem to be on everything regarding the wines and the winery, I went with this title instead. Inman and her husband, attorney Simon Inman, acquired the 10.5 acre Olivet Grange vineyard on Olivet Road in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley in 1999; she produced her first wines from the 2002 vintage. She concentrates on two renditions of pinot noir — a Russian River bottling and what’s now called OGV, for Olivet Grange Vineyard — and also makes small amounts of sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot gris. All of her wines are characterized by elegance, balance and finely-knit structure. Inman favors natural yeasts, no fining and ideally no filtration. Trained as an economist, Inman said that she “tries to derive the best economic use from everything.” The facility, which she calls a “stealth winery,” was constructed almost totally of post-consumer recycled materials. It’s solar powered, producing more energy than it consumes, and it features a privately owned electric vehicle charging station, so drive those toy cars up there with confidence that you can get home! The small group I was visiting the winery with had lunch at the winery, and except for the duck, everything on the plate came from the bounty of her garden. Inman’s style of pinot noir is opposite of the dark, high-extract and powerfully alcoholic examples we see too often in California. Her pinots are delicate, finely-etched, potent with lively acidity and spicy red and black fruit flavors and supported by moderately dense yet resilient tannins. It’s too easy to throw around the term “Burgundian,” but Inman’s pinot noirs remind me of Premier Cru wines from Volnay, with their finesse, breeding and satiny texture.
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The beguilng Inman Family Rose Brut Nature OGV 2009, Russian River Valley, offers a very very pale onion skin hue (faintly tinged with pink) and a diverting bouquet of rose petals, dried strawberries and red currants and back-notes of limestone and shale; bubbles are fine and persistent. This sparkling wine is so light, delicate and elegant that you’re surprised at its lively and persuasive presence and tone, It’s quite dry, packed with limestone and shale-like elements for high-toned austerity yet it’s also quenching in its tingly melon and lime peel flavors and — if I may say so — quite romantic. 12 percent alcohol. 139 cases. Now through 2015 to 2017. Excellent. About $68.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Inman Family Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, displays a very pale straw-gold color and clean fresh scents of peach and pear, jasmine and lilac, subtle notes of ginger and cloves and a hint of roasted lemon; the wine is very dry, very delicate without being ephemeral or elusive, bound by crisp lithe acidity and a plangent limestone mineral element. The wine had just been bottled when I tasted it in August at the property; it will unfold a bit over the next year. The alcohol is an eminently manageable 11.8 percent. Production was 230 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, was fermented partially in stainless steel tanks and partially in new and one-year-old French oak barrels; Kathleen Inman prefers Vosges oak for its tight grain. Native yeast compels fermentation, and native bacteria ignites malolactic; in other words, no inoculation. The wine is so pale in its pale gold color, so pure and intense in its aura that the elegance is deceptive; yes, it’s deft and light on its feet, but it’s also dense and chewy and packed with elements of chalk and limestone minerality. Spare and lively notes of graham cracker, roasted lemon, verbena, ginger and quince are bolstered by limestone and slate and balanced by the richness of lemongrass and slightly candied grapefruit. A few moments in the glass bring out hints of toasted hazelnuts, jasmine and honeysuckle, while the oak comes up subtly in the finish. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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The color of the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is limpid medium ruby; hints of red currants and red and black cherries are permeated by notes of rhubarb and cloves, sassafras, and a touch of briers, brambles and leather for the earthy element. This is so clean and fresh, so invigorating that one almost forgets how spare and elegant it is; how the acidity cuts a swath on the palate at no expense to the ripe, dark spicy black and red fruit flavors; how dry, slightly starchy tannins and that fleet acidity give the wine a lithe, supple texture that drapes the tongue like satin. Percentage of alcohol not available. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Going one vintage back, the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, derives from the winery’s Olivet Grange Vineyard and the Thorn Ridge Vineyard several miles to the south in the Sebastopol Hills. There’s that same transparent medium ruby color and a similar fruit profile of cherries and currants, but the ’09 is spicier than the ’10 rendition, with more of the briery-brambly-leather component and certainly a more prominent tannic-graphite feature. Yet the ’09 is also intensely floral, revealing touches of smoke and lilac, pomegranate and violets, and the property’s signature resonant acidity. Again, the texture is light, fleet-footed, elegant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 through 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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The Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is a supreme example of how Kathleen Inman pushes the use of oak in one direction, that is, by aging in French oak barrels for 23 months, an astonishing span of time for a pinot noir, but being very careful about the percentage of new oak. The wine is incredibly complex and layered, in the ample ranges of fresh and dried red and black fruit with hints of rhubarb and beets, cloves and sassafras; earthy briers and brambles and graphite-like minerality; vivid acidity that plows a furrow on the palate and keeps the wine bright and vivacious; but every element and aspect adhering with delicacy, elegance and subtle tensile strength. Still, this is dry, moderately tannic, a little austere on the finish, and it would profit from a year or two in bottle, drinking then through 2020 to ’22. The alcohol content is 12.5 percent. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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The version for 2009 finds the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir beautifully unfurling its batteries of cloves, pomegranate and orange rind, cinnamon and sassafras, all, however, subdued to a finely-knit amalgam of briers and brambles, loam and graphite, red and black cherries and a touch of plum. The wine spent 19 months in French oak, a process that gave this pinot noir plenty of spice and suppleness without marring the integrity of the fruit of its overall balance or the sinewy brightness of its vivid acidity. A few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets, rose petals and fruitcake — cloves, cinnamon, dried fruit — while moderately dense tannins provide an essential foil to the wine’s innate richness. It’s a dry, slightly austere pinot noir, with a bit more hauteur than elegance, but perfectly balanced and integrated. Hints of pomegranate and cranberry emerge in the finish. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $68.
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Two weeks ago in this space I dissed a number of chardonnay wines from Cuvaison, Davis Bynum, La Follette and La Rochelle wineries. Today, in addition to other pinot noir wines from California, I offer some reviews of successful pinot noirs from the aforementioned producers, not in recompense — I would never do that — but to show that they can indeed make wines that are balanced and authentic. So, 12 wines, brief reviews, no emphasis on technical, historical, geographical or personal data but just my notes, some taken directly — ripped, as it were — from my notebook pages, some expanded upon a bit; but all designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Most of these pinots, whose ratings fall into the narrow range of Very Good+ to Excellent, do not conform to my notion of the grape’s hallowed ideal of delicacy, elegance and tensile strength, being more about structure and power, though on the California model they tend to perform well. These were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Cuvaison Estate grown Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; very spicy, earthy and rooty, with moderate tannins and acidity that cuts a swath; still, super satiny in a fairly lithe manner and quite attractive with notes of red and black cherries, red currants, hints of rhubarb, cranberry and cloves; briers and brambles in the background and a touch of graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, slightly lighter ar the rim; exotic nose of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, like incense in your hippie pad; plums, red currants, cranberries; dense, chewy a bit more drapery than ordinary satin; rich with smoky plum flavors, black and red cherries; one feels indulged, a little decadent, though the earth-mint-mineral elements surge forth through the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Garfield Block Pinot Noir 2011. Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. This more limited version of the previous wine (in origin and production) is a shade darker in color, a little tighter, a bit more focused and delineated; it’s very supple and satiny but displays more of a tannic and mineral presence under its dark, succulent and spicy red and black cherry fruit with overtones of plums and mulberries; long, deep, earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $60.
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DeLoach Vineyards Olivet Bench Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley.13.5% alc. 499 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; plums and rhubarb, red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry after a few moments; dusty graphite, very spicy, exotic; dry, minerally, muscular, almost rigorous but super-satiny in texture; you feel the rooty-barky qualities and the undertow of tannin and oak. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $NA.
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Frank Family Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 14.5% alc. Radiant ruby-cranberry color; cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate, red cherries and currants, white pepper; smooth, sleek, suave and satiny; fairly tannic and rigorous after 30 or 40 minutes, with a full complement of earthy, briery, underbrushy and graphite elements but doesn’t lose its essential succulence and flavorful sway. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 12.9% alc (lovely!) 536 cases. Medium ruby with a touch of violet-blue magenta; meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated; succulent and smoky red cherry and plum flavors imbued with briers, brambles and an underbrushy element; intensely spicy, intensely floral; superbly satiny texture but a rather startling structure for a pinot noir that needs a couple of years to find its footing. Try 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 15.2% alc. 381 cases. Medium ruby color with a trace of garnet at the rim; big, dense, pithy, sappy pinot noir, rich, warm and spicy but thrown off balance a bit by the high alcohol, which makes a distinct presence on the finish. Very Good+. About $38.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.7% alc. 259 six-packs. Medium ruby color with lovely transparency; better balance here than with the previously noted wine; the drawers of the bureau of exotic spices thrown wide, making for a heady and seductive bouquet and intriguing flavors of red and black currants, pomegranate and rhubarb; bright acidity plows a furrow through layers of briers, brambles and graphite, all the while the wine displays beautiful purity and intensity. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $75.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, trace of magenta at the rim; notes of pomegranate, cranberry and rhubarb open to red and black cherries permeated by cloves and cola; quite dry, a little mossy and briery; ripping acidity; attractive, lively and tasty though no great depth. Very Good+. About $23.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; rhubarb, cranberry, cola and cloves, touch of plum, interesting note of mint; leans more to black and red cherries in flavor; gains body and substance as minutes pass, a little rooty and mossy with tannins and earthy elements; very dry finish, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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MacMurray Ranch Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; big, dry, leather and graphite; comes close to being dramatic; quite rich, warm and spicy but riven by scintillating acidity and dusty, dusky tannins; you feel the oak and alcohol on the finish. Not my favorite style for pinot noir. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $37.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Luicia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color with a pure violet rim; black and red cherries and currants; pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, hint of cloves; succulent but spare, elegant, lithe and muscular; scintillating acidity and granitic minerality; riveting purity and intensity of the grape and the vineyard. Always a favorite in our house. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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I don’t typically use a wine at this price as the Wine of the Week, but the Reata Pinot Noir 2011, Napa and Sonoma counties, is so well-made and authentically pinot noirish that I couldn’t resist. I will not ask forgiveness and indeed would welcome expressions of gratitude from fans of the grape in its mode of utmost purity and intensity. The blend of this two-county wine is 64 percent of the rarely-seen Napa County designation (an AVA slightly larger than and encompassing Napa Valley) and 36 percent Sonoma County. The grapes ferment in stainless steel tanks, and the wine matures for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70 percent neutral, 30 percent new. The color is medium ruby with lovely transparency and limpidness; aromas of plums, red currants and cranberries are permeated with notes of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb and a hint of earthy briers and brambles. The wine is just so fresh and clean and pure, yet it displays beautiful depths of graphite and — a paradox — delicately granitic minerality and an almost lacy network of minutely dusty and elegantly plush, supple tannins with bright and vibrant acidity for structure and quenching liveliness. Red and blue fruit flavors are imbued with fruitcake-type spice and dried fruit, all these elements leading to a tea-like lithe, limber. lithic finish. Yeah, I really liked this pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, though often found around the country for $20 to $25.

A sample for review.


I keep reading that all the instruments agree that Millennials really love blended wines, but they must be drinking examples other than most of those mentioned in this post, because I found them to be bland and generic. The exception is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution American Red Wine, now in its Second Edition; it’s a cross-state wine — hence the “American” designation — “based on syrah” and heir to the reputation of the popular Evolution White Wine that debuted 13 years ago. There are other red wines in this roster of brief reviews, but frankly, other than the Evolution Red, not much roused my interest enough to subject my heavily insured palate to more than a few sips. Lotta wine went down the drain this morning! Glug, glug, glug! Quick reviews, mainly taken directly from my notes; no truck with technical, historical or geographical data; just the real deal. Enjoy — or not. Truly, sometimes I wonder why producers even bother. These were samples for review.

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Alamos Red Blend 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Malbec, bonarda, tempranillo. Dark ruby color; solid, firm; juicy and spicy black and blue fruit flavors; dusty tannins and walnut-shell-tinged oak; a touch of graphite minerality. Fine for barbecue ribs or burgers. Very Good. About $13.
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Alamos Seleccion Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; aromas of black currants and black cherries, touch of blueberry; briers and brambles; robust and rustic, bright acidity plows a furrow, rollicking dusty tannins; black fruit flavors open to a core of violets, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; don’t look for elegance here, this is forthright, spicy, flavorful and solidly made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Albamar Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.9% alc. Very pretty light ruby color; earthy, briers and brambles, a little stalky and weedy; a schizo conflict between sweet ripe berry fruit and bruisingly dry austere tannins; way off base and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $13.
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Edna Valley Vineyard “Paragon” Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 13.9% alc. (A Gallo label.) Neither smells nor tastes like pinot noir; generic, bland, innocuous, forgettable. Not recommended. About $20.
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Evolution American Red Wine, 2nd edition. 13% alc. Bottled by Sokol Blosser. “Syrah-based.” Dark ruby color; roots and branches, earthy yet ripe, fleshy, a little funky; very berryish, very spicy; lots of personality and engagement; black currants, cherries and plums with a touch of mulberry; dusty, pretty serious tannins, lively acidity; tasty but with plenty of stuffing. Says, “Bring me a lamb chop.” Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
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Four Vines Truant Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, California. 14.4% alc. 77% zinfandel, 13% syrah, 5% petite sirah, 3% barbera, 2% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; generic but pleasant, which is better than being generic but unpleasant. Good only. About $12. And how old were those vines?
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Gascon Colosal Red Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.1% alc. Malbec, bonarda, syrah, cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; fresh, clean and bright, fruity but not distinctive, fairly generic but no real flaws. Good only. About $15.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Intense ruby-mulberry color; lovely bouquet of beetroot, cloves and sassafras and a spectrum of red and black fruit, hint of earthy briers and brambles; very spicy and earthy in the mouth, plum and cherry fruit is slightly roasted and fleshy; quite dry, the tannins and oak assert themselves in a welter of woody spice and dusty graphite; finish is a bit short but a very enjoyable, moderately complex pinot noir. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $23.
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The Spur 2011, Livermore Valley. 13.5% alc. (From Murrieta’s Well) Petite sirah 31%, petit verdot 29%, cabermet sauvignon 27%, malbec 8%, cabernet franc 5%. Dark ruby color; mint and iodine, lavender, bittersweet chocolate; blackberries, black currants and blueberries, quite spicy; dry plush tannins, dusty graphite, zinging acidity, almost too lively; tannins coat the mouth, from mid-palate back the flavors feel curiously bland. Very Good. About $25.
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Waterstone Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc (tech sheet says 15.1). Dark ruby color; solid, firm structure; deep dusty tannins and graphite minerality; black and red currants and cherries, touch of plum; nice complexity of cedar and dried rosemary, tobacco and black olive; stalwart tannins, dusty and earthy; finish packed with spice, tannin and graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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The “family” part of the winery name is true. Founder Joe Donelan, originally from Connecticut, is accompanied in the business by his sons Cushing, the winery’s director of marketing, and Tripp, director of sales. This is the former Pax Wine Cellars; the name was changed in 2009. The winery is in Santa Rosa, owns no vineyards and makes its wines from grapes purchased primarily from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma County. Though the emphasis at Donelan is on syrah and Rhone Valley grape varieties, the samples I received for review include only one of those, the “Venus” 2011, a roussanne-viognier blend; the others are the Nancie Chardonnay 2011 and the Two Brothers Pinot Noir 2011. Winemaker is Joe Nielsen; consulting winemaker is Tyler Thomas. These wines are limited in production, so mark them Worth a Search.
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It rather gives the game away to say that the Donelan “Venus” 2011, Sonoma County, is exactly what I want a white Rhone-style roussanne-viognier blend to be. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach, pear and yellow plum are wreathed with deeper notes of straw, rosemary, salt-marsh and dried apricots. This wine saw no new oak, but was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There’s some lushness in the texture, and the pear and stone-fruit flavors are rich and slightly honeyed, but the overall effect is of spareness, reticence and finesse and of vitality born of scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. Production was 165 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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The Donelan “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma County, offers a different aura than the preceding wine; this is boldly ripe and rich, fully fledged with spice and floral notes, yet here too the richness is firmly tempered by brisk acidity and by a wet rock and limestone character that expands from the finish up through the entirety of the wine. Classic pineapple-grapefruit scents are highlighted by hints of tangerine, lime peel, orange blossom and cloves; pretty heady stuff, but in the mouth a core of dynamic acidity and gun-flint and limestone minerality tethers the juicy fruit-and-spice complexity to an earthy anchor. As with the previous wine, no new oak was used for the “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011; only neutral puncheons (large casks) and barriques (small barrels). 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 tor ’17, well-stored. Production was 825 cases. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Donelan “Two Brothers” Pinot Noir 2011, North Coast, derives from two vineyards in Sonoma County and one farther north in Mendocino. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge, the hue that I think of as “Burgundy.” This opens with the impression of lovely pinot noir purity and intensity; the bouquet holds notes of macerated and slightly stewed plums, red currants and cherries with undertones of rhubarb, cloves, white pepper and sandalwood and an intriguing smoky, mossy, earthy element. The texture is divinely smooth and satiny, a fitting repose for red and blue fruit flavors given depth by touches of fruitcake-like dried spices and fruit and a slightly foresty layer of underbrush and dried porcini. The wine is dry and gets drier as the moments pass, picking up some austerity and woodiness on the finish; give it a year or two to mellow and drink through 2019 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.4 percent. 900 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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