I know, I could have written, “Two Groups of Pinots, Three Each,” but I like the off-rhyme of “trios” and “pinots,” as well as the rhythm of the line. So be it.
In any case, the two groups of pinot noir wines, three each, under review today have little to do with each other except for the grape variety. Inman Family Wines is in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, while Zena Crown lies in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, considerably to the north. Jackson Family Wines purchased the vineyard just west of Salem in 2013. The other quality these wines share is that, whatever differences they display because of the divergence in geography, geology, climate and terroir (and oak regimen), each is a model of what can be done with the grape by thoughtful growers and winemakers concentrating on a particular place.
These wines were samples for review.
The Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, aged 17 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The grapes derive from the vineyard’s East 12 and West 1A and 14 blocks, grown in volvanic soil of varying depths. The color is a beautiful transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; aromas of red and black cherries are wreathed with notes of sassafras, rhubarb and cloves, all becoming a little meaty and fleshy as the moments pass and then opening to a hint of some shy astringent woodland flower. This is a rooty, tea-like pinot noir that expands to touch areas of loam, briers and brambles as well as reaching to depths of real tannic and acidic power, yet displaying a delicate floral filigree around the circumference. There’s a mineral edge that becomes more spare and chiseled through the finish, which contributes a final fillip of resiny pine and rosemary and an autumnal haze of leaf-smoke. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 240 cases. A pinot noir of awesome, paradoxical and wholly gratifying complexity. Excellent. About $75.
The Zena Crown (Sigma) Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills — the Greek capital Sigma is a symbol for “sum” in mathematics, though that’s putting the case rather simply; WordPress will not allow the symbol to be uploaded to this page — aged 17 months in French oak, 71 percent new barrels; the grapes are grown in Blocks 4, 5 and 12 of the vineyard, providing a varied background of characteristics. First is the dark ruby hue that shades to vivid magenta, then a wealthy perfumed bouquet of talc, lavender and violets, cranberry and pomegranate, graphite and loam. This is a deep rich pinot noir that feels sifted and layered in complexity, and while you note with a touch of alarm the presence of oak, that element subsides to become a shaping factor rather than a dominant influence. Lip-smacking acidity keeps the wine taut and animated, while it practically vibrates around a core of graphite, iodine and iron. 12.9 percent alcohol, a truly benign presence in this age of 14.5 percent and higher. Production was 302 cases. Drink now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $75.
Blocks East 5 and 6 of the Zena Crown Vineyard start at 600 feet elevation and slope to the south, allowing plenty of sunlight exposure. The Zena Crown “Slope” Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, aged 17 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels, which seems to me to be an extraordinary amount of new oak for pinot, but the wine apparently soaked up that wood influence and came out with tremendous confidence and elan, with lovely heft and balance, and a lithe supple, satiny texture; it rolls across the palate like liquid money. (You’ll need some money if you want to buy a few bottles.) The color is brilliant medium ruby shading to an ephemeral, invisible rim; it’s a rooty, brambly and briery pinot noir that offers plenty of earthy-loamy elements to shore up scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and plums with a tinge of red fruit and hints of sassafras and cloves. It’s a large-framed wine within its context of succulence, acid brightness and dusty tannins, all subsumed to a broad component of graphite minerality. 12.7 percent alcohol, and when was the last time you saw a wine from California with this sensible an alcohol level? Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 348 cases. Excellent. About $100.
Let’s start with an email statement from owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman:
“As for barrel regime, I purchased six new Sirugue barrels and 2 Billon barrels (used for the
Sexton only) for my Pinot in 2013 and I think I began with 78 or 80 barrels of Pinot that year. That would be about 10% new each year. I use my barrels for up to 8 years. I do not keep track of how many new, one-year, two-year or older barrels go into each final blend. My answer to how much oak is – the right amount of oak for my taste.” In other words, new oak at this winery is held to a bare minimum, with the emphasis placed on a blend of wines from barrels of myriad ages.
So, let’s go now to the Inman Family Wines Sexton Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The color is moderately dark ruby shading to lavender transparency; you notice immediately the notes of black and red cherries with the slight astringency of their skins and pits, hints of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood. This pinot is substantial, with real heft and thrust, but it feels weightless on the palate in a wonderful contention and resolution of the feminine and masculine elements; a few moments in the glass bring in layers of leather and loam and forest floor, rhubarb and beet-root, all encompassed in a super supple satiny texture. Give this an hour and the finely-milled and sifted tannins assert themselves. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $68.
The Inman Family Pratt Vine Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, displays a ravishing hue of transparent medium ruby fading to an invisible rim; if you could exist on color alone, this would be it. Aromas of cloves and pomegranate, sandalwood, red cherries and currants, lilac and rose petals, red licorice and loam circulate from the glass; it’s a dark, spicy, feral pinot noir, fleet with musky, meadowy notes of melon and cloves, loam and leather. The texture is supple and lithe, with a satin drape on the palate cut by rigorous acidity, dusty tannins and graphite minerality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $68.
The Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, retains a grip on inscrutability and reserve while exhibiting a panoply of sensual pleasures and potential. The color is a transparent mulberry-magenta hue; aromas of pomegranate and cloves, cranberry and sassafras open to notes of red and black cherries, leather and loam. Layers of sanded, polished and insistent tannins offer enough grit to provide some resistance on the palate, while bright acidity cuts a swath through the remarkably supple, satiny texture. The sense of animation blanaced by a paradoxical dark, brooding quality lends the wine great personality and character. 14.2 percent alcohol. This could use a year to age, but try through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $73.