Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-20-2014

Lots of winemakers from across California have praised the 2012 vintage. The more Pinot Noirs from 2012 I taste, the more I understand their excitement.

This report features a few exciting wines from 2012, as well as some from the leaner, tangier 2011 vintage, and a pair of late releases from 2009.

All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind unless otherwise noted.

Review: 2012 Tolosa Winery Pinot Noir Estate - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $32
Bright ruby color. Smells like rose hips, pepper and green herbs sprinkled on top of cranberries and wild strawberries. Medium-bodied with light tannins and a smooth and silky approach. Crunchy red berry fruit, some cherry pie, mix in some pepper, rhubarb and cardamom. Roses and vanilla coffee on the finish. Smooth and creamy and delicious, nice mix of fruit and earthy flavors. Aged 11 months in 1/3 new French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Niner Wine Estates Pinot Noir Edna Valley - California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
SRP: $35
Dark ruby/light purple color. Nose shows roasted plums, juicy black cherries, some clove, cinnamon and sweet violets. On the palate, the wine is somehow both smooth and chewy at the same time, boasting tons of fruit (black cherries, blackberries, strawberry pie) velvety and smooth but rich. I love the clove, dark chocolate and sweet cola notes, but I also get some graphite and tobacco elements that add complexity. Delicious, open for business, but not a simple fruit bomb. Spends 10 months in 30% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir Radian Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $54
Dark ruby colored. Aromas pop out of the glass: red cherries, sweet cranberry sauce, notes of cola, rose petals and spicy incense sticks. On the palate, red and black cherries, red currants, the fruit is juicy but tart and laced with graphite, tobacco and coffee. Saucy, rich and bold but kept fresh by medium acid. Long finish of cola, soy sauce and loamy soil. Deep, long, complex, plenty of time to unwind. Aged 15 months in 22% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Isabel Mondavi Pinot Noir - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
Bright ruby-purple color in the glass. Nose shows red and black currants, some sweet roses, earth and cedar tones, a bit of caramel. On the palate, this wine shows a creamy, silky mouthfeel, medium tannins and acid, and the combination leads the wine to glide across the palate. Fresh currants, red and black cherries, the fruit is pure and layered. Notes of fall leaves, sage and chestnut round add a good twist. I also get some mineral and black tea elements. I’d drink this in the near term because it’s so fresh and lively, but it’s high quality stuff. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $35
Light ruby color. On the nose I get bright cherries, raspberries, roses and violets along with sweet clove, cola and roasted coffee. Medium tannin, in sync with the acid, this wine has a mouthfeel made of equal parts dusty, chewy and smooth. The black cherry, plums and raspberry fruit is tart but quite ripe, backed up by notes of coffee, caramel, shaved dark chocolate and black tea. A wide-open Pinot with a lot of attractive qualities. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Potter Valley
SRP: $30
Bright medium ruby color. Chilled strawberries and raspberries on the nose, lovely rose and potting soil notes, some slight herbal notes. Bright and lively on the palate, with fine tannins, medium acid and a mouthfeel equal parts zesty and silky. Juicy, cool, with notes of sweet herbs, cola, and dusty soil, tobacco. Complex yet more restrained in character, although not lacking in flavor or personality. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2009 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir Domaine Lois Louise - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Light cherry colored. On the nose I get red currants and strawberries, a hint of blueberry, with some notes of underbrush, clay soil, roses and sweet cinnamon. On the palate, tart acid combines with some reasonably tight tannins yet a smooth mouthfeel. Black cherries, currants, some tart blueberries, this is also a deeply floral wine with accents of dusty soil, dark chocolate, smoke and toast. Great concentration, cellar-worthy, but maintains smoothness and elegance despite the new oak. I’d love to try this again in four or five years. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak and two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2009 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir Domaine Valeta Sunny Slope - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $62
More forward on the nose, jumps out of the glass with strawberries and raspberries, also some sweet floral perfume, dandelion, tilled soil and a hint of grilled herbs. Fine tannins, still very structured, moderate acid for balance. Ripe red cherries and strawberries abound, not as smoky or earthy as the Domaine Louise, much more floral and fresh with violets, black tea and potpourri. All sorts of sweet and spicy notes that need time to grow into their own. Focused but still structured, the end result is an elegant wine with cellar capability. Aged 18 months in 75% new French oak and two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Foppiano Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby color. Juicy raspberries and tart cherries on the nose, laced with lots of herbs and spices (rhubarb, white pepper, sage) and a sweet floral accent. Bright and crunchy on the palate, but bold as mouth-coating as well, with a nice mix of tangy cherries and rich black cherries and plums. Lots of white pepper, rhubarb, spicy oregano, backed up by some light roast coffee, roses and loamy soil. A Pinot Noir that covers all the bases, and does it well. Aged in French oak, 25% new. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $37
Light medium ruby color. Vibrant cherries on the nose, cool currants, some charcoal and clove mixed in with caramel. Full and fruity on the palate with chewy tannins and medium+ acid. Pure black cherries and tart blueberries, add in some earth, gravel. and dusty library notes with cocoa powder and vanilla cola. Silky, velvety, with a long and rich finish. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2011 Hatton Daniels Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
Light ruby colored. Lots of earth and spices elements on the nose (rose hips, sage, white pepper, dusty soil) over top of tart cranberries and wild strawberries. On the palate, this is bright and crisp with focused acid and fine-grained tannins. The cranberry, wild cherry and raspberry fruit is crunchy and juicy, and I pick up a range of non-fruit complexities: sage, oregano, cedar, light-roast coffee. Some toffee and vanilla but slight and woven in well. Long, clean with roses and lavender on the finish. Lighter bodied than the 2012 but still very complex. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Hatton Daniels Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
Clean light ruby colored. Gorgeous nose of rose and violet-tinged earth, dusted over top of red cherry and plum fruit of the tangy and vibrant variety. So alive on the palate with tart acid, dusty tannins of medium strength a silky but fresh mouthfeel. Red currants, cherries, crunchy plums accented by sweet pipe tobacco, fennel, sage. Underlying notes of cherry fountain soda and dried roses. Complex and full yet reserved and so food-friendly. Seems ready now but has the ability to develop for sure. 13.2% alcohol. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $54
Moderate ruby color. Smells savory and bright at the same time, with red currants, mulled raspberries, juicy wild strawberries, some rhubarb pie, notes of chewing tobacco and pine sap. On the palate, a forward style full of raspberry jam, wild strawberries and some cherry-rhubarb pie. Velvety tannins, medium acid, the fruit is juicy and chewy, backed up by spice and smoke notes. The fruit is a bit sweeter and jammier than the other Sonoma Coast pinots in this group, but it’s balanced a bit by the acid and non-fruit qualities. Notes of caramel and chestnut (50% new oak) linger onto the finish. Drinks well now but could do well over the next few years. A bold style, but very well done. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Sojourn Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast – California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $54
Vibrant dark ruby colored. Aromas of black cherries and saucy plums, add in some cola, cinnamon and clove, some smoke and earth. Firm tannic structure, some medium acid. Deep, concentrated core of fruit (black cherry and blackberry) a bit roasted but still tart. I also get some charcoal pit, roasted nuts, loamy soil and spice elements (maybe clove and black licorice). Initially this struck me as a bit too intense, but air tones it down. Long, velvety and nutty (50% new oak) on the finish. I’d lay off this for two years or so. A beautiful albeit boisterous Pinot. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2012 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $59
Clear-bright ruby. Nose of cranberries and wild cherries, some roses, white pepper, pickle, clove and cinnamon notes blend in well, adding nuance and complexity to the aromatic package. A very bright and clean Pinot, with dusty tannins of moderate strength and lively acid that whisks the wine over the palate. Bright cherries, wild strawberries, some spiced cranberry jam, elements of tobacco and rose hips blend with mocha and toasted nuts. Seems ready to go, but will surely improve and unwind over the next few years. Aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $29
This rosé was tasted sighted. Pale salmon color. Amazingly fresh on the nose, with wild strawberry and watermelon rind, some crusted, salty jetty rocks (a scent I know well). Very crisp acid but the fruit is generous and rolls across the palate in waves: white cherries, strawberries, key lime, some richer papaya and melon chunks. Underlying mineral notes pop out from the fruit while salty notes come out on the finish. Racy, clean, a very exciting rosé. (90 points IJB)

Wines Scoring <85 points
Review: 2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $20
Medium purple color. Nose of red cherries, roses, some green pepper, vanilla and cinnamon cookie. Tangy on the palate with tart red cherry fruit. A bit simple, the tannins taste a bit bitter and green. Some cedar and green coffee flavors.

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