Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-23-2016

California Pinot Noir needs no introduction. So…

Since my last report, I’ve tasted another solid batch of Pinots from all over California. A lot of these wines hail from 2013, a warm and dry vintage that seems to have produced some concentrated but smooth Pinots in many regions. Some 2012s (which generally seem deserving of some cellar time) found their way into this tasting. And I’m looking for good things in 2014 as well.

The wines were all received as trade samples and tasted single-blind, except for the first two rosés, which were tasted sighted.

Review: 2012 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Cork Jumper Rosé Blanc de Noirs - Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Very pale copper color. Aromas of rich cherries, tart white cherries and raspberry tea mixed with a smoky mineral and talc note, also some mushroom and musk perfume — this has a lot going on for it. Gorgeous texture on the palate with fine bubbles, such refreshing acid. White cherries, wild strawberries, some red currant tea, interesting savory elements (mushroom, black tea, tobacco) mix in with classic biscuit and yeasty notes, some raw almond and crushed nutshells. Deep and complex, this could do some fun things in four or five years. Unique in its non-fruit complexity. 100% Pinot Noir. Tasted sighted. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2014 La Voix Pinot Noir Rosé “She’s Crafty” - Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Bright strawberry candy colored. Floral and peppery notes add to the rich strawberry, white cherry and red apple aromas. Medium-plus-bodied, bright acid, a rich and velvety presence on the palate. Tangy red and white cherries, raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, the fruit is rich but shows some crunchiness. Notes of pepper and nutshell add complexity. This is not a light-bodied, zesty rose, this is a heartier version with some punch, but it maintains an attractive sense of freshness. Well-done stuff. Who said rosé was just a summer thing? I’d drink this any winter day. Tasted sighted. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2014 La Voix Pinot Noir “Rebel Rebel” Quinta del Mar - California, Central Coast
SRP: $45
Juicy ruby color. Bright and vibrant aromas of juicy black cherries, raspberries, sweet strawberries, along with an attractive mix of richer elements (toast, mocha) and bright notes (rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper). Rich texture, velvety tannins, moderate acid, a forward, chewy wine. Juicy black cherries, raspberries and strawberry jam, laced with rich cola, coffee and sweet toffee notes, but also white pepper, rhubarb, tobacco and mint. Long, creamy finish. A rich wine but lots of fun, it sports significant complexity. Drink-me-now style, but perhaps it would be worth holding onto for a few years. Aged 12 months in 10% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Central Coast - California, Central Coast
SRP: $23
Light ruby color. Nose of bright red cherries, wild strawberries, raspberry jam, subtle tobacco, rose petals and tilled soil as well. Juicy and full on the palate, full of red berries, cherries and raspberry jam. Some dusty tannic structure, medium acid. An interesting mix of bay leaf, caramel and rhubarb pie. A bit simple perhaps, but put together well and very pleasant. Almost all the fruit comes from Olson Ranch in Santa Lucia Highlands. (86 points IJB)

2014 William Hill Winery Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $18
Vibrant cherry color. Nose of sweet red cherries, sweet roses, ripe and juicy rasphberries with notes of cola and dusty soil. A rich and velvety appeal on the palate but some dusty tannic structure, medium-low acid. Juicy black cherries, raspberries and dark plums, the fruit is rich and a bit candied, tossed with toasted with oak, caramel, red licorice and espresso. A ripe and slightly candied style, but it’s still very attractive, smooth and appealing. From Santa Lucia Highlands and Edna Valley. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir “The Fog Prince” - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Light ruby color. Smells of sweet raspberries and strawberry jam, some rose petals and red licorice. Full-bodied with chewy tannins, some moderate acid, a rich but juicy appeal. Black cherries, strawberry jam, the fruit is doused with some cedar, cola, red licorice and dusty earth notes. Bold and a bit jammy, but stays fresh and has enough non-fruit elements that it works out quite well for my palate. Ready to go but you could hold onto this for a year or three. Aged 10 months in new and old French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Estate Clone 115 - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $46
Light rose color. Nose of tart red cherries, strawberries, mixed in with tobacco, menthol, rhubarb and white pepper. Medium-to-full bodied, actually quite rich and forward but balanced by refreshing acid and a dusty tannic structure. Tart red apples, strawberries and raspberries, the fruit is plenty ripe but crunchy around the edges. Refreshing and spicy with plenty of rhubarb, tobacco, white pepper, underlying limestone, mineral but richer notes of clove, birch bark and coffee as well. Plenty of structure but elegant and pleasurable at the same time. This Pinot is firing. Sees 60% new French oak but orchestrated well into the overall package. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 La Voix Pinot Noir “Reflektor” Machado Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $95
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like sweet raspberries, strawberry jam and juicy black cherries, along with roses, cola, root beer candies but also some spicy tobacco and fallen leaves. Full-bodied, a surprising acidic presence weaves it all together, some good grip to the tannins. Darker fruits here (black cherry, crunchy plums, some sweet blueberry and strawberry jam) but also notes of violets, sarsaparilla, coffee grounds, cedar shavings and mint. A more forward style, full of jammy fruit, but plenty of other elements to appreciate, and it stays lively and playful. I’d like to revisit this in a few more years because it seems a bit compact and hesitant. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Voix Pinot Noir “Satisfaction” Kessler-Haak Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $75
Light rose color. Bright and vibrant aromas, like wild strawberries and tart red cherries, this wine also has saucy, floral and earthy aspects that are seriously complex. A full-bodied wine, velvety but full tannins, the wine has a chewy presence but that’s balanced by this underlying freshness from the acidity. Tart red and dark berry fruits abound, but they’re backed up by plenty of sweet flowers, perfume, sweet green herbs, along with richer notes of cola, cedar and clove. Lovely stuff, juicy but restrained. Complexity lies within, waiting for a few years in the cellar. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir English Hill Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Deep ruby color. Aromas of ripe, juicy black cherries, raspberries, tart strawberries, also some notes of pine sap, tobacco, white pepper, a spicy-herbal kick. Bright approach on the palate with tart raspberries, cherries and red plums, dusty tannins, plenty of structure, a bright acidic backbone that keeps the wine lively and tart. Notes of bay leaf, tobacco, white pepper, mixed in with richer elements of chocolate-covered cherries and cola. Deep underlying sense of earth and minerals. A beauty of a Pinot Noir that should improve for the next three to five years. Aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Holder Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Medium ruby colored. Aromas of jammy raspberries, tart summer plums and red currants, along with some earth and rosemary elements. Medium+ bodied, a velvety appeal with moderate acid, the balance is quite a thing. Tart plums mix with wild raspberries and richer strawberry jam flavors, and I get secondary notes of pine sap, green coffee, black tea. Velvety, smooth but stylish, rounded out with some earthy and saucy aspects that will surely evolve with time. 13.8% alcohol, aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Gorgeous ruby color. Vibrant aromatics, we’re talking cherries, raspberries, juicy strawberries, along with lively rose petals, rich earth and some interesting spice components (white pepper, clove?), the whole package is complex. A full-bodied wine with good tannic structure but the acid is refreshing and the wine slides along smoothly. Red plums, raspberry jam, juicy cherries, the fruit is matched with complex notes of roasted chestnut and toasted biscuits savory aspects (mushroom, fallen leaves?), and some baking spices (clove, cinnamon?). A gorgeous, silky finish. This is my favorite Pinot I’ve tasted from J. Aged 13 months in 30% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. Elegant aromas of cool red cherries, crisp red apples, juicy-tart strawberries, notes of rose hips, rhubarb, eucalyptus and clove. A fleshy and juicy wine, tart acid provides tang and nerve, velvety tannins for structure and a creamy-rich mouthfeel. The fruit is pure, ripe and crunchy (red currant, strawberry, red apple, raspberry). Bright and floral with waves of rhubarb, white pepper, violets, light roast coffee and eucalyptus, a wide array of non-fruit flavors. A deep sense of rose petals, sage and clay soil pervades this wine, adding nuance and complexity. Less intense than the 2013 Bow Tie, but for my palate I appreciate the tart, cooler approach. Aged 9 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Bow Tie Vineyard Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Light ruby color. The aromas are expressive, attractive and plentiful: raspberries, wild strawberries, rhubarb, cola, sweet caramel, clove and cherry wood. A rich and velvety wine on the palate, fleshy tannins and moderate acid, the raspberry, red cherry and strawberry jam flavors are ripe but show a bit of tartness around the edge. Notes of fire pit, roasted nuts, caramel, rose potpourri and cedar. This is a bold and full Pinot but shows a good amount of nuance, too. 14.6% alcohol, aged 13 months in 30% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2013 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Electric ruby color. The cherry, strawberry and red currant aromas are peppered with notes of tobacco, bay leaf, tree bark and notes of mushroom — the aromas shift and evolve in the glass. A rich presence on the palate with medium-fine tannins, moderate acid, the fruit is velvety and rich (black cherry, strawberry, raspberry jam), accented by a nice mix of coffee,  clove, tobacco barn, mushroom and sarsaparilla. Lovely rich texture but some sturdy backbone and maintains a fresh edge. Pretty now but I’d like to crack open a bottle in two or three years. 14.4% alcohol, this wine was aged 15 months in 60% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2013 La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast - California, North Coast
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Smells of wild raspberries and cherries, some tartness but sweetness mixed in with notes of roses, cola and fallen leaves. Medium-bodied, medium acid, softer tannins than many of the others but enough to give it a light-silky texture. Juicy raspberry and strawberry fruit mixes with a sense of wet earth, fallen leaves and coffee grounds. Some sweet cola and roses as well. Juicy, fun, not too complex but quite tasty with some unique earthy aspects. (86 points IJB)

<85 points

2014 Tortoise Creek Wines Pinot Noir “Mission Grove” - California
SRP: $12
Bright ruby color. Weak aromatics, with sour cherries, rosewater and strawberry jam. Strange wine on the palate, the tannins are soft but bitter at the same time, and the acid is out of whack. Sour cherries, strawberry jam, the fruit tastes a bit baked. Notes of oak chips and heavily roasted coffee. Just not good at all. Mostly Clarksburg fruit with 40% from Monterey.

2014 Dark Horse Pinot Noir - California
SRP: $10
Light ruby colored. Smells of sweet cherries, raspberries, some wild green herbs and dusty earth. Tart on the palate with almost no tannins but some tasty raspberry jam flavors and some tart, Thanksgiving dinner cranberry sauce going on as well. Notes of cola, coffee and a spicy, herbal note that reminds me of baby’s breath. Slight earthiness on the finish. Simple, easy-drinking, I was actually surprised this was only $10 retail, as it drinks as well as a lot of Pinots in the $20 range. Actually includes some Grenache, Gewurztraminer and “10% select red varieties” – hmm. Whatever high-tech tricks they’re pulling to make a $10 Pinot not only drinkable but decent, they’re working.

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