Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-23-2016

We’re back with more California Pinot Noir! Since my last report, I’ve tasted through a range of Cali Pinots. This batch is stacked with goodies.

This report includes some stunners from three excellent Sonoma producers: Three Sticks, La Pitchoune, and Alma Fria. I find the latter to be a seriously impressive effort, and their Chardonnay is amazing, too.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. (The rosé was tasted sighted.)

Review: 2015 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Vin Gris - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $28
Pale salmon color. A lot of floral perfume pops on the nose, along with wild strawberries and cherries, topped off with white pepper, sea spray and chalk dust. Vibrant and tart on the palate but some rounded aspects to the mouthfeel as well. White cherries and strawberries are topped in white pepper, cucumber slices, sea salt and minerals. A lot going on here, this is a clean and vibrant rose, and the food pairing options are endless. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Ghost Pines Pinot Noir - California
SRP: $23
Deep ruby color. Nose of strawberry and raspberry jam, some rhubarb pie, cola, sweet oak and clove. A juicy and chewy approach with mild tannins, medium acidity and lots of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and strawberry jams). Flavors of mocha, vanilla, cedar and cola play nicely together. A simple, straightforward, candied wine with crowd-pleasing style and a good dose of delish. A blend of mostly Monterey County fruit with some from Sonoma County. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Cambria Pinot Noir Bench Break - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $25
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries, raspberry jam, roses, along with some cola and clove. Juicy texture on the palate with smooth tannins and a refreshing quality from the acid. The black cherry and raspberry fruit is jammy but bright, and accented by notes of floral potpourri, coffee and slight pepper. A bit generous with the toast, but it holds the oak rather well, and the wine stays vibrant and fresh. Drinking wonderfully now with some near-term cellaring potential. A total bargain at $25. This spends 8 months in French oak (27% new). (88 points IJB)

CkYiox0UYAEGciCReview: 2014 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Bien Nacido - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $60
Light ruby color. A really interesting herbal kick (pepper, tobacco, mint, basil) on top of sour cherries, wild strawberries, hints of cola, clove and cedar. Medium-bodied but bright, elegant even, with dusty tannins and bright acidity. Tart cherries and strawberries mix with crunchy blueberry, and the fruit is topped with lovely spice and herbs (eucalyptus, pepper, mint) – notes of earth and tar balance out the subtle wood and cola elements. Very long, lip-smackingly clean finish. Loving this bold but elegant style. What a beautiful Pinot. 13.9% alcohol, this is aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Gainey Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Deep ruby color. A warm aromatic display of deep cherries, red berry compote, violets, clove and coffee – rich but lively. Tart, bright acid and dusty tannins provide a pure and electric feel on a medium-bodied frame. Juicy black cherries blend with fresh strawberries and McIntosh apple. I love the subtle complexities of roses, white pepper, earth and cola. Precise, lively and bouncy, this wine felt like the sleek skilled boxer of the bunch. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. Exceptional for this price point. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 FEL Pinot Noir - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
Medium ruby color. Smells of cherry pie and red currants, deep concentration but the fruit opens up with air. Bold aromatics, a bit compact at first, but I get some hips and spiced coffee as well. Full-bodied and bold palate (14.4% alcohol), the tannins are velvety-smooth and the moderate acidity helps keep it relatively balanced. Black cherries and strawberry jam, a mix of dark, jammy fruit but the fruit maintains nuance. Secondary flavors of cola, dark chocolate and vanilla. It’s a delicious, forward style of Pinot, but it maintains mystique with earthy, minty, mushroomy elements. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir Jackson Estate - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $32
Medium ruby. Dark and bold aromatics, this is a big wine with black cherries, currants and strawberry jam mixed in with roasted coffee, roses and sweet pipe tobacco. The palate is full and chewy, with velvety tannins, medium-low acidity, and packed with fruit (black cherries, strawberry jam, some blueberry mixed in, too), woven together with coffee, cedar, sweet tobacco and vanilla. Bold but pretty. 14.5% alcohol, aged 11 months in 29% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 WindRacer Pinot Noir - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $50
Dull ruby color. Smells of chilled raspberries, wild strawberries and a mix of earth, spice and herbal complexities — a delightful wine to sniff. Full-bodied with structured tannins and medium acidity, there’s a lovely feel of lushness to this wine. A nice blend of bright red and warmer black cherry fruit, accented with woodsy spice and sweet herbs. Wood and cedars highlight but don’t lead. Very pretty now but structured well for near-term cellaring. Aged 15 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Outland Ridge - California, Mendocino County, Anderson Valley
SRP: $35
Vibrant ruby color. Such bright aromas of raspberry, red apple, deep plums, along with rich violets, cola, cinnamon and cedar. Good tannic bite with some balanced acidity. Full and plum with a generous texture and darker fruit flavors than the nose indicates: deep plums, black cherries, backed up by tobacco and roasted nuts. Vanilla and cedar are prominent but not overwhelming. A darker, saucier style but still put together nicely. Aged 11 months in mostly French oak (35% new). (87 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Artesa Pinot Noir Estate Reserve - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. Smells of raspberry jam, strawberry rhubarb pie, bright red flowers and notes of cedar and clove. Full-bodied with medium-low acidity. Juicy black cherries, raspberry jam, fig paste, the fruit is laced with some serious rose petal and potting soil. A bit heavy on the mocha, cedar and clove flavors but still quite nice. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 WindRacer Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $50
Deep ruby color. Smells of cola and roses on top of a core of sweet cherries and strawberry jam, with savory/earthy aspects that need air to unravel. Full-bodied but showing solid tannic structure and vibrant acidity. Juicy black cherries, ripe cherries and raspberries, the fruit is full and juicy but cool and quite crunchy at the same time. I love the savory (mushroom, soy) elements and the earthy and spicy complexity that will evolve with another few years. Impressive stuff! (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40
Deep rose petal and ruby color. Juicy black and red cherries on the nose, along with sweet cola, vanilla, some clove and earth accents. Full-bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity, bold but quite balanced. Black cherry dominated, with raspberry jam and saucy plums, the fruit is velvety and ripe and backed up wet earth and rose petals. A bit heavy-handed with the cedar, mocha and vanilla but this is very tasty stuff. This spends nine months in 30% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
Vibrant ruby color. On the nose, I get juicy black cherry ice cream and strawberry jam, along with notes of anise, root beer and black tea. Full-bodied (14.4% alcohol) with a chewy tannic structure and medium-low acidity. The fruit tends toward the black cherry and plum cake, but it’s still lively. Significant mocha and vanilla from the oak, but there’s still plenty of earth and fallen leaves for complexity. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but still very well done. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Anaba Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $36
Light ruby color. Bursting aromatics of raspberry, strawberry, red plums, along with cola, roses and red licorice, juicy but complex. Medium-full-bodied but a juicy feel from the combination of moderate tannins and vibrant acidity. Chilled red berry fruit abounds, backed up by roses, cola, soy, fallen leaves, and notes of vanilla and pine. Forward and juicy but stays lively and has complexity and structure to unwind over the next few years. This spends 11 months in 35% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $48
Bright ruby color. On the nose, wow! I get: bing cherry, wild strawberries, spiced cranberry sauce, tons of floral complexity and subtle spice. An airy and beautiful aromatic display. Medium-full-bodied with structured tannins that have a fine, dusty feel, while bright acidity keeps it fresh. Tart red fruit (sour cherry, McIntosh apple, wild raspberry) mixes with an elegant floral presence. Complex spice and savory aspects come out with air. Complex but harmonious, elegant but delicious style. This spends 11 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Plural - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $40
Medium ruby color. What awesome aromatics. Fruit-wise I get tart cranberry, bright red cherries and red apple peel, but a bunch of white pepper, sage, floral tea and earthy aromas come out with time – this is just amazing to sniff. Medium-bodied, dusty tannins, crunchy acidity – this has such an airy and elegant feel. But there’s plenty of fruit (crisp red apple, wild cherries, juicy strawberries), which is accented by airy, floral and herbal qualities (white pepper, clove, potpourri, savory spices). This is so pretty but there is plenty to unpack over the next 2-4+ years. Aged 14 months in French oak (10% new). (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Holtermann Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $58
Light ruby color. Vibrant aromatics, this is a tart, spicy, exotic and floral wine with lots of bright red fruit, pepper, rhubarb and woodsy/earthy elements. Medium-bodied (12.9% alcohol), the wine is framed by tart acidity and fine but structured tannins. Gushing red fruit (cherry, strawberry, raspberry) but it’s so tart and vibrant. Backed up by roses, potting soil, black tea and rhubarb. A vibrant minerality pervades this wine. Fruity and delicious but a tart, tangy, lip-smacking and exciting Pinot. Gorgeous now but I’d love to see this develop over the next four years or so. Aged 14 months in 20% new oak. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Alma Fría Pinot Noir Doña Margarita Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $58
Light ruby color. Gorgeous aromas of tart strawberries, cranberry sauce, rose hops, white pepper, and notes of mushroom and clay underneath. Pure and silky on the palate (beautiful mouthfeel) as structured but fine tannins combine with bright, lip-smacking acidity. Flavors of red currant, sour cherry, McIntosh apple and pomegranate, the fruit is crunchy but plenty ripe. Complex non-fruit combo of sage, white pepper, clay, rose petals, and hints of clove and cedar add just a touch. Pervasive minerality. Such complexity to unpack in the cellar, as these subtle savory spice elements will surely do awesome things in three or five years. 13.2% alcohol, aged 14 months in 25% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Three Sticks Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Vibrant aromatics of black cherries, raspberry jam, sweet notes of clove and cola mix with lovely elements of eucalyptus and rose petals. Full-bodied (14.5% alcohol) with medium tannic structure and some vibrant acidity. Flavors of black cherry and dark plums, the fruit is dark but still tart. Elements of cocoa, anise, clove and vanilla are woven in well, but I also get some violets and rich earth. Smooth, velvety, a rounded style but lively acidity keeps it bright and there are a lot of complex flavors to coax out over time. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir Van der Kamp - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $58
Deep ruby color. A rich, deep aromatic display, but the aromas show vibrancy as well – I get red and black cherries along with roses, black tea, paved road, sarsaparilla, and cola. A full-body (14.2%) but this wine shows structured yet fleshy tannins and moderate acidity, so it’s bold but balanced. The black cherry, pomegranate and raspberry fruit is warm but fresh – laced with coffee, scorched earth, cola, clove, apple cinnamon spice. Chewy and warm but pleasantly vibrant and airy– seems like it could unfold for quite a few years in the cellar. Aged 11 months in ¼ new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2013 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir VDK Black Label - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain
SRP: $108
Medium ruby color. Smooth and silky on the nose but plenty to sniff: juicy raspberries and strawberry, hints of rhubarb, rose petals and pepper. Full-bodied, silky but structured tannic approach, lip-smacking acidity, it all combines for a bold but vibrant wine. Black cherries mix with pomegranate, strawberry and wild blueberry. Complex notes of clove, chewing tobacco and peat mix with richer elements of cedar, roasted chestnut and clove. Mouth-filling and strong but stays vibrant, even elegant, although this is a very young Pinot that needs time in the cellar to show its full gorgeousness. This wine comes from the best Van der Kamp juice and is aged 11 months in 50% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

<85 points

Review: 2014 Wild Horse Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast
SRP: $18
Light ruby color. Smells of candied cherries, strawberry jam, sweet roses and cola. Soft tannins, juicy acid. Tart but jammy strawberries, cherries and raspberries, with notes of cedar, milk chocolate, some light roast coffee. A juicy, candied style but tastes nice. Aged 9 months in French oak, 20% new.

Review: 2014 Mirassou Vineyards Pinot Noir - California
SRP: $12
Light ruby color. Smells like sweet roses, raspberry jam and strawberry candies. Medium-bodied with very soft tannins and medium-low acidity. Flavors are fun and simple (candied cherries, strawberry jam), along with cola, sweet coffee and vanilla. Simple but pleasant. One of the better wines I’ve tasted from this label.

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