Wine Reviews: California Pinot Noir

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-04-2020

Happy New Year, all!

I’m back to start off the new year with a bunch of California Pinot Noirs. In the fall, I started receiving a lot of California Pinots and Chardonnays. I don’t often get to do comparative blind tastings, so I was excited to collect them and taste through them. (The Chardonnay report can be found here.)

This is a nice mix of inexpensive, widely-available brands, with some single-vineyard, smaller production stuff.

J Vineyards’ Sonoma Pinots provide wines that deliver a great classic cherry and cola goodness that I’ve grown to love.

The Maggy Hawk wines are all really exciting, and stood out with their finesse and elegance. These wines are made by Pinot Noir veteran winemaker Tony Rynders, and all sourced from the same vineyard. Each of the four wines, however, is a blend of different blocks and clones. These are really interesting wines that I’d recommend seeking out if you like Anderson Valley Pinot.

The full report is below. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

2018 Lucky Rock Wine Co. Pinot NoirCalifornia
SRP: $22

Nose pops with sweet cherries, strawberry jam, along with rhubarb, rose petals and cola. Light and smooth tannins on the palate, there’s a nice streak of acid that makes this refreshing to drink. Tangy cherries, sweet raspberries and strawberries, this is a fun and accessible wine with notes of rhubarb, cola, toffee. There are these cool earthy and cinnamon stick notes. Fun, fresh, delightful style, solid value. A mix of fruit from Monterey, San Benito and Sonoma Counties, aged nine months in 10% new French oak. (87 points IJB)

2017 The Paring Pinot NoirCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25

Aromas show black cherries, dark plums, raspberries, with these notes of warm black tea, clove, rose potpourri, some coconut and coffee. Wow, this has a lot of freshness on the palate, medium-bodied frame, smooth tannins, this is a fruit-forward but fresh Pinot. Plums, black cherries, saucy raspberries, the fruit is rich but vibrant. Coffee, vanilla and coconut shavings mix with tilled soil, black tea and rose petals, some mineral, rocky tones. This is fun stuff for near-term drinking, but it shows a lot of complexity (and value), too. For a wine at this price point, this style is rare. (89 points IJB)

2016 Talbott Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow VineyardCalifornia, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $50

Smells like fresh cranberries, strawberries, strawberries, red apple peel, with rhubarb, white pepper, black tea notes. Medium/full-bodied, smooth tannins, medium acidity, balanced nicely. A core of raspberries and spiced cranberry jam, the fruit is bold and ripe but pretty, too. Nuanced notes of rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper and bay leaf. Cola and roasted chestnut elements mix well with the savory, floral tones. Quite complex, very delicious, open for business now but this could hold for a few years. (90 points IJB)

2017 Steele Wines Pinot Noir Writer’s BlockCalifornia, North Coast, Lake County
SRP: $18

Aromas of spicy strawberries and raspberries, with pepper, cola, rose hips, leather and earth. Medium-bodied with silky tannins and a fresh, zippy appeal. Sweet cherries and raspberry jam mixes well with nuanced notes of cola, pepper, roses, bay leaf. Has a lot of fun spice and herbal tones to accent the fruit. Ready to drink, but a lot going on. Aged 12 months in 10% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2018 Clos Pegase Pinot Noir Mitsuko’s Vineyard California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40

Nose shows pretty red cherries, chilled strawberries and raspberries, with rose potpourri, pepper, sage, slight cola note. Brisk and mouthwatering acidity, this holds its full body well, with smooth tannins, lovely balance. Cool cherries, raspberries and red apple fruit. Complex notes of bay leaf, rose petal, sage and pepper, all of which add a vibrant, floral and earth sense to accent the red fruits. Delicious stuff, ready to go. Aged nine months in 30% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir Jolie California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65

Deep cherry and raspberry aromas, with a complex blend of rose petals, tobacco leaf, smoky, earthy tones, but also airy, lifted notes. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely, medium/full-bodied, serious grip on tannins, but this is really well-balanced. Bright strawberries, raspberries and cherries, gorgeous, concentrated fruit, yet so lively. Notes of clove, cola, earth, wild herbs add complexity. I’d love to see what this does in five years. Made from their estate vineyard Block 9, aged 15 months in 45% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir UnforgettableCalifornia, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65

Gorgeous nose of cherries and strawberries, deep yet vibrant, with roses, pepper, earth, coffee. Nice grip on the palate, but rounded edges, full but balanced. Deep black cherry fruit, cranberry relish, along with complex elements of roasted chestnut, clove, warm clay, coffee. Lovely depth and concentration, but vibrancy is there, too. This could use four to five years and should improve for longer. A blend of Blocks 6 and 13 (vinified separately), aged 15 months in 43% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir Stormin’California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65

Aromas of cranberries and cherries, and there’s a lot of spicy herbal tones, rose petals, black tea, along with warm clay and earth. Medium/full-bodied with bright acidity, and moderate grip on the tannins, but no harsh edges — this has lovely balance. Crunchy cranberries, black cherries, wild raspberries, the fruit is laced with smoky earth, pepper, paprika and rose petals. Lovely, fresh, vibrant yet structured well; this should improve with three to four years of cellaring. From Blocks 15 and 13, aged in 43% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir AfleetCalifornia, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $65

Smells of wild raspberries, red cherries and cranberries, along with rose petals, menthol, mint, with spiced tea and earth. Medium/full-bodied with suave tannins and fresh acidity, this is smooth and juicy, vibrant but velvety. Cranberries, wild raspberries, strawberries, deep yet pretty fruit, laced with cola, rhubarb, earth, roasted chestnut, mint. Lots of complexity and elegance already, but I’d love to see this in two or three years. From Blocks 6, 7 and 9, aged in 27% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2018 Cline Cellars Pinot NoirCalifornia, Sonoma County
SRP: $20

Aromas of fresh cherries and strawberry jam, with sweet cola, roses, spicy rhubarb, white pepper and bay leaf tones. Medium/full-bodied, soft tannins, moderate acidity, with sweet black cherries, currants, with strawberry jam. Mixed with mocha, coffee and vanilla elements. A ripe, juicy, accessible, crowd-pleasing style for early consumption. Aged five to ten months in 40% new French oak. (86 points IJB)

2018 Pfendler Vineyards Pinot NoirCalifornia, Sonoma County, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $55

On the nose, I get a huge (and pleasant) kick of earth and spice, like potting soil, paprika, black pepper, on top of sweet roses and suave black cherries and strawberries. Full-bodied but holds it well, chewy tannins, medium+ acidity. Smooth black cherries, raspberries and strawberries, the fruit blends well with elements of roses, tobacco, and a cool, herbal, brothy tone. Good amount of oak and vanilla, but it’s woven in well, and doesn’t dominate. Fun, yummy, but elegant stuff. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2017 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River SelectionCalifornia, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45

Aromas of juicy strawberries, raspberries, black cherries, along with violets, cola, rhubarb and coffee. Medium-bodied, velvety tannins, moderating acidity. The fruit is forward and joyful, with raspberries, strawberry jam, cherry cheesecake topping. I get notes of rhubarb, cola, mint chocolate chip. Ripe and fun, but lively and vibrant, too. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot NoirCalifornia, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $40

Aromas pop with ripe black cherries and strawberries, along with rose hips, rhubarb, clove, bold fruit but nice and spicy, too. Full but smooth on the palate with medium acidity, silky tannins, lots of cherries and strawberry preserves, tart/sweet cranberry relish. Lots of deliciousness but also a good amount of pepper, clove, black tea and tar. Nuanced cola and cedar mix in well. Aged nine months in 30% new French oak. (89 points IJB)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Strata California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $55

Smells of chilled strawberries, raspberries, red cherries and pomegranate, and a nice mix of spicy pepper, paprika, violets and cedar. Warm and inviting on the palate, slightly chewy tannins, vibrant and fresh too. Black cherries, strawberries, pomegranate, with notes of cola, spiced black tea, pepper and roses, some coffee and cedar. Rich and voluptuous, but lively, too.  Aged 13 months in 35% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir CanfieldCalifornia, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $75

Inviting and complex nose of roses, violets, tea leaves, clove, cola, on top of lots of raspberries, red cherries and cranberry. Full-bodied, smooth but structured, fresh acidity, the balance is quite nice. Juicy strawberries, chilled raspberries, pretty fruit, and I get accents of roses, tilled soil, and some underlying earth, mineral, rocky elements. Lively, spicy, tasty stuff that could improve over the next few years. Aged 14 months in 38% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

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