Friday, June 20, 2014

Tasting Report: California Pinot Noir (2012 & 2011)

Growers and winemakers from all over California have praised the quality of the 2012 vintage, and for good reason. Sure there were regional differences, and the wines in this report cover a wide area of diverse vineyards, but lovers of California Pinot Noir have good reason to be excited about the 2012s.

The best offer lots of structure and ripe fruit but also clean acid. A return to normalcy perhaps, after the cold and wet 2011 vintage, the weather was warm and steady in 2012, leading to healthy crop sizes and evenly ripened fruit. The Wine Institute estimates the state’s 2012 wine grape crop at 3.7 million tons, an increase of about 400,000 tons compared to 2011.

Some 2011s found their way into this report, and they take a lighter, tangier approach, which I actually enjoy quite a bit. But, broadly speaking, it looks like buying and burying some 2012 California Pinots is a solid move. (The 2012 Chardonnays are equally impressive.)

All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $48
A light cranberry color. Complex and evolving aromas of wild cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, black pepper and pickled beet, which combine to form an aromatic orgasm. Tangy acid and fine tannins frame the cranberry and strawberry fruit. I love the fresh and brisk approach of this wine, not to mention the cracked pepper, beef broth and pickle flavors. Juicy, but so tangy, with lots of secondary flavors that I think could develop well over the next two to four years. Wow. This is so complex and unique, packed with flavor but still so elegant. One of the most contemplative and intriguing California Pinots I’ve had in while. (93 points)

2011 Alta Maria Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $28
Soft ruby-raspberry color. Beautiful, intriguing aromas of sour cherries, roses, rhubarb and white pepper. Firm but fresh on the palate, full of tangy red fruit (raspberries, wild strawberries, red currants), but there’s also a lot of spice, tobacco and white pepper elements, some spearmint and subtle vanilla in there. Its tangy elegance belies its structure. Beautiful. (91 points)

2012 Longoria Pinot Noir “Lovely Rita” Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $32
A vibrant cherry-ruby color in the glass. Aromas of red currants and black cherries, dried rose petals, some roasted coffee notes, a hint of smoky tobacco. Such a vibrant wine on the palate, with tingly acid and grippy tannins. The fruit is tangy and bright (red currants, wild strawberries, some fleshy black cherries), and it’s backed up by a complex mix of coffee, cedar, white pepper and some truffle notes. Equally delicious and intriguing, this Pinot evolves a lot with just a little air. Could use some cellar time to develop even more complexity. (91 points)

2011 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $48
Dark ruby color. Black cherries, violets, floral incense, cedar and mocha on the nose. Medium+ bodied, tangy acid, fine tannins. A lot of fruit packed in here, fleshy black cherries, raspberries, some blackberry even, along with cedar, forest floor and roasted chestnut and hazelnut. This loamy soil and iron note lingers onto the finish, and glazed mushroom note comes out with air. Bold but not overpowering, seems to show more grip and power than a lot of other Pinots from 2011. This could open up more over the next two or three years. Aged 14 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points)

2012 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $35
Medium ruby color. On the nose, I love the combination of sweet roses, red currant, jammy strawberries and rhubarb pie notes. Bright acid on the palate, balancing off of tightly-wound tannins. The red berry fruit is tart and punchy but rich as well, backed up by notes of black tea, soy and beets. I like the complex floral and herbal tones. A beauty of a wine, and I’m thrilled that it only costs $35. As much as I like this wine, I think it’s good to drink now or in the near future, because its present exuberance is what makes it so attractive. 14.8% alcohol, but it holds itself well. (91 points)

2012 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Estate - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $28
A dark ruby color. Smells of cranberry sauce (a beautiful mixture of tart and sweet), strawberry jam, potpourri, a hint of pickling spices. Structured well with dusty tannins and moderate acid, combining in a velvety mouthfeel. Cranberries and black cherries play off themes of sweet flowers, mushroom and forest floor. White pepper and rhubarb linger long on the finish. Only 13.5% alcohol, this is a fruity and fresh wine that could develop in the cellar. (88 points)

2012 Amici Pinot Noir “Olema - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
A medium ruby color. Aromas of rich black cherries, red currants, sweet roses and vanilla coffee. Dusty tannins, medium acid, rich fruit. I get juicy black cherries, blackberries and raspberries (almost like pie filling), laced with roasted coffee, vanilla and cola flavors. Focused on sweet fruit, this is a fun and yummy Pinot for $20. (86 points)

2012 Amici Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Dark ruby-light purple color. Fresh black cherries and red currant fruit on the nose along with some sweet vanilla cola and rhubarb. Fleshy texture on the palate, fine tannins, medium  acid, the black cherry and currant fruit is ripe and bold, accented by cocoa, toasted oak and cinnamon. Solid stuff, with good length on the finish. Aged 12 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $37
Dark ruby color. Sweet cherries, plum cake and raspberry jam on the nose, underlined by notes of mocha and vanilla. Rich and open on the palate, with fine tannins, full-body and medium acid. The black cherry and plum fruit is so jammy it’s spreadable, but there’s other stuff going on here: roasted coffee, chestnut, earth, vanilla and red hot candies. Rich and juicy, but well-made and drinking well right out of the bottle. (88 points)

2012 Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
A red cherry-magenta color. Gorgeous nose of sweet potpourri, rhubarb and white pepper on top of fresh strawberries and raspberries, notes of cola and clay soil. Rich but bright on the palate, with freshness from the acid and fine but firm tannins. I love the red plum, raspberry and cranberry fruit, and it’s laced with a complex blend of spice (white pepper, rhubarb, rosemary) and some sweet notes of cola, clove and dark chocolate. Full of structure and flavor, but maintains nuance and elegance. Could use a year or two, but a lot in here to unpack in the cellar. 13.9% alcohol, aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points)

2011 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $27
Medium ruby-red currant color. Smells of soft cherries, fresh strawberries, all cool and clean, with notes of rhubarb and white pepper. On the palate, the acid is tart, the tannins are fine and the fruit tastes red and chilled. So fresh and balanced, and I love the way the tobacco and rhubarb mix with the light dose of toast and vanilla. A vibrant, food-friendly, effortless Pinot. (88 points)

2012 Merryvale Pinot Noir Starmont - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $27
Color like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. Smells like cherry pie filling and raspberry cheesecake topping with some sweet cedar notes. Juicy red fruit on the palate (that cherry pie and raspberry cheesecake thing keeps going), along with light tannins and some tanginess from the acid. Rose petals, cola, cedar and coffee round out the wine and linger on the finish. Straightforward, very pleasant, and that acid makes it easy to sip. (86 points)

2012 FEL Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
A ruby-cranberry color. Smells of chilled black and red berries, mocha, sweet rose potpourri and cedar. Dusty but grippy tannins and medium acid provide the foundation for the rich raspberry and black cherry fruit. Accents of peppercorns, bay leaf and earth mix with cedar and mocha. Not overpowering, but a powerful wine. I’d like to cellar this for a few years. (88 points)

2012 Moniker Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Smells like cranberries, olives, violets and a pickle note. Medium acid, fine tannins, I like the combination of red fruit, earth, rose hips and smoke. Fresh, quite complex, showing well at a young age. A blend of fruit from Anderson, Redwood and Potter Valleys. (88 points)

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