Top Ten Pinot Noir Wine Picks from Pinot Paradise 2015
The venue — the historic Mountain Winery — was stunning and the weather made for big sky views, with towering clouds that swept away the vistas in fits and starts, returning them with sunlit highlights on the distant East Bay hills. A glorious spring day with the promise of rain delivered its share of bountiful and beautiful Pinot Noir’s. It’s always hard to narrow down the experience, but here are my Pinot Noir wine picks.
Top Ten Pinot Noir wine Picks from Pinot Paradise 2015
- 2010 King’s Mountain, Woodside, $60. At the tiptop of my list, this Pinot literally stopped me in my tracks. I’d tasted almost 20 others prior, and this one was a showstopper, with mind-bending complexity and intrigue. It’s the kind of wine that hails you from across the room and beckons you to sit down and have a serious conversation. Without doubt an example of what Woodside can produce in a serious style of Pinot that runs the gamut from stellar to ethereal.
- 2012 Mount Eden Estate, Saratoga, $65: Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson does it again with this elegantly well-structured and exceedingly well-mannered Pinot that is like an immaculately well-dressed Princess. This is a wine of poise and finesse, with wild Alpine strawberry, porcini mushrooms and that elusively beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains incense.
- 2012 Big Basin Vineyards Lester Family Vineyard, Corralitos, $44: This one won me over from the first whiff and the first sip rewarded with the most velvety texture of any wine tasted at this event. I keep going back to it. The experience of this wine on the palate firmly underscores that Bradley Brown and team are making some of the best Pinot in this AVA. He even admitted that even though he is known as a Syrah house, he feels he is making better Pinots than anything else. Agreed.
- 2012 Windy Oaks Henry’s Block, Corralitos, $55: This pure, honest, deliberate and well-spoken Pinot is made from a clone that I adore, 2A, aka Wädenswil. The sweet marzipan and apricot flourishes plump up the silky strawberry, raspberry and cocoa flavors to a level of expression that is in a class by itself.
- 2013 Sante Arcangeli Split Rail Vineyard, Corralitos, $36: Winemaker John Benedetti has this 30 year-old dry-farmed vineyard, originally planted by Dr. David Bruce and Greg Stokes, figured out. Clones here are Martini, Wädenswil, Mt Eden, Swan, 32 (Champagne clone) and Pommard 4. He picks less ripe than most and delivers the essence of spring in every wine. This Pinot has energy, verve and drive, like a dancer doing pirouettes. It beguiles with aromas of redwood forest, underbrush, ferns and Portobello mushrooms, and unveils flavors of black raspberries, hints of orange peel and layer upon juicy, savory layer of mysterious salinity and well-plumped tannins. A keeper for the cellar.
- 2013 Roudon-Smith Veranda Vineyard, $36: Another favorite vineyard, for its signature notes of strawberry rhubarb pie, Veranda almost always yields Pinots brimming over with exuberant red fruit, yet underpinned by an earthy, woodsy cedar closet streak. This is youthful and energetic, with abundant cinnamon and nutmeg spice.
- 2012 Ser, Santa Cruz Mountains $33: Made by Bonny Doon’s longtime rockstar woman winemaker, Nicole Walsh, this debut effort under her beautiful new label, Ser, which means “to be” in Spanish, puts her stake firmly in the ground. From three outstanding vineyards, Lester Family in Corralitos, Lilo Vineyard in Aptos and Byington Vineyard in the Summit area, this gently made wine reflects the warmth of the vintage, and the long, even growing season. Aromas of raspberry liqueur, strawberry jam and sandalwood are enticing, and the flavors are full-on strawberry rhubarb and cherry pie, with touches of orange peel and dark chocolate. A very satisfying Pinot with lovely acidity and velvety tannins, it saw only 10% new oak.
- 2013 Cinnabar Lester Family Vineyard, $39: Winemaker George Troquato crafted another lush, broad-shouldered wine from this storied vineyard, known as the candy store of Pinot in Corralitos. Managed by local “Grape Goddess,” Prudy Foxx, Lester provides an abundance of clones to many winemakers. This one is cheery cherries, vanilla, baking space and toasty oak.
- 2012 Bargetto Estate Reserve, $45: Winemaker Olivia Teutschel shows her abundant talent in this lovely Pinot Noir from the Regan Vineyard. Made mostly of Pommard clone with some Mount Eden and Dijon, it was aged in Hungarian oak which adds abundant baking spice to the ripe plum, blueberry and Bing cherry aromatics. This wine was awarded 93 points from Wine Enthusiast and won a Gold in the SF Chronicle this year.
- 2012 Stockwell Cellars Coast Grade Vineyard, $38: Ryan Beauregard’s Coast Grade Vineyard is attracting lots of attention, and this Pinot shows another reason why. From the outset, the red brick color tells you it’s a different animal, and a wild one at that. Redolent of coastal hill shrubs, you literally inhale rosemary, sage, Douglas Fir forest and earthy underbrush. On the palate, an ethereal autumnal earthiness combines with delicate spices, and red fruits, like currants and cranberries. Racy and acid-driven, the smooth, robust tannins provide great structure and a true sense of place.
That was just a quick snapshot of the amazing Pinot Noir’s coming out of this region: arguably, I didn’t get to every table by a long shot. A quick shout out to Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard for bringing a 2003 and to Dave Estrada of Clos Tita for pouring a 2001. These wines were really a testament to the eternal style of winemaking these two employ.
There are so many fabulous Pinots to enjoy in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Make a point to come explore, and visit the newer places like Russian Ridge, Wright’s Station, Silvertip, Stockwell Cellars, Left Bend, Dancing Creek and Ser. Spring Passport is coming up on April 17. Visit scmwa.com for a list of all the wineries pouring for Passport and their locations.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.