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Tasting J. Rochioli Pinot Noir

In July 2005, I hosted a vertical tasting of 1992-2002 J. Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir at Mr. Stox Restaurant in Anaheim, California. It was a spirited evening marked by celestial Pinot Noir attended by members of my wine club, Le Grand Crew, composed of a number of luminaries including, John “Dookey” Maggiano, Ed “Big Boy” Buckley, Art “Deep” Fries, Steve “Slide Rule” Dember, Chuck “Cereal” Keller, Mike “Cash & Carry” Cohen, and Rene “Master Somm” Chazottes.

A number of general observations about the wines were agreed upon by most of those present. All the wines had aged beautifully with no sign of appreciable oxidation. Some wines were distinctly better, but there were no bad wines in the lineup. Aromatically, the wines offered fresh fruit aromas, an impressive mid palate attack of luscious and deeply concentrated Pinot fruits, soft textures, appealing charm and impressive balance. The younger wines were bigger with fresher fruit and a little more demonstrative oak. The one criticism of the assembled that was leveled at the lineup was the short finish of the wines, a shortcoming that kept the wines from being rivals of great Grand Cru Burgundy. Still, these were vinous treasures that made a lasting impression. The following were my brief tasting notes that evening. The two food courses were grilled Sonoma quail with duck confit on a roasted butternut squash puree and garlic reduction, and a rack of venison with peppered Yukon Gold potatoes and black trumpet mushrooms.

    1991: Alluring fresh aromas of strawberries. Impressive elegance. Astonishingly good for a 14-year-old Pinot Noir. A bit delicate to meet the challenge of the food.
    1992: Attractive fruity nose that exploded over time in the glass. A bigger style than the 1991 Williams Selyem Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir also served in this flight. Fantastic complement to the venison course. Several tasters put this wine in their top 2.
    1993: Lovely wine, soft and supple. Shines with food. Some had this wine in their top 2.
    1994: Fruit shy and finish shallow. Not particular distinctive.
    1995: A clean and mellow Pinot Noir that was a very good food wine.
    1996: The group favorite with and without food. A welcoming earthy nose led to complex berry flavors highlighted by cinnamon. This cosmic wine had something deep inside that was striking.
    1997: A funky (? Brett) and fruity nose with abundant flavors of ripe fruit and spice.
    1998: Plenty of earth and tobacco made this Pinot Noir a bit different. Lovely finish. Controversial.
    1999: A trace of TCA. Enjoyable, but a bit flat and even flatter yet with food.
    2000: The ripest and oakiest wine in the lineup. A huge nose, a Hummer full of fruit. Some tasters had this wine in their top 2 (Cab lovers).
    2001: Funky nose and taste highlighted by sumptuous fruit and vanilla. One of the top 2 for a few.
    2002: A young big boy with plenty of oak showing. A knock out with the food. A prodigy that should be greased lightning in a few years. Many tasters had this wine in their top 2.

Recently I tasted a vertical of J. Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir 1997-2008 (2004 and 2005 are missing as I expected to receive these two vintages in time for the tasting. They will become available soon and the results added later). I also tasted a few vintages of J. Rochioli East Block Pinot Noir (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004), J. Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir (1999, 2002, 2003), J. Rochioli Three Corner Pinot Noir (2001, 2002), and one vintage of J. Rochioli River Block Pinot Noir (2003). Preceding my notes are Tom Rochioli’s tasting notes from 2010.

Some vintages of the West Block and East Block Pinot Noirs are spectacular. The wines age very well, easily holding their own for over ten years. When the bottles are opened, a striking aroma waifs from the glass, and the wines, while demanding your attention upon pouring, develop nuances and improve over time in the glass. Decanting is advisable for all but the oldest wines. The wines reflect their origins from a relatively warm part of the Russian River Valley (Middle Reach). They are packed with very ripe fruit, but retain an appealing freshness and elegance.

2010 Tasting Notes by Tom Rochioli

“Many of our customers have asked how the wines will age. The standard answer has been six to eight years for our Pinot Noir to reach its peak. I am starting to think that this is the minimum. Many vintages can far exceed the eight year mark. I will cover the single vineyard wines from 1999 to 2006. The wines have been stored in a climate controlled room at an average 58 degrees and 70 percent humidity. I should mention that wines in magnums are drinking much younger than the bottles. My guess at least a year. Also, every wine seemed to evolve and improve after being opened for awhile. Decanting is recommended.”



West Block

    1999: Tasted March 2010. Starting to show its age with a slight brick edge but still has a deep red color. Perfumed anise tea and red fruit combine with a long, almost sweet finish. This wine aged nicely. Drink now to 2011.

    2000: Tasted February 2010. Dark red with full developed aromas of rose petal, anise, cherry and oak. The berry flavors are rich and the structure is sound and quite enjoyable. Drink now to 2011.

    2001: Tasted March 2010. Dark red, with some signs of age. Sweet cherry fruit with the classic anise aroma in the background. Little oak influence in the nose or mouth. Almost sweet fruit with firm acidity and refined tannin. Drink now to 2011.

    2002: Tasted June 2010. Dark red with little signs of aging. Ripe cherry aromas with slight hints of vanilla. Full bodied and medium tannin are combined with soft acidity. This wine still displays signs of youth and should have a promising future. Drink now to 2012.

    2003: Tasted June 2010. Lighter in color than the previous year but still on the dark side. A rich red with a slight light brick edge. Sweet red fruits combine with rose petal and spice. The flavors are sweet, balanced and ready to drink. Drink now.

    2004: Tasted March 2010. Dark red with little signs of age. Nice aromas of black cherry, anise, smoke and dried flowers. Full rich body and firm acidity that indicates future aging. This was a vintage that was very ripe and extracted and may be one of my favorites. Drink now to 2010.

    2005: Tasted September 2010. Dark red color with signs of purple. Ripe aromas of black cherry, anise, and vanilla. Rich flavors of berries combine with a touch of oak that finish full and smooth. The tannin is still showing its youth and the acidity is balanced. Although delicious now, it should show well in 2011 to 2014.

    2006: Tasted June 2010. Dark red color. Ripe cherry aromas with slight hints of anise and vanilla. Full bodied and rich tannin are combined with soft acidity. This wine still displays signs of youth and’ should have a promising future.

East Block

    1999: Tasted August 2010. Dark red with a slight brick edge. Ripe cherry fruit with a distinct terroir quality from this unique site. Rich and full bodied with some tannin and nice acidity. It is still hanging on. Drink now to 2011.

    2000: Tasted July 2010. Rich dark red with a slight brick edge. Ripe black cherry fruit with a distinct earthy quality from the site. Rich and full bodied with soft tannin and nice acidity. It is holding up well. Drink now to 2011.

    2001: Tasted August 2010. Dark red color. Dark berry fruit with the familiar herbal touch that early East Block possesses. Rich flavors of berries with a touch of spice and vanilla. Long, full mouth feel that still has youthful acidity. Drink now to 2011.

    2002: Tasted August 2010. Dark red color. Very rich cherry fruit with the familiar herbal quality East Block wines possess. Rich flavors of berries with a touch of spice and vanilla. Long, full mouth feel that still has firm acidity. Drink now to 2011.

    2003: Tasted August 2010. Rich red with a brick edge. Ripe cherry fruit with a distinct herbal quality. Ripe, rich and full bodied with dry tannin and nice acidity. The wine is drinking well and should be consumed now.

    2004: Tasted June 2010. The same dark red as the West Block with the slight bricking on the edges. Cherry, tobacco, and spice aromas that match well with the full ripe berry flavors. This is also one of the top wines I have tasted. Drink now to 2012.

    2005: Tasted September 2010. Dark ruby with no signs of age. Black cherry, tea, and the classic herbal quality that leans more toward earthy than stems. Rich full mouth feel with flavors that persist with an almost sweetness. Firm acidity and graceful tannin. Drink 2011 to 2014.

    2006: Tasted August 2010. Dark red color. Very rich black cherry fruit with the familiar herbal quality with rich flavors of berries with a touch of spice and vanilla. Very youthful, this wine has a full mouth feel with firm acidity. Drink now to 2013.

Three Corner Vineyard

    1999: Tasted August 2011. Lighter in color than the East Block. Still showing signs of age but with a more floral quality than cherry. Anise, subtle oak is also in the aromas. Medium body with a full rich finish. Drink now.

    2000: Tasted February 2010. Fully developed with sweet cherry, earth and vanilla aromas. Slightly dry on the palate with little tannin and nice acidity. Drink now.

    2001: Tasted August 2010. Rich red color with a slight brick edge. Aromas of ripe fruit but more like strawberries than cherry, vanilla and a background of potpourri. The rich berry flavors and crisp acidity have a medium finish. Drink now.

    2002: Tasted June 2010. Medium red in color. Perfumed aromas of cherry and vanilla. Medium bodied with berries and cream with soft tannin and mild acidity. Very charming. Drink now.

    2003: Tasted July 2010. Rich red color with a touch of brick on the edge. Cherry fruit pokes through a complex array of aromas that include tea and spice. Medium bodied, but the finish lingers with soft tannin and acidity. This is typical of the vintage. Drink now.

    2004: Not produced

    2005: Tasted June 2010. Medium red color. Perfumed aromas of cherry and vanilla. Full bodied with berries and cream with soft tannin and mild acidity. Drink now to 2013.

    2006: Not produced

Little Hill

    1999: Tasted June 2010. Medium red in color. Spicy aromas of pepper combine with blackberries and earth. The mature flavors are medium bodied, with firm tannin and mild acidity. Drink now.

    2000: Tasted June 2010. Dark red in color. Spicy aromas of cherry and pepper combine with berry and earth flavors. Full bodied with firm tannin and mild acidity. Drink now.

    2001: Tasted June 2010. Dark red color. Aromas of potpourri, blackberries and earth. Rich and full on the palate with firm tannin and mild acidity. The vineyard is starting to show well. Drink now.

    2002: Tasted June 2010. Dark red color. Complex aromas of wet stones combine with black cherry and earth. Full bodied, with firm tannin and mild acidity. This vintage of Little Hill is holding up nicely. Drink now to 2011.

    2003: Tasted July 2010. Dark red color with some bricking. Aromas of wet stones combine with the typical blackberry fruit of the vineyard. Medium bodied with a long lingering finish with soft tannin and solid acidity. This reminds me more of a 1er Cru Volnay than Russian River Valley. Drink now.

    2004: Tasted June 2010. Rich dark red color. Cherries and earth aromas with an underlying mineral quality. Medium bodied with rich tannin and nice acidity. This may be the sleeper of the vintage. Drink now to 2012.

    2005: Tasted June 2010. Dark red color. Complex aromas of ripe cherry and the usual mineral quality, combine with rich berry flavors. Full bodied with firm tannin and mild acidity. This vintage of Little Hill is holding up nicely. Drink now to 2014.

    2006: Tasted July 2010. Medium to dark red color. Minerals, ripe blackberry and spice aromas. Medium to full bodied with lingering flavors. The tannins are firm as usual and should age well. Drink 2011 to 2012.

River Block

    1999: Tasted June 2010. Deep red color with slight bricking. Aromas of ripe cherry and mint combine with floral overtones. The tannins are apparent but soft and the acidity is brisk. Drink now. 2000: Not produced.

    2001: Tasted March 2010. Deep red color with noticeable bricking. Aromas of ripe fruit and vanilla combine with floral overtones. The tannins are soft and the acidity is still apparent. Should be best to drink now.

    2002: Not produced.

    2003: Tasted March 2010. Deep red color with brick edges. Aromas of ripe cherry and tea combine with floral overtones. The tannins have mellowed and the acid is soft. Drink now.

    2004: Tasted June 2010. Deep red color with some signs of age. Floral aromas of ripe cherry, smoke and vanilla combine with ripe berry flavors. Very elegant. This wine is aging gracefully and should be consumed now to 2012.

    2005: Not produced.

    2006: Not produced.

Note: many wines below have a stated alcohol of 14.2% on the label, but I sense the honest alcohols are higher than this. I did not have a copy of Tom Rochioli’s tasting notes when I sampled the following wines. The West Block and East Block Pinot Noirs are clearly the class of the offerings. I should qualify my reviews with the admission that evaluating older wines is different from rating newer releases and is often dependent on the reviewers predilection for aged wines.

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