Small Sips of Pinot
Santa Cruz Mountains
Dave and Anne Moulton lovingly craft small amounts of Pinot Noir and other varieties from their winery
located high (1,600 feet) in the Santa Cruz Mountains adjacent to the historic Burrell School building
which dates to 1854. An inviting tasting room is located in the original Burrell School Carriage
House and overlooks the estate vineyards. It is in close proximity to the San Andreas Fault but Dave
promises that the only earth quaking thing you will experience here are his wines.
2005 Burrell School Veranda Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Showy aromas of hi-tone black cherry and black raspberry fruit with plenty of
smoky oak, a hint of barnyard and maybe even a touch of good Brett. Dusty fruit with a hint
of spice and wood, but with a chemical note to the finish. Light, elegant and nicely balanced.
2005 Burrell School Estate Reserve Principal’s Choice Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 720 cases.
Starts off with alluring bright dark stone fruit aromas with a
hint of mushroom. Very tasty and impressive black cherry and blackberry core with powdery
tannins and a tangy finish. The silky texture is pure Pinot. Balance is spot on. This is a
terrific wine which will only get better over the next couple of years.
2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Barrel Select Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $35
of three top vineyards. Mahogany tinged color. Drinks like an aged Pinot Noir. Aromas of blackberry,
raisin, allspice and leather. Tasty subtle darker fruits with spice and brown sugar. Soft, smooth, and light
on its feet, the wine is showing nice mature features.
2005 Silver Mountain Vineyards Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $38. Ed Muns and Mary Lindsay farm this challenging site at 2,600
feet characterized by crumbling slate soil from a former sea bottom.
featuring strawberry, raspberry, fresh hay, rhubarb, iodine and a touch of funk. Soft,
light and gentle with a good acidic tang. Nothing really stands out on the palate, and
there is a lack of punch, but the wine drinks fine.
2005 Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., $36.
Very dark reddish-purple in color.
Opulent aromas of dark berries and damp earth. A big mouthful of dark fruit framed by very strong tannins.
Atypical for a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, the wine is lacking acidity and brightness of fruit.
Russian River Valley
2005 Scherrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $39. Primarily from
fruit grown in Goldridge soils. New label.
Lovely scents of red fruits, vanilla, root
beer and a subtle touch of alcohol. Wood-kissed, the wine offers racy red stone fruits,
a little earthiness, a solid acid core, and fine-grain tannins which hold everything together.
Fred Scherrer knows Pinot and his wines are as reliable as you can find.
2005 Russian Hill Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $27. Composed of
favorite lots of winemaker Patrick Melley.
Brooding black cherry scent followed by interesting black
cherry, raisin and nutmeg flavors highlighted with oak . Plenty of fruit intensity and a persistent finish. In essence, a reserve wine only in the sense that it is bigger and more intense
than the next wine (described below) which I preferred.
2005 Russian Hill Tara Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., $37. The Tara Vineyard surrounds the Russian Hill winery and is named
for the stately home that sits on the property.
Lovely strawberry and Bing
cherry fruit aromas with a hint of cola, herbs and smoke. Very tasty black cherry and black raspberry
core with notable char and grilled meat overtones. The fruit is bright and clean and is framed by gossamer
tannins. A nice acid lift on the finish makes you reach for another sip. About all you can ask for in a
Ryan Zepaltas is one of the new, young hounds making Pinot Noir in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.
The 28-year-old Zepaltas is the assistant winemaker for Adam Lee at Siduri, where together they craft
artisan wines in a converted warehouse in Santa Rosa. Recently featured in Wines & Spirits (April,
2008), Zepaltas is a former skateboarder from Wisconsin who, not surprisingly, is a Green Bay Packer
fan. His small production of 500 cases includes a Suacci Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($49) and a
La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($47) in addition to the wine reviewed below. He said in
the article that “I’m an acid freak. I like things that are angular and hard to get at.” I think the wine
reviewed below exemplifies this philosophy.
2006 Zepaltas W.E. Bottoms Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $45.
Light red in color. Bright aromatics that change constantly in
the glass and exhibit cherries, strawberries, smoke, oak, and herbs. Lighterweighted,
the wine has lacy, delicate cherry and raspberry fruit with slippery
tannins and bright acidity. An outstanding food wine and highly recommended
for those who appreciate a restrained and “angular” Pinot Noir.
Note: Last year I tasted two Pinot Noirs released by Zepaltas in the 2005 vintage and honestly I could
not recommend either and did not feature them in the PinotFile. I was quite happy to see the improvement
with this vintage with more emphasis on restraint and layering of flavors. The wines are distributed
through retail channels as the website becomes developed.
2006 L’Angevin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.1% alc., 400 cases,
Sweet dark berry fruit with a little bubble gum note. Heavy oak char from start to
finish. Impressive essence of Bing cherry fruit, plenty of tannin and a short finish.
Copious power and oak here without much finesse. The alcohol is well integrated.
May benefit from more time in the bottle.
2006 L’Angevin Sonoma Stage Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 400 cases,
Similar to the Russian River Valley bottling, but more structure
and density Aromas of oak char, barnyard and alcohol predominate. Chewy, dark fruits with earthy
overtones. Dense in structure like a powerful Syrah. Generous drying tannins.
Note: I am a fan of L’Angevin Chardonnays, particularly the Ritchie Vineyard bottling. I had tried the
initial L’Angevin Pinot Noir release a couple of years ago and was disappointed, so I revisited this vintage.
The 2006 Pinot Noirs will have fans who like a big, extracted-style wine heavy on oak. I can appreciate
the winemaking here as the wines have good balance and appealing smooth textures, but I
personally can’t warm up to the overall style.
2004 Fort Ross Sea Slopes Signature Reserve Fort Ross Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 73 cases, $50. A limited release reserve wine
sold by retailer, Bounty Hunter, in Napa.
The nose is rich with black cherry fruit.
Lovely, hi-tone cherry and raspberry flavors accompanied by a meatiness and
some sauvage with notable drying tannins. The berry fruit on the finish persists for
many seconds. The mouth feel is silky. Classical Pommard in character, this wine
was drinking beautifully the next day from a re-corked bottle. A keeper.
2006 Del Dotto Vineyards Cinghiale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $75.
Cinghiale is Italian for wild bore.
Deep reddish-purple robe. Mysterious nose of dark
stone fruits and sweet oak. Rich dark fruits on the palate which are very luscious but are
currently overpowered by tannins. This is a big-boy Pinot that drinks like a Cabernet Franc.
Packed and stacked, time is needed for the tannins to soften and the fruit to emerge. If you
drink it now, decant and serve with a good steak.
2006 B. Kosuge Wines The Shop Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $30. “Named
after the farm equipment workshop located next to vineyards in honor of hands on
work of growing wine grapes and the people who do it.” Byron Kosuge is the former
winemaker at Saintsbury and also consults for Kingston Family in Chile.
scents of cherry pie, black raspberries, black current and a little barnyard. Red
and blue fruits on the attack finishing with frisky acidity and moderate tannins. Not
overblown with fruit and very drinkable.
2005 Mayro-Murdick Carneros Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 662 cases, $36. A blend of 80% Iund Vineyard
and 20% Sangiacomo Tailgrass Vineyard.
Dark strawberry red in color. A deep
aromatic profile of black cherries and fresh sawn oak. The heart of the wine is cherries
with an adept touch of oak and toast running through. Smooth, simple, and easy to drink.
2006 Whitehall Lane Winery & Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc. $35. This
is not a misprint. Whitehall Lane has a stellar reputation for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon
from the Napa Valley. They began releasing a Carneros Pinot Noir with the 2005 vintage.
dominates the aromatics with a little funk and green notes. There is a solid core of red Pinot fruits with
toasted oak in the background. The tannins are quite nimble and soft. The finish is a bit sour. The overriding
theme of this wine is oak.
2006 Praxis Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $16. A reader has been a
fan of this wine and asked me my opinion. Praxis Cellars, owned by Bill Arbios
who also is the winemaker, produces multiple varieties from purchased fruit
throughout California. The winery is based in Sebastopol, Sonoma County. This is
the sixth vintage of Praxis Pinot Noir, the first variety bottled under the Praxis label..
Appealing and alluring aromas of wild strawberries, crème de cassis, herbs and
new mown hay. Decent core of redder fruits with some herbs in tow. A bit of citrus note on the finish
which is clean and bright. An easy drinker and although the wine is often placed on the lower shelves of
supermarkets, it is a respectable and user-friendly Pinot Noir ideal for everyday use.
2005 Bianchi Signature Selection Encell Vineyard Paso Robles Pinot Noir
13.6% alc. $27. I recently
reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed the Bianchi Garey Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine, however,
is a horse (Pinot) of a different color.
The nose shows off beautiful crushed black raspberries, but alcohol
spoils the experience. The wine is a bit tight and flat now and noticeably astringent on the back end.
The dark fruits, such as black current, are appealing, and the tannin structure is admirable, but the wine
is just not offering a lot of pleasure now. Maybe time will help some, but I fear the balance is off.
2006 Hunterdon Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $16. From Mayro-
Very light in color, close to some rosés. A light, simple wine featuring
red fruits, particularly wild strawberries, and enhanced by fresh herb flavors. Basically a
full-bodied Pinot Noir rosé. The wine is not as substantial as the 2005 version, but would
be perfectly fine serve slightly chilled with grilled salmon.
Costa de Oro Winery was founded by Gary Burk, a former musician whose father planted the 30-acre
Costa de Oro Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Gary was lured into winemaker after an epiphanic
dinner with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon in
Meursault, France. In 1994, he joined the harvest at Au Bon Climat and remained until 2002 when he
left to run Costa de Oro full time. He began modestly in 1994 making small amounts of Pinot Noir and
now crafts 4,5000 cases of wine at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. Noted Central Coast
Pinot Noir winemaker Paul Lato is assisting.
2006 Costa De Oro Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Moderately dark reddish-purple color. The nose offers darker stone fruits,
spice, wet oak and pepper. Very fruity and very attractive. The wine has an alluring
plush and creamy palate with rich dark fruits, soft tannins, and a tangy acidic edge.
A solid effort that every pinotphile would find enticing
2005 Talley Vineyards Stone Corral Vineyard Edna Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 2328 cases, $55.
The 27-acre vineyard was planted in 2001 and is a partnership between Talley Vineyards, Kynsi, and
Dark violet in color. Capricious and juicy black cherry attack on the nose and in the
mouth. Terrific grip and deft use of oak. An outstanding and harmonious wine in every way that needs
some time to fully develop.
2005 EQ Chile Pinot Noir
14.5% alc.. The EQ stands for Equilibro, the
Spanish word for balance. American Ken Bernards (Ancien) is the advising
winemaker. The wine is made at Matetic Vineyards and imported by F.P.D.
Inc., Carson, CA.
Dark ruby in color. The aromas are a little stinky and stony
overlying wild dark berry fruit. There is a hint of lacquer in the background.
Rich, earthy blackberry and plum flavors with a sidecar of oak. A little prune
note peeks out. Rich in texture with powdery tannins. A decent, yet curious, Pinot Noir
2001 Can Rafols del Caus “Ad Fines” Penedes Spain Pinot Noir
13.0% alc.. The label states
that this is a Mediterranean interpretation of Pinot Noir. Imported by Steve Miles Selections Inc., Denver,
The nose features barnyard, black fruits, char and some minerality. Grapey in flavor, there are
some woodsy highlights, a citrus tang to the dry finish, and a mild harshness to the texture. Not anything
resembling the North American Pinot Noirs that we have become accustomed.
2004 August Kessler Spätburgunder Rheingau Germany Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. Imported by
Presser Wine Co, Richmond, CA.
Aromas of new-mown hay, farmyard and grass. Very light raspberry
and strawberry flavors with an edible flower overtone. A bit woody, sour and tart with an astringent finish.
An acquired taste!
Hamilton Russell wines are among South Africa’s most prestigious. The winery is located in Hermanus,
and is one of the most southerly in South Africa. It specializes in the cool-climate varieties, Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir. In 2003, the Pinot Noir was awarded the trophy for the best Pinot Noir at the International
Wine and Spirit Competition in London. Located on Walker Bay, the vineyards are in close
proximity to the south Atlantic Ocean and are protected from the fierce summer winds by steep cliffs.
The vineyards are planted on slopes heavy with stony, clay soils. Owner Hamilton Russell developed
the site from scratch in the 1970s and has now turned the estate over to his son, Anthony, who works
with winemaker Kevin Grant. The wines are estate grown and bottled. Imported by Vineyard Brands
Inc., Birmingham, ALA.
2006 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir South Africa
14.0% alc., $28.
Deep reddish-purple in
color. The nose exhibits dark raspberry fruit, smoke, char and a hint of sulfur. Generous woody and
green flavors accompany a core of dark and chewy soil-dusted Pinot fruits. Fine-grain tannins create a
silky texture. A Nuits-St.-Georges-inspired wine with plenty of mother earth influence.