PinotFile: 9.47 September 14, 2014
- Minerality Lacks An Objective Meaning
- Australia Pinot Noir Needs No Bush
- 2010-2012 ABV of California & Oregon PNO
- Pinot Briefs
- Winemaker Up Close & Personal: Scott Rich, Talisman Wines
Minerality Lacks An Objective Meaning
Scott Rich, the proprietor (along with his spouse Marta) and winemaker of Talisman Wines in Sonoma,
California, has me thinking about one of the most perplexing words in common wine parlance: minerality. I have
also read a number of commentaries about minerality written by prominent wine writers of late. It seems like
the more we know, the less we know about minerality, despite its common usage as a wine descriptor in wine
reviews and discussions of terroir.
Examples of mineral-based terminology abound. A recent review of 2012 Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet
by Stephen Tanzer described the wine as “Quite full, rich and powerful, with a distinctly tactile quality to the
saline, iodine and mineral flavors.” In another review by Tanzer of the 2012 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier
Montrachet, he describes “a pungent vein of stony minerality running through the wine,” and refers to the wine’s
“mineral tension.” The Burghound often mentions “mineral-inflected flavors” in his reviews of white Burgundy.
Wine Spectator refers to “mineral aromas and flavors” and “a long aftertaste of stone” in a recent review of the
2011 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Clavoillon.
The use of the word mineral in all its forms seems to be confined almost solely to white wines. For example, a Buying Guide from the Wine Enthusiast that included reviews of white and red Burgundy wines primarily from the 2010 vintage, had fifteen references to minerality among the white wine reviews and only two mentions of minerality among the more numerous red wine reviews.
Until we can state for certainty what minerality in wine is, and are able to use science-based descriptors rather
than general terms like “mineral aromas and flavors,” perhaps we should refrain from using the ambiguous
word “mineral” altogether.
Scott makes some astute points which I quote and paraphrase here. He says, “Much of the discussion about
minerality has amused me because no one seems to be addressing the most obvious issue. That is, the term
must be defined through standards so everyone is talking about the same thing, just like in the use of any other
wine descriptor.” Scott, like many others of scientific leaning, wants a concrete (sic) definition of minerality
established by standards that the wine community can agree upon.
Noted winemaker and wine researcher, Clark Smith, thinks it is ‘indefinable,’ but attributes minerality to an
‘energetic buzz.’ Others think its not worth the effort to define, saying it is all bullshit. Robert Joseph wrote
satirically (timatkin.com November 18, 2013), “Any scientist will tell you that there’s no granite or chalk in that
wine. You ask a hundred people whether they want a mineral wine and there’s probably only two or three
who’ve any idea what you’re talkin’ about.”
Attempts to define minerality have led to widely diverse opinions. I would liken it to pornography: you can’t
define it but you know it when you experience it. Scott notes that some perceive it as a ‘bright’ feeling in a
wine, something some French tasters describe as ‘energetic.’ Others describe it as an aroma attribute, such
as the smell of wet granite after a rain, and we all are familiar that smell, correct? It is also a general phrase
that is used to describe wines that are not fruity, spicy or herbal. All that means, as Scott jokingly points out, is
that the wine isn’t fruity, spice or herbal and the lack of these attributes does not by inference mean the wine
has minerality. There are those who associate minerality with high acidity, but we know wines that are not high
in acidity can seem to have minerality. Some have attributed minerality to volatile sulfur compounds in wine,
also known as ‘reduction.’ Finally, people have used minerality to describe a mouthfeel or sensation, and
although minerality may include this idea, that cannot be all there is to it.
Here are some definitions of minerality that I have heard or read in the past few years:
“A descriptor that reflects our struggle to find what we are experiencing.” Winemaker James Cahill
“An effort to connect wine to the place it is grown.” Winemaker Fintan du Fresne
“A way to describe the non-fruit components of wine. A word used to describe what one can’t describe plainly.”
Winemaker Jason Jardine
“A lack of fruit character in wine.” Winemaker Mike Waller.
“A soil-based characteristic in wine.” Winemaker Jason Jardine.
“I think of minerality as a wet-stone quality in a wine.” Winemaker Paul Draper.
“The perception of geology in wine.” Dr. James Kennedy, California State University at Fresno
“Something that exists but is not explainable. I know it when I taste it.” Writer Karen MacNeil.
“Minerality is a complex mixture of compounds in wine which we associate with the smell of soils or rocky
area.” Scientist Dr. Sue Ebeler, UC Davis.
“Minerality is being able to actually taste the vineyard geology in the wine....in any literal way is scientifically
impossible. Whatever minerality is, it is not the taste of vineyard minerals.” Alex Maltman, Institute of
Geography and Earth Science, Wales. (see below for further discussion by Alex Maltman)
“I can’t define minerality, but I know it when I feel it.” Writer Steve Heimoff.
”I suppose it is easier to define what it is not - that is, it is not fruit, nor acidity, nor tannins, nor oak, nor
richness, nor fleshiness. It is not really a texture, either, for texture is in the middle of the palate and minerality
is at the end. I think it is just there, a sort of lifted and lively stoniness that brings a sense of grip and a sense
of depth, but it is neither grippy (which is tannin) nor deep (which is fruity).” Writer Stephen Spurrier (to Jamie
Goode in The Science of Wine.
“Wines richer in minerals present way differently. There is a suppression of obvious fruit....the wines seem to
have a sort of nucleus or density around their ether. They are gathered, focused, cohered the way a laser
coheres light.” Winemaker Randall Grahm.
“Minerality is a concept which could never be consistently defined in words or physical standards.” Sensory
chemist Dr. Ann Noble.
“The minerality of a wine is experienced like a generation of tension in the mouth that is innately refreshing and
energizing.” Winemaker Jason Lett.
“Minerality is more of a sensation than a flavor that predominantly appears in an elusive finish.” Winemaker
“Minerality is the aroma, taste and tactile sensation in wine when grapes are grown on rocks.” Winegrower
“Minerality or mineral-driven wines are those that are not highlighted by oak regimen or fruitiness but by soil
flavors and stoniness. When it applies to white wines, it means low alcohol, high acid and freshness.”
Sommelier Mike Madrigale (The SOMM Journal Aug/Sept 2014).
“Minerality to me is non-fruit and non-oak descriptors for a wine - things like chalk, crushed seashells, gravel,
gun flint, a sidewalk after a light rain. I feel like when people run out of descriptors for a wine, after they’ve
named all the fruit and herbs, they often say “minerality’ instead of really defining what that minerality is.”
Sommelier Jeff Taylor (The SOMM Journal Aug/Sept 2014).
“Minerality is one of the more important components of a great wine. That said, it is one of the more difficult
terms to define. To me, wine with a lifted finish, bright acidity and a notion of saltiness can be said to possess
minerality. Beyond that, a difficult-to-pinpoint characteristic of great ‘drinkability’ always goes hand-in-hand with
wines of minerality. We, as an industry, need to pinpoint the important aspects of (it) and share it with our
guests.” Sommelier Eduardo Port Carreiro (The SOMM Journal Aug/Sept 2014).
“Minerality is a fashionable word never employed in the 1970s and 1980s. The only no-nonsense use is to
describe a wine marked by salty and mineral undertones balancing the fruit, more often a white wine rich in
calcium and magnesium as many mineral waters are. For a red wine I have no idea.” Writer Michael Bettane
(to Jamie Goode in The Science of Wine).
“Minerality, although a useful term for conveying suggestions of flavors, textures and aromas, should not be
taken literally. As several geologists have stressed to me, vine roots simply are incapable of extracting
aromatic compounds from hard rock, let alone transporting them directly to grapes. That’s just not the way
plants grow, despite romantic wine geek notions to the contrary. The mineral content in wine is well below the
threshold of human perception. Stone in wine? It’s blarney.” Writer Beppi Crosariol (The Globe and Mail,
“While the concept of minerality should not be taken literally in trying to analyze, quantify and scientifically
explain a wine’s character and quality, the terms and its related forms such as ‘stony,’ flinty,’ ‘chalky,’ etc.,
remain valid and at times very useful words in the winetaster’s lexicon.” Writer Stephen Eliot (Connoisseur’s
Guide to California Wine, May 2014).
“Minerality is a sense of mineral-ness in the wine, including flavors of slate, schist, silex, etc.” Wikipedia.
One of the most thorough scientific discussions of minerality appeared in the wine blog, ‘Wine-Mise en
abyme’ (“Minerality in wine? Fuggedaboudit,” June 18, 2013) at www.mowse.blogspot.com/2013/06. This post
summarized the work of Alex Maltman of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth
University, Wales. Maltman has pointed out that the term ‘minerality‘ is a contemporary invention that has no
basis in science-based tasting schemes. Maltman’s article that appeared in the Journal of Wine Research in
2013 is heavily quoted in this post. The amount of nutrient ions absorbed by the vine roots is not directly
related to the amount of nutrient ions in the soil. Maltman notes, “The proportion of mineral nutrients in finished
wine bears only a complex, indirect, and distant relationship with geological minerals in the vineyard.” Maltman
argues that minerality cannot be tasted in wine. He further states that the concentration of inorganic material
and mineral elements, in particular, in wine is minuscule, and these mineral elements have no flavor. Only
sodium chloride among all the minerals produces a flavor in the mouth.
Scott first met with the issue of minerality in 1989 when he was Clark Smith’s research enologist at R.H.
Phillips Vineyard. The job involved many vineyard-based and winery-based experiments. Many of the
experimental results were validated using tasting panels and statistical methods to determine the significance
in differences found among experimental treatments. In order for the tasting panels to have a common
vocabulary, flavor and aroma standards were prepared so that all terms were clearly defined and all tasters
knew precisely what each descriptive term meant. Scott told me, “One of the most interesting standards was
for a Semillon that we felt possessed the aroma of wet granite after a rainstorm. I prepared a standard for this
descriptor by pouring distilled water over a piece of granite, recovering the water, and repeating the process
until the essence was noticeable in the water.
Scott has taken an early step in establishing standards for minerality descriptors. He sent me four minerality
standards: Squaw Valley granite, Mt. Harlan limestone, Sonoma Mountain basalt, and Lodi gravel. They were
prepared by crushing pieces of each rock and soaking them in a solution of 30% Sky vodka which is the most
neutral as determined by a blind vodka tasting, and 70% distilled water for a couple of weeks. The solution
was then filtered through a 0.45 micron disk filter with the solution delivered via syringe to remove any heavy
metals or other toxins associated with the minerals. I only evaluated the aromas (blind) of the sample liquids
and did not drink them. My impressions were similar to Scott’s:
Sonoma Mountain basalt: wet mud, wet terra cotta, wet clay, earth
Squaw Valley granite: very subtle steely, stainless steel impression
Lodi gravel: similar to Squaw Valley granite, primarily smelled like mineral water
Mt. Harlan limestone: distinctive aromas of cement, dirt, earth, clay and grass
Considering these preliminary results, Scott feels that there needs to be an expanded aroma wheel (an
addition to Ann Noble’s aroma wheel) or a new one to address minerality, and he might begin work on the
Read Scott’s up close and personal feature at the end of this issue.
Postscript: Shortly after this article was published, an article appeared in The World of Fine Wine(Issue 45 2014, pp 128-136), titled "Between Rock And A Hard Place: Vineyard Soils," written by Alex Maltman. In this piece, he clarifies the bedrock geology of vineyards. To summarize, here is what he said. "The Earth is made of chemical elements and is dominated by just eight of them. Elements are combined with each other to form minerals. The vast majority of minerals making up vineyards are silicates. The rigid aggregates of minerals are properly called rocks. Minerals combine to make rock, and minerals are composed of chemical elements. When elements amalgamate they become crystalline. The pieces of minerals in a vineyard are crystalline. 17 or so mineral nutrients are needed for vine growth and some of these are needed in very different amounts. The word soil refers to mineral sediments mixed in with rotted biological material-humus." With regard to minerality in wine, Maltman states, "There would seem to be no basis for the common assertion that a particular kind of bedrock produces certain wine flavors....the connection between soil and wine may not be direct and literal, but a kinship exists."
Australia Pinot Noir Needs No Bush
Every wine drinker with even rudimentary wine knowledge can recite the popular and noble varietals of
Australia that include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, Riesling, Chardonnay and “stickies” (Tokay and
Muscat), but few know of or have even tasted Australian Pinot Noir. Although 60% of Australian wine is
exported, the small production of Australian Pinot Noir is eagerly consumed by the country’s insatiable wine
drinkers and very little ever reaches our shores. About 50% of all Pinot Noir produced in Australia is sold
directly to consumers at wineries’ tasting rooms (called “cellar doors” in Australia) or through a mailing list, with
the balance evenly divided between restaurants and wine retailers.
Pinot Noir has been grown in Australia since 1834 when plantings were established in southeast Australia
(southern Victoria) using cuttings brought to the region from Tasmania. By 1890, Victoria produced more than
50% of Australia’s wine, with some of the annual output blended and shipped abroad under the name of
“Australian Burgundy.” Phylloxera devastated the wine industry by 1920, and recovery was led by fortified
wines and plantings of classic French varieties in the 1970s and 1980s. Sporadic successes with Pinot Noir
appeared in the 1970s, but some plantings were situated in warmer climate sites resulting in wines with stewed
flavors that mirrored the early experience with Pinot Noir in the United States.
With time, several iconic Australia Pinot Noir wineries emerged including Bannockburn, Bass Phillip, Bindi and
Giaconda, all of which were located in the cooler microclimates of Victoria, particularly in the regions in the
“Dress Circle” of Melbourne, including Geelong, Macedon Ranges, and South Gippsland. Several prominent
Pinot Noir produces also gained notoriety in the Mornington Peninsula, the most southerly region for Pinot Noir
in Victoria, where plantings were first established in the 1980s.
The Mornington Peninsula growing region is of special interest because the area’s unique maritime climate is
similar to Burgundy’s humid climate, providing an extended autumn with a relatively late harvest so that grapes
ripen fully with high natural acidity and fine tannins. The Mornington Peninsula is surrounded by water resulting
in relatively high summer humidity. The vineyards benefit from low vine stress, abundant sunshine hours, and
plentiful rainfall during the winter and spring (growing season rainfall is 12.5-15.2 inches). Heat degree days
from October to April are 1080-1570.
Today, the Mornington Peninsula has more than 200 vineyards, most of which are less than 10 acres, and over
50 wineries with cellar doors. Although Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Shiraz have a small presence, Pinot Noir is
the Mornington Peninsula’s signature wine. The Victoria region is the largest producer of Australian Pinot Noir
by far, with the Mornington Peninsula having the most Pinot Noir vineyard acreage at about 2,300 acres. and
annual production of about 160,000 cases (depending on vintage).
In Australia, there are 16 significant clones of Pinot Noir planted, most on their own roots. The most common
clone is one unique to Australia known as the “Mother Clone,” and designated MV6. It is said to have come
from Clos Vougeot, and has a floppy canopy, small bunches and berries, concentrated plumy and meaty
characters, and very good structure. It performs well as a stand-alone clone as well as a foundation clone in
blends. Other clones include D2V5 (UC Davis origin, aka Wädenswil or UCD 1A), D5V12 (UC Davis origin,
aka UCD 20), GSV15 (UC Davis origin, aka D2V6), G8V7 (UC Davis origin, aka UCD 15), H7V15 (UC Davis
origin, aka UCD 22), 8048 (UC Davis origin, aka Wädenswil or UCD 2A), G8V3 (UC Davis/Swiss origin, aka
UCD 14), Mariafeld (UC Davis/Swiss origin, aka UCD 23), 18GM (German origin, aka UCD 13), Pommard
(UC Davis origin, aka UCD 5 and UCD 6), and Dijon clones 114, 115, 386, 521, 667, 777 and “828” (UC Davis/
Dijon Burgundy origin). The Davis clones were used in many of the early Pinot Noir vineyards, while the Dijon
clones make up most of the newer plantings.
Trellising is most often vertical shoot (VSP), although quite a few growers use some form of Lyre or Scott-
Henry. Most vineyards yield between 2 and 3 tons per acre. Very little irrigation is used once the vines are
established to promote deep root systems and the roots can go very deep. With small producers, most of the
vineyard work is hands-on by the owners who perform pruning, trimming, leaf pulling, shoot thinning and
spraying, while teams of Asian immigrants farm larger vineyards. Few producers use biodynamic principles.
Harvest runs from the end of March to early June annually.
Richard McIntyre of Moorooduc Estate defined the typicality of Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula.
“There are two main unofficial sub regions of the Mornington Peninsula. The more northerly sub region (“down
the hill”) is warmer and drier with poorer, soils, and the more southerly sub region (“up the hill”) is at a higher
altitude and cooler. The best wines from both sub regions have complex aromatics, good mid palate weight
and length and fine tannins. The primary fruit aromas and flavors are in the spectrum of cherries, raspberries
and plums with the “up the hill” wines tending to red fruits and the “down the hill” wines to darker fruits.
Savoury complexity is common, and as vine age increases, we are seeing more tannic structure in the wines,
to an unusual degree for new world Pinot Noir. In terms of longevity, the almost universal use of screwcap
closures do not allow the ingress of significant amounts of air into bottles, meaning there is virtually no
inconsistency and premature oxidation of the wines. One would expect the more recent Pinot Noirs to live ten
to fifteen years.”
A map of the Mornington Peninsula with soil types and locations of several of the wineries whose Pinot Noirs
are reviewed in this issue follows (available for download at www.mpva.com.au). Soils are mainly either
sedimentary or volcanic basaltic, the latter holding water much better and eliminating the need for irrigation. As
you can see from the map, the “Down the Hill” more northerly region has primarily sedimentary soils and the
“Up the Hill” more southerly region has mainly volcanic soils.
The biggest challenges to growing Pinot Noir in Victoria are birds (netting is required), cool snap at flowering
causing poor fruit set, frost in some areas, and rain at harvest. A concern is the uncertainty about climate
change. The climate in recent years has been warmer than ten to fifteen years ago which has improved wine
quality, yet further significant warming could be problematic.
Winemaking in the Mornington Peninsula is traditional with most vintners using the same de-stemmer that
allows whole berry fermentation. Both air bag and hydraulic basket presses are employed. Most wines are
made from de-stemmed grapes although small amounts of whole cluster are added to some wines.
Fermentation is usually with indigenous yeasts and is carried out in stainless steel or plastic open top vats.
Elevage is in French oak barrels of which about 30% are usually new and from multiple coopers (Kooyong
uses only Francois Frères). About half the vintners inoculate for malolactic fermentation in barrel. Most
wineries use mobile bottling lines.
My good friend, David Lloyd, the proprietor and winemaker of Eldridge Estate in the Red Hill region of the
Mornington Peninsula, collected a baker’s dozen of 2012 Pinot Noirs from the Mornington Peninsula region
and we tasted most of the wines together recently while he was visiting the United States (note the photo
below). The 2012 vintage was comfortable for growers who experienced little disease pressure. James
Halliday, noted Australian wine critic, said, “I cannot remember a vintage having received such hyperbolic
praise right across the board, covering all regions and all varieties, as there is for 2012. The only sour note is
the low yields, seldom less than 20% below average, and for some half of the average.” In the Mornington
Peninsula harvest occurred from late February to early April in 2012.
David points out, “We have a large number of vineyards in a relatively small region that show a large diversity
of wine styles due to their location and soil type.” Our tasting of the 2012 Pinot Noirs did reveal some overall
consistency with the wines exhibiting a richness of fruit, evident tannins ranging from mild (“lovely” was David’s
term) to muscular (“rippy” was David’s term). There was often a savory component, oak was rarely prominent,
balance was usually impressive, and the wines evolved beautifully over time in the glass. Some of the wines showed more effusive aromas and flavors after a day or two from previously opened and re-closed bottles
indicating they will have significant longevity. All wines have screwcap closure except Hurley Vineyard (DIAM
cork). Overall, the wines were gnarly. Many of the wines have been released in the past 3 months. Retail
prices range from $40 to $70 American dollars. Very small amounts of Bass Phillip, Bindi, Eldridge Estate,
Giaconda, Kooyong, Moorooduc Estate, Paradigm Hill and Yabby Lake are exported to the United States.
The Mornington Peninsula has its own International Pinot Noir Celebration modeled after Oregon's International Pinot Noir Festival. The next Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held February 6-7, 2015, at RACV Cape Schanck. The keynote speaker will be Tim Atkin MW. The event includes two days of tasting Pinot Noir as well as lunches and dinners at various wineries, and a program of activities in the days pre and post Celebration. For information, visit www.mpva.com.au.
“Down the Hill”
2012 Hurley Vineyard Garamond Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.9% alc.. Sourced from the
3-acre Garamond Vineyard planted to clone MV6. Aged 18 months in 33% new French oak barrels. Bottled
unfined and unfiltered. Winemaker is Kevin Bell.
Very light garnet color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of
strawberry, cherry and cranberry with herbs in the background. Good mid palate intensity and length with
some finishing delight. A delicate wine with soft tannins and easy drink ability.
2012 Kooyong Ferrous Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. Port Phillip Estate was
established in 1995 by Chris and Gail Aylward. It’s Kooyong wines come exclusively from the estate’s 52 acres
of Pinot Noir (8 clones) and 27 acres of Chardonnay (10 clones). The Pinot Noir offerings include an Estate
wine, and three single vineyard bottlings: Ferrous, Haven and Meres. The winemaker is Sandro Mosele.
Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The most distinctive wine in the lineup with aromas of dark cherry
pie glaze, forest floor and oak. The mid weight flavors of very ripe dark cherry and purple stone fruits are
clothed in oak, with an underpinning of iron-driven minerality. The wine sports admirable elegance with well
proportioned dry tannins and some finishing fruit goodness.
2012 Moorooduc Estate The Moorooduc McIntyre Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
14.0% alc.. Established in 1982 by
Richard and Jill McIntyre. A selection of the best clones in the home
vineyard. Only made in years when the fruit is of high enough quality to
represent the pinnacle of quality from Moorooduc Estate and Richard
McIntyre’s skills. Assistant winemaker is Jeremy Maygar.
light garnet color in the glass. Appealing aromas of raspberry, plum,
underbrush, spice and iron, becoming more effusive over time in the
glass. Plenty of spicy and very ripe raspberry flavor picks up intensity
over time. The fruit is wrapped in fine-grain tannins and backed by lively
acidity. An earthy, iron flavor riff adds interest.
2012 Yabby Lake Vineyard Single Block Release Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 320 cases. From Block 1,
Rows 1-11 planted in 1998 to low-yielding MV6 clone. Soil is sandy clay
loam. Grapes are 100% de-stemmed, spend 14 days on skins.
Significant proportion of whole cluster. Winemaker is Tom Carson.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry,
underbrush and dried rose petal lead to a mid to full bodied core of black
cherry and black raspberry fruits wrapped in firm tannins. Impressive
mid palate attack and finish but seems a bit closed. Much better when
tasted two days later from a previously opened and re-closed bottle with
more aromatic vibrancy and more expressive fruit. This wine has the
most tannin in this lineup, presumably from the large percentage of
whole cluster, and will need a few years in the cellar to reach nirvana.
2012 Willow Creek Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.0% alc.. Clones D2V5,
D5V12, 115, MV6, and 777. Soils is sandy loams and red volcanic clay. Yield 1 ton per acre. Aged in 25%
new French oak barrels. Winemaker is Geraldine McFaul.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass.
This is a cherry-driven wine with accents of dark raspberry, sarsaparilla, briar and rose petal. Light to mid
weight and very elegant, with well-managed, dry tannins. This is a very comforting wine that held up nicely over
two days after opening.
“Up the Hill”
2012 Ten Minutes by Tractor Judd Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 225 cases.
Originally started by three family owned vineyards that were 10 minutes apart by tractor. A relatively warm site
with a steep and high vineyard location. Four clones first planted in 1997. Record veraison to harvest interval
(70 days compared to an average of 57 days). 20 days on skins, aged 14 months in new and used French oak
barrels. Winemaker is Martin Spedding and assistant winemaker is Jeremy Maygar.
Moderate reddish purple
color in the glass. Aromas of black raspberry, black plum, rose petal and stalk. Plenty of power and length on
the mid palate with impressive finishing intensity. The flavors of black raspberry, black currant and plum reflect
a warmer site. The wine has good harmony with balanced tannins, a silky mouthfeel, and a lengthy, generous
2012 Crittenden Estate The Zumma Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.7% alc.. This a small family owned
winery. Gary Crittenden was one of the first to plant grapevines
in the region in 1982. The Zumma name was adopted by the
family’s 27-acre farm (now vineyard) when purchased in 1981.
This limited bottling is sourced from the estate’s oldest vineyard
plantings. Wild yeast fermentation, bottled unfined and
This is clearly a special wine from the moment the
cork is pulled. Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. The
aromatics are engaging and persistent featuring aromas of cherry, spice
and a subtle hint of oak. The delicious mid weight core of cherry,
cranberry and raspberry fruits make an impression on the mid palate and
deliver a long and generous finish. Soft in the mouth with integrated
tannins, the wine holds up nicely over time in the glass. A very giving wine that aims to please. Still enticing
later in the day from a previously opened and re-closed bottle.
2012 Eldridge Estate Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. One of the coolest and oldest
vineyards in the Mornington Peninsula with vines dating back to 1984. Owner and winemaker David Lloyd is
dubbed the “Clone Ranger” in Australia for his research on clones of Pinot Noir. 7 acres of Pinot Noir (6 clones)
and Chardonnay (5 clones). This wine is darker than usual in this vintage. 10% whole cluster.
light reddish purple color in the glass. Endearing aromas of cherry, brown spice and vanilla picking up intensity
over time in the glass. The middleweight flavors of dark cherry and raspberry are vivid and expansive, finishing
with noticeable verve and length. The oak is complimentary but could benefit from more time to fully integrate
The suave, suede-like tannins are nicely balanced. Even better the following day from a previously opened
and re-closed bottle.
2012 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MPV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
purple color in the glass. This wonderful wine is showing a
modest oak sheen that will integrate over time. The nose offers
aromas of cherry, sandalwood, spice and sweet oak.
Impressive fullness and richness on the palate that features
discreetly concentrated flavors of black cherry, blackberry and
plum. Soft, even velvety in the mouth, with a richly fruited, very
long finish. Hard to resist now, this gorgeous Pinot Noir will benefit from
a few years in the cellar.
2012 Main Ridge Estate Half Acre Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. A pioneering
wine estate established in 1975 and granted the first commercial winery license on the Mornington Peninsula in
1978. The vineyard was developed completely by hand, meaning owners Nat and Rosalie White dug every
post and vine hole. The vineyard is primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Two Pinot Noir wines, “The Acre”
and “Half Acre” are produced. The winemaker is Nat White.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
Pleasant aromas of fresh cherry coulis leading to savory mid weight flavors of fresh cherries. The tight knit
tannins provide good structure, and the mouthfeel is pleasingly dry and fine grained. The wine evolves nicely
over time in the glass and was even better the following day from a previously opened and re-closed bottle.
2012 Paringa Estate The Paringa Single Vineyard Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. 25th vintage from this
winery founded in 1988. One of the most awarded wineries in Australia
for Pinot Noir and Shiraz, owner and winemaker Lindsay McCall
manages 55 acres of vineyards for Paringa Estate, producing about
15,000 cases of wine annually.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
Nicely perfumed with aromas of cherry, spice and oak. The mid weight
core of dark cherry fruit has an appealingly earthy underpinning. The
tannins are balanced and there is some finishing verve. This inviting
wine had even more cherry and spice presence two days later from a
previously opened and re-closed bottle.
2012 Montalto Vineyard Single Vineyard Main Ridge Block Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
Clone D5V12 planted in deep red volcanic soils. Wines are
produced from 6 vineyards across the Mornington Peninsula
including Main Ridge, the highest and coolest site.
reddish purple color in the glass. I love the nose that fills the
glass with aromas of perfectly ripened cherries, raspberries and
spice. Very smooth and seductive on the palate with pleasingly
vivid flavors of black cherry and plum. Well-structured for the long haul,
with a finish that has a vibrant, mouthwatering fruit presence that lingers
2012 Paradigm Hill Les cinq Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
13.8% alc, pH 3.69, TA 0.67.Clone 115. Harvest Brix 24.5º. 4-day
cold soak, 5-day fermentation, 6-day post maceration. Aged 18 months
in 33% new French oak barrels. Winemaker is George Mihaly.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing scents of
cherry, plum and rose petal lead to a mid weight attack of tasty plum,
dark cherry and dark raspberry fruits that hint at a bit of confection. Very
charming with balanced tannins and some finishing length. Delicious
two days later from a previously opened and re-closed bottle.
Two more aged treats from Eldridge Estate:
2006 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass with no sign of aging. Fresh and bright aromas of cherry and
red plum initially, fading a bit in the glass over time with more oak showing up. Light to mid weight flavors of
cherries and raspberries with a hint of spice and mushroom. Very elegant with supple tannins and some
finishing length. Drinking beautifully now, but will hold a few more years.
2008 Eldridge Estate Single Clone MV6 Mornington Peninsula Australia Pinot Noir
Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. Somewhat shy aromas of darker cherries and raspberries.
Pleasing middleweight flavors of black cherry and plum with an earthy, savory underpinning. The tannins are
fine-grain, the oak plays a flattering role, and the fruit-driven finish lasts and lasts. A charming wine with
impressive harmony. Will easily last another 10 years in the cellar.
2010-2012 ABV of California & Oregon PNO
As I have written previously, alcohol in wine is a seducer with a punch. It stimulates the appetite, offers
gustatory pleasure, and leads to relaxation, more social interaction and even procreation. Alcohol contributes
body, texture, intensity and sweetness that makes fruit in wine seem fuller and broader. Since alcohol is a
solvent, it can extract more flavor out of skins, pips and oak barrels. It is a critical factor in wine balance which
in turn is an important feature that determines wine quality.
Dr. Bruce Zoecklein, Head, Enology-Grape Chemistry Group at Virginia Tech, has discussed alcohol and
balance in several of his Enology Notes published online at www.vtwines.info/. He states, “Palate balance is a
critical feature influencing wine quality. The major factors governing palate balance in dry wines are the
quantity and “quality” of tannins, concentration of alcohol, and concentration and types of acidity. A wine with a
high phenolic load (something the wine industry has focused on resulting in a higher sugar per berry
concentration) is frequently in better balance with both a lower acidity and higher alcohol content.”
It is well documented that alcohol levels in wine have risen significantly over the last few decades. Data from
the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) indicate that the quantity of higher alcohol wines produced in
the United States over the last decade increased 50% on a relative basis to 9% of bottled still wines.
Despite its allure, and the happy buzz that accompanies its ingestion, alcohol can be devilish. At higher levels,
it suppresses fruit aromas on the nose by secluding aroma molecules, preventing them from being released
into the air. Alcohol has no taste per se, but it can overpower the palate, preventing recognition of the varietal,
obscuring the perception of phenols, lowering the perception of nuances and thus complexity in wine, and
disguising terroir by obscuring flavors. At levels of 15% or more in wine, alcohol can cause a burning sensation
in the nostrils and create a sense of bitterness and heat on the finish.
High alcohol wines have become the bane of many sommeliers who find it can disrupt balance in wine, diffuse
the taste buds, and create an undesirable amplification of certain elements in a dish. Outspoken sommeliers
have caught the ire of some notable winemakers whose wines often clock in at the upper ranges of alcohol
percentage including Helen Turley, who crafts popular Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines at Marcassin. She has
called this cadre of sommeliers who reject higher alcohol wines “Dim Somms,” and this has created quite a stir
among the wine community. The best commentary on this ongoing feud was posted by the HoseMaster of
Wine in his blog at http://www.hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com/2014/09/ipob-attacks.html Hilarious!
A majority of the wine-drinking population is unfazed by higher alcohols in wine, and usually do not consider
alcohol percentage by volume (ABV) when picking a wine. This is largely a result of genetics. 50% of the
population have one dominant and one recessive gene for taste and are termed “regular” tasters. As a group,
these wine drinkers choose moderate flavors and are only mildly sensitive to tannin, sugar and high alcohol.
I canvased the ABV of all California and Oregon Pinot Noirs from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages that have
been reviewed in the PinotFile to date. Each vintage is presented in a bar chart below.
Remember that ABV is not an exact figure. A study reported in Wines & Spirits (Fall 2010), found that 10% of
the wines tested significantly exceeded the legal boundaries, indicating that wines can have significantly more
alcohol than the stated ABV on the label. The ABV on the label is not required by the TTB to be accurate
because a range of tolerance is permitted. Wines of 14% alcohol or less are allowed a 1.5% margin of error,
and wines over 14%, a 1% margin of error. Therefore a wine that is 12.5% alcohol, may be labeled anywhere
from 11.0% to 14.0% alcohol, and a wine labeled 15.0% might be anywhere from 14.01% to 16.0% alcohol. A
wine with more than 14.0% alcohol cannot be labeled as containing less alcohol and vice versa.
The ABV values used in this survey are primarily from the percentage stated on the label. Labels are often
printed before a wine is bottled and released, so that the label ABV may not be the same as the final in bottle
ABV stated on the winery’s tech sheets.
On the charts below, the x axis represents the number of wines and the y axis the ABV range.
What information can be gleamed from this survey?
** The range of Pinot Noir ABV by vintage:
California 2010 12.5%-15.8%
California 2011 12.1%-15.2%
California 2012 12.5%-15.4%
Oregon 2010 11.8%-14.5%
Oregon 2011 11.5%-13.9%
Oregon 2012 12.5%-15.5%
** California Pinot Noir ABV was predominantly in the 14.0%-14.9% range with 70% of the wines in this range
in 2010, 55% in the cooler 2011 vintage, and 78% in the warmer 2012 vintage. A significant number of wines
were at or above 14.5% and since winemakers often downplay the true ABV, and given the 1% leeway above
14.0% ABV, it is easy to speculate that a number of these Pinot Noirs were over 15% alcohol.
** Oregon Pinot Noir ABV was predominantly in the 13.0%-13.9% range in the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages
(75% and 67% respectively). In the warmer 2012 vintage, only 45% of the wines were in the 13.0%-13.9%
range, while 53% of the wines were in the 14.0%-14.9% range, although overwhelmingly in the 14.0%-14.5%
range. Oregon shows more vintage variation in grape ripeness and resulting ABV in the finished Pinot Noir
Do alcohol levels in Pinot Noir matter? Well, higher alcohol Pinot Noirs will surely get you sideways a lot
quicker, but is that the goal? ABV does matter when you are looking to drink in moderation. A bottle of Pinot
Noir at 15% ABV contains 15% more alcohol than a bottle of wine containing 12% ABV. One should consider
scaling back the volume of wine drunk when imbibing a wine with a higher alcohol percentage (above 14.5%),
or reach for a lower alcohol wine to insure that you stay within the confines of moderation and avoid the
damaging health risks associated with heavy alcohol intake.
A new two-minute medical video encouraging healthcare professionals to talk with patients who drink alcohol
about the importance of moderation will begin airing this month in thousands of physicians’ offices, acute care
hospitals and military facilities across the country. The news report provides healthcare professionals and their
patients with important science-based information on alcohol and health from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The news video emphasizes the Dietary Guidelines definition
of moderation as up to one drink (5 ounces of wine) per day for women and two drinks per day for men. The
video news report can be viewed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgV2BZHGHxQ
I have been a long time proponent of listing ABV on wines I review in the PinotFile, and I believe I was the first
wine publication to implement this practice on a consistent basis. Unfortunately for the consumer, the ABV is
often presented on a wine label in very small print (only 0.5 mm font size is required) and in some cases in a
poorly contrasting color, so that it is virtually unreadable without a magnifying glass.
‘Sideways’ Ten Years later Santa Barbara County is still feeling the significance of the movie
‘Sideways’ and local businesses are still promoting it. You can plan a film tour of Santa Barbara at
www.santabarbaraca.com, where a self-guided tour brochure is available that spotlights locations from the
feature film. A 10th Anniversary screening of the movie will be at the historic Arlington Theater on State Street
in Santa Barbara on September 28. Share your ‘Sideways’ tips, tweets and photos by using the hashtag
#Sideways10 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Winery Geek App This mobile App has a huge database of more than 2100 California Wineries and
tasting rooms. It allows one to search wineries by varietals poured or winery amenities, and includes discount
coupons, maps, directions, pictures and videos. Available free for iPhone or android systems at the Apple
Wine Science Extra Jamie Goode has just published a e-book companion to his book, The Science of
Wine. The revised version of The Science of Wine was published this year but some material could not be
included. The Wine Science Extra is a collection of chapters covering some interesting topics in wine science
that form a supplement to the hard bound book. Chapters are included on global warming and its implications
for viticulture, naturalness in wine, corks, screwcaps and alternative closures, wine allergies, extending lifespan
by drinking wine, and the future of wine science. It is available as a downloadable pdf or via Kindle for $9.
Willamette Valley is Place if You Still Want Into the Pinot Noir Game I was perusing
some listings of vineyard homes and wineries for sale in the Willamette Valley and was astonished how
affordable these properties still are. One example is a 32.8-acre property in the Eola-Amity AVA with 17 acres
of mature vineyard, a custom cottage and outbuildings for $1.3 million. Another example is a 40-acre estate
with 12 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, architect designed home, guest quarters, studio, office, shop, and 8
additional plantable acres all for $2.4 million. Visit www.oregonvineyardland.com or
www.oregonvineyardsandwineries.com, and swoon over the possibilities.
Moshin Vineyards Celebrates 25 Years When the Moshin family harvested their first fruit from a
10-acre vineyard on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley in 1989, several tons were sold to Davis
Bynum Winery where Rick Moshin was custom crushing his inaugural vintage under the Moshin label of a few
hundred cases. Since then, the vineyard holdings have increased to 28 acres, case production is up to 8,000
cases annually, and a thriving 4-tier gravity flow winery and tasting room is staffed by 20 team members.
Moshin Vineyards is celebrating this occasion with a special 25% discount on all case purchases of all wines
during September. Use promo code 25ANNV on the winery’s website at www.moshinvineyards.com.
Three Sticks Winery Opens The Adobe Renovation of this historic Vallejo-Castenada Adobe has
been completed and will be the new home of Three Sticks in downtown Sonoma. The building was constructed
in 1842 for Captain Salvador Vallejo and is one of the few remaining buildings from California’s Mexican period.
Tasting appointments are available by reservation. Visit www.threestickswines.com.
Knudsen Vineyards Releases First Wine in Almost 40 Years The adult children of Oregon
wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen, have revived the Knudsen name in winemaking, and are releasing the 2012
Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen acquired a 200-acre property in the
Dundee Hills in 1971, and partnered with Dick Erath to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Dick built a home
and winery next to the Knudsen Vineyard. In 1975, Knudsen Erath became the first bonded winery in Dundee
Hills region. After the 1987 vintage, Cal and Dick dissolved their partnership with Knudsen Erath becoming
Erath and Cal retaining ownership of the vineyard. Knudsen Vineyards became the major source of grapes for
Argyle Winery and until recently, all the vineyard’s grapes went to Argyle. The new Knudsen Vineyards Pinot
Noir ($55) was crafted by Nate Klostermann, the winemaker at Argyle Winery and is highly allocated through a
mailing list at www.knudsenvineyards.com. A Chardonnay will be released in 2015 and possibly sparkling wine
EARLY Harvest Throughout California; Earlier Harvest in Oregon: The growing season
began with a very mild winter with nothing to hold back the vines from pushing out new growth. Budbreak was
common in early March and even, warm temperatures throughout the spring and summer led to accelerated
development and an early harvest. The first grapes were harvested in Santa Barbara County on August 25,
the earliest date on record in Santa Barbara County. Drought has not generally been a factor, and crop size is
normal to slightly above normal for most vineyards. Conditions have been perfect in the Willamette Valley so
and harvest is begun already for white wine grapes with Pinot Noir not far behind. Oregon’s hot summer and
mild conditions for ambient yeast on the grapes led to an early harvest.
Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest Four days of wine and food comes to Santa
Barbara Wine Country for the 23rd Annual Celebration of Harvest Weekend, October 10-13. A Vintner’s Visa is
offered for $50 a person that provides a tasting pass for the weekend at your choice of up to 12 different
wineries and tasting rooms from the list of 50 participants. The Festival Grand Tasting will be on Saturday,
October 11, at Old Mission Santa Inés, with nearly 120 winery members of the Santa Barbara Vintners pouring
at the largest tasting of Santa Barbara County wines of the year. Tickets start at $75 per person with upgrades
slightly more. Visit www.celebrationofharvest.com.
Ground Boots Pinot Noir: A Charitable Wine Brand Winemaker Deborah Hall of Gypsy
Canyon in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and artist Donald Roller Wilson have joined forces to launch a charitable
brand called “Ground Boots.” Hall will donate 100% of proceeds of each bottle of Ground Boots Pinot Noir to
nonprofit charities. The first year, the Ground Boots Pinot Noir will benefit Soi Dog Foundation that helps the
homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats of Thailand and works to end the dog meat trade throughout
the region. In January 2015, Hall will return to Thailand to work with Soi Dog. 100 cases will be released each
year, at a $70 per bottle cost. As a charitable negociant, Hall will purchase the wine herself from some of
Santa Barbara County’s best winemakers and create the final blend for inclusion under the Ground Boots label.
The first released on September 15 will be the 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. The label art work for
Ground Boots was donated by the world famous and widely loved artist, Donald Roller Wilson. His art is said
to be a cross between William Faulkner and Dr. Seuss with a bit of the Old Testament. To learn more, visit
Pinot On The River The 11th Annual Russian River Valley Pinot On The River will be held on the
Healdsburg Plaza Sunday, October 26, from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. 100 wineries will be pouring currently
released and library Pinot Noir at this event which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs. Tickets are $75 in advance,
$100 at the door. Visit www.pinotfestival.com.
Moderate Wine Drinking + Exercise = Health Benefits A current trial called In Vino Veritas
was reported at the European Society of Cardiology annual congress in Barcelona. It is one of the first studies
to introduce wine into people’s lives and track its effects on their bodies. Researchers found that moderate
wine drinking was only protective in people who exercised, with red and white wine producing the same results.
Among subjects who worked out twice a week and drank wine, there was significant improvement in good
cholesterol and decreased levels of bad cholesterol after a year of wine. The study concluded, The
combination of moderate wine drinking plus regular exercise improves markers of atherosclerosis (hardening of
arteries) suggesting that this combination is protective against cardiovascular disease.”
Union Wine Releases Videos Poking Fun at Wine Pretentiousness Union Wine in
Oregon sells Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in 12 oz cans. They have released a series of very humorous ads that
poke fun at wine snobs. The videos carry the tagline “wine doesn’t have to be this hard,” followed by the
hashtag #pinkiesdown. View the videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKTLmee9zc.
Architectural Winery Marvels An article called “Architectural Marvels: 9 Temples to Wine in Napa
and Sonoma” was published online at www.wheretraveler.com/san-francisco/your-guide-architecture-northerncalifornias-
wine-country. Wineries featured in Sonoma County were Buena Vista Winery, Kosta Browne
Winery, Ram’s Gate Winery, and Williams Selyem. The photographs are beautiful.
West of West Comes to Orange County, California West Sonoma County Vintners is an
association of wineries and winegrowers dedicated to preserving and protecting the history, landscape and
culture of the West Sonoma Coast. The organization’s West of West Festival is held annually in early August in
Sebastopol, California, with additional West of West Festivals celebrating the wines of the West Sonoma Coast
in other major cities in the United States. This year, a West of West Festival will be held at the Anaheim Honda
Center in Orange County, California. Wineries will be pouring their West Sonoma Coast wines and Orange
County’s top restaurants will be providing pinot-friendly bites. West Sonoma County Vintners includes the
following notable producers: 32 Winds Wine, Ceritas Wines, Claypool Cellars, CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs,
DuMOL, Emeritus Vineyards, Failla Wines, Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Gros
Ventre Cellars, The Hartford Family Winery, Hirsch Vineyard & Winery, Holtermann Family Wines, Joseph
Phelps Vineyards, La Pitchoune Winery, Lattanzaio Wines, Littorai Wines & Estate Winery, Martinelli Winery,
Peay Vineyards, Ramey Wine Cellars, Red Car Vineyards, Senses Wines, Small Vines, Soliste, Sonoma Coast
Vineyards, Wayfarer Vineyard and Zepaltas Wines. Tickets go on sale September 22: check back for details or
visit the West Sonoma County Vintners website at www.westsonomacoast.com.
Winemaker Up Close & Personal: Scott Rich, Talisman Wines
What Pinot Noir made by someone else I am drinking now: 2011 Calera Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir -
My desert island wine would be: Didier Dagueneau Silex - it’s refreshing enough for that environment.
My talent that few know about: Hawaiian nose humming.
The thing I do religiously in my winery: Remember how lucky I am to have my life.
The clothing item I wear most in my winery: Assorted t-shirts.
The wine region other than my own where I would like to make Pinot Noir: An unplanted special little
hillside in New Zealand that I believe is their closest thing to the Cote d’Or. I found it there on a trip in 2011.
The music I am listening to: Red Hot Chili Peppers - “By the Way.”
I like to relax by: Surfing and playing guitar very poorly.
If money were no object, I would: Clean up the plastic-laden Great Pacific Gyre.
If I wasn’t a winemaker, I would be: A very poor artist.
Photo above is of Scott and his spouse Marta