Talisman Wines: An In-Depth Tasting of 2014 Vintage & Older Vintage Pinot Noir
One of the great pleasures of exploring the the Pinot Trail is sitting down with a winemaker over an extended
time at the winery, tasting and re-tasting his or her wines, and really delving into what the winemaker is trying to
achieve. Sessions like this bring to mind this quote from Tim Atkin MW. “I believe that the place where a wine
was made, not to mention the character, ambition and talent of the person who made it, is highly relevant to
how that wine tastes. I want to know about these things, just as I want to know about vintage conditions,
personal eccentricities and a winemaker’s take on the world. All these things make wine different: all these
things made wine special.”
Winemaker Scott Rich and I have a friendship that goes back over ten years. His father was a physician and
this has meant a commonality that we have embraced. I have always been intrigued with his Pinot Noirs since
my first extensive encounter with them in 2006 when I experienced wines dating back to 1997. Since then, we
have touched bases at many Pinot Noir events, but until recently I had never sat down for an afternoon with
him at his winery and really got to know him and his wines.
Scott learned his craft as a research enologist for both RH Phillips and Robert Mondavi Winery and later under
Tony Soter at Etude in Carneros. He made the wines and oversaw the construction of a winery at Moraga
Vineyards in Bel Air in Southern California. As with many winemakers, his desire for self expression led him to
start his small label with his spouse, Marta Rich, in 1992. Scott currently makes his wines in a tiny warehouse
facility on Eighth Street in Sonoma with an office and war room above where we met to taste.
Talisman is a word for a charm and the Talisman logo on the label is a stylized medicine wheel, a
representation of the paho, a Native American charm that has been imbued with the power to protect one from
harm. The paho has the circle of the life and the four directions that show one’s place in the universe. The rays
around the edge represent the sun that gives energy for life on earth (and allows wine grapes to ripen). The
name and logo was given to Scott by his Native American mother and is a tribute to her.
Scott’s vineyard sources are truly unique for he is a lover of distinctive, challenging terroir. He says, “I like to
express terroir - that is the beauty of Pinot Noir - and that comes through in the more extreme vineyards.”
Current production of vineyard-designated Pinot Noir is about 5,000 cases annually. Vineyards range
throughout Sonoma County as well as Yorkville Highlands, and Napa Valley.
The tasting took place on May 18, 2017. The 2014 Pinot Noir wines had been bottled at the end of June and
July 2016. The wines are still quite young and some are not released as yet for Scott strives to make wines that
have age ability and need time in bottle for full expression. As Scott notes, “I make my wines to age, even if no
one gives them a chance.” In 2014, the stems were ripe, and although he always uses about 25% whole
cluster in his ferments, four of the 2014 wines were made with 100% whole cluster and designated “méthode
I had the opportunity to take the opened wines home with me and re-taste the 2014 vintage Pinot Noirs in my
usual fashion four days after opening. My reviews reflect both impressions upon opening the bottles and retasting
four days later.
2014 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 392 cases, $54. Vineyard
farmed by retired research scientists Glen and Pamela Gunsalus. Vineyard was planted in 2001 in the
Goldridge soils of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Clones 114, 115, 667 and 777. Aged 21 months in
French oak barrels, 44% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, savory herbs and
spice. Deep cherry flavor with a savory herbs note in the background. Middleweight styled, with modest
tannins, a bit of spice accent, welcome touch of oak, a soft texture and some finish. The slightest hint of
alcoholic warmth is evident.
2014 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Dijon Clone 114 - Méthode Ancienne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 46 cases, $75. Dijon clone 114, 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 21 months in French oak
barrels, 50% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass (slightly darker than the regular Gunsalus bottling).
Inviting blend of dark muddled cherry fruit and savory notes of stem and mulch. Definitely different than the
regular Gunsalus bottling, with a little deeper black cherry flavor, more mid palate presence, more lifted fruit, a
little more structured backbone and more finish.
2014 Talisman Red Dog Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 366 cases. This vineyard is
located above Bennett Valley on the northwestern side of Sonoma Mountain. A low yielding site exposed to the
full brunt of cold air flowing off the Pacific Ocean. 800 feet elevation, planted in 2000 in loamy clay. Clones 115,
777 and Pommard 5. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 60% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
Teasing aromas of black cherry and blueberry fruit with integrated oak, timber and spice notes. The lovely core
of dark fruits including very ripe cherry and raspberry are accented with hints of clove and other warm spices
that alert the senses. The suede tannins and plenty of finishing power leave an impression.
2014 Talisman Red Dog Vineyard Honey’s Cuvée Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 46
cases. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. Clones 115 and 777, 100% whole cluster
fermented - méthode ancienne.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. More primary than the
regular Red Dog bottling, but with deeper flavored darker fruits, a silky mouthfeel, and a delightful dark
berry infused finish. A bit more rustic and savory at this stage, and more tannin, but with a generous
finish. The wine needs considerable foreplay as reflected in the vivid fruit flavors assuming
considerably more intensity over time in the glass. Best to cellar a few years.
2014 Talisman Weir Vineyard Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 241 cases, $65. This vineyard has
the coldest nighttime temperature of all vineyards Talisman works with. Gravelly, well-drained loamy clay soils.
1,000 foot elevation. Clones 2A, Pommard, Romanée-Conti and Rochioli selections. Aged 21 months in French
Oak barrels, 60% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Engaging aromas of black cherry and blueberry
lead to a mid weight styled wine with a core of sweet and juicy dark red and blue fruits accompanied by a
thread of herbal oak. Quite suave in the mouth with a glorious finish.
2014 Talisman Weir Vineyard Méthode Ancienne Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 47
cases, $85. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the
glass. Sensual aromas of lurking dark red fruits. The bright and seductive dark red cherry core is
underlain with a firm but not intrusive tannic backbone. The whole cluster seems to fill out this wine
with goodness. There are accents of exotic spices, pine sap and burnt tobacco contributed by the
whole cluster. The finish seems to go on and on. Hard to resist now, but this beauty will benefit from
more time in the cellar as it is built for aging.
2014 Talisman Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 291 cases. This
vineyard is organically farmed and certified CCOF by owner Chris Thorpe and son-in-law Edwin Richards.
Talisman is the only winery to source fruit from this vineyard. Planted in clay loam soils in 1994 to 113, 115,
777, Pommard, 2A, and two unnamed suitcase selections. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 67% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Scents of spiced dark berry, fertile earth, rose petal and pine lead off.
A husky, full-bodied style with concentrated flavors of earthy blackberry, yet not jammy with added notes of
dark chocolate and floral goodness. Bold, yet juicy with an intensely black raspberry fruited finish.
2014 Talisman Adastra Vineyard Méthode Ancienne Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 46
cases. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very ripely fruited
impression on the nose and palate. Mid weight plus in style, with bright dark fruit flavors engaged with an exotic
spice and floral note. Noticeable tannins, inviting oak integration, and an amazing finish that lingers with black
cherry and black raspberry goodness.
2014 Talisman Jamison Valley Vineyard Destein Estate Bennett Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 59 cases,
$55. This vineyard receives the brunt of cool air thru the Petaluma Gap. Planted in 1996 at an elevation of
565-625 feet in gravelly, volcanic mudflow. Clone 777. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Embracing aromas of red cherry, dark cranberry, spice and floral
bouquet. Plush on the palate, yet lifted with juicy acidity. Forward flavors of cherry and red berry with a spice
back note and a refreshing finish. Still lovely when tasted four days after opening.
2014 Talisman Sadie’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 342 cases, $45. Vineyard is
located along Bodega Highway west of Sebastopol. Planted in 2009 in Goldridge sand loam soil. Pommard
and Dijon 115. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass.
Aromas of cherry, sage, warm spices and sous-bois. Mid weight flavors of red cherry and berry with a vegetal
thread in the background. Bright acidity and balanced tannins with some persistence on the dried cherry fused
2014 Talisman Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 140 cases. Vineyard is
located on the southern flank of Sonoma Mountain on the western edge of Sonoma Valley. Soils are volcanic -
red, pebbly clay loam. Planted in 1998 at 750 feet elevation to clones 115, 777 and Pommard. Very cool site,
exposed to foggy cold airflow from San Pablo Bay and the Petaluma Gap.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
The noise is rather primary initially with delicate aromas of cherry, picking up intensity over time in the glass.
The cherry essence is integrated with feral, game and floral notes making for an interesting drink. A little more
tannin is evident in this wine. There is deft oak management and the finish has good persistence.
2014 Talisman Huckleberry’s Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 140 cases. A 1-acre vineyard
farmed by Bill and Lauren Hipp. Planted in 2004 at an elevation of 70 feet in Goldridge sandy loam soil. Clones
115, 667, 777 and ‘828.’ Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass.
The nose is engaging and special with aromas of cherry, exotic spices and underbrush. Light to mid weight in
style, with well spiced cherry and blueberry flavors that are framed by quenching acidity. Well structured for
2014 Talisman Rancho Estrella Vineyard Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14,7% alc, 46 cases. Known as Star
Ranch, this vineyard is located in a farming community in an obscure valley in Napa County. Planted in 2006 at
600 feet elevation in weathered thyolite soils. Clones are Pommard and Dijon ‘828.’ Aged 21 months in French
oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of redder fruits, earthy
flora and green leaf. Light to mid weight in style, with flavors that echo the aromas. Dry, but not bitter tannins
are quite noticeable.
2014 Talisman Starscape Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 338 cases.
Vineyard is located in the Middle Reach sub region of the Russian River Valley. Clones 777 and ‘828.’
Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, 57% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Enticing
scents of cherry, green tea, and floral blossoms. Noteworthy attack of mid weight black raspberry and
black cherry flavors that really cling to the palate through the finish. Gentle tannins make for easy
drinking. The most fruit forward wine in the lineup with the most striking finish replete with vivid fruit
that hangs on for what seems like a minute.
Random choice of older wines.
2005 Talisman Hawk Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass.
This wine has developed tertiary characters. Aromas of leather, potpourri, burnt tobacco and timber lead to
faded fruit flavors with a bit of oak and olive flavor. The tannins are still notable but the wine is enjoyable. Drink
1996 Talisman Los Carneros Pinot Noir
Grapes sourced primarily from Truchard Vineyard.
tinge in the glass. Aromas of orange peel, crusty bread and pickling spices. Still some black cherry fruit but it is
dried out and fades rather quickly in the glass. The tannins have disappeared. Drink up.
1995 Talisman Los Carneros Pinot Noir
Grapes sourced from Madonna Vineyard and Mueller-Mckenzie
Yellow-brown caste in the glass. Aromas of marzipan and eucalyptus. Faded fruit trying to give its
best, with a spice and leather accent, finishing with some grip. Drink up.
Talisman wines are sold online at www.talismanwine.com. The Talisman tasting room is located at 13651
Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen where a personal comparative Pinot Noir tasting experience is offered.