A Trio Of Pinot Noir Maestros
Talisman Wine, Paul Lato Wines and Rivers-Marie Wines are all under the direction of veteran winemakers
whose experience in conjunction with superb vineyard sources makes these wineries members of the top
echelon of California Pinot Noir specialists. While Paul Lato and Rivers-Marie wines are sold exclusively
through a mailing list with no tasting room, Talisman has both a mailing list and wine club (with exclusives) as
well as a tasting room in Glen Ellen. While Thomas Rivers Brown of Rivers-Marie concentrates on the West
Sonoma Coast, Paul Lato sources from the Central California appellations of Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa
Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills, while Scott Rich of Talisman ranges widely among Northern Coast vineyards
from the Yorkville Highlands to the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Los Carneros.
The wines from each producer are quite different, although all of them use a significant amount of new oak and
pick on the riper side.
Talisman, Sonoma, CA
The 2015 vintage provided very small yields and resulting very concentrated wines. The Pinot Noirs were shy
and tight early on and are just beginning to slowly open. The wines, scheduled for release June 1, 2019, have
been held back until ready. Decant or allow plenty of air time to thoroughly enjoy the wines. Talisman Pinot Noir
wines are consistently age-worthy.
Proprietors Scott and Marta Rich invite you to their tasting room in Glen Ellen, open Thursday-Monday or by
appointment. Visit the winery’s website at www.talismanwine.com for a more complete rundown on the winery.
2015 Talisman Sadie’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.55, 223 cases,
$48. Sourced from a 5-acre vineyard located in the Sebastopol hills along the Bodega Highway corridor.
Goldridge soils. Pommard and Dijon 115. Ambient fermentation with 25% whole cluster. At the completion of
fermentation after a week, the tank was sealed for extended maceration. After about 40 days after picking, the
grapes were pressed and the wine barreled using five favorite coopers. The wine remained unracked for 19
months in French oak barrels, 50% new.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of
black cherry and toasty coconut. Very polished in the mouth, with a mid weight plus charge of purple and black
fruits along with an appealing mushroom earthiness. A bit rugged and daunting at this stage with husky, chewy
tannins and a prominent oak frame. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle, the wine was unchanged. This wine will need a few years in the cellar to reach its full appeal.
2015 Talisman Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.56, 174
cases, $60. This vineyard is situated high (750 feet) on the southern flank of the mountain range defining the
western edge of Sonoma Valley. Soils are well-drained volcanic and rocky. The vineyard was established in
1998 by Nancy and Tom Lilly with their partner, noted vintner Steve MacRostie. Clones are Pommard and Dijon
115 and 777. Yield 2.6 tons per acre. Ambient fermentation with 25% whole cluster. Fermentation went to
completion in a week and then the fermenter was sealed for extended maceration. After 40 days, the fermenter
tank was drained, the remaining grapes pressed, and the wine was sent to oak barrels from five coopers. The
wine was aged 21 months unracked in 57% new French oak.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Inviting
aromas of purple berry, underbrush and toasty oak. The earth-kissed core of boysenberry, blackberry and
purple grape fruits have excellent juiciness and vigor. The tannins are well matched, there is righteous acidity
and a modest but pleasant finish.
2015 Talisman Huckleberry’s Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.73, TA 0.68, 74 cases, $65. Close-spaced vineyard is planted in Goldridge soils
and managed entirely by hand by Bill and Lauren Hipp. Dijon 115, 667, 777 and “828.” Yield 2.2
tons per acre. Ambient fermentation with 25% whole cluster lasted one week. The tank was then
sealed and extended maceration performed. After about 40 days, the fermenter was drained, the
remaining grapes pressed, and the wine was barreled using oak from five coopers. The wine
remained unracked for 21 months of aging in 50% new French oak.
Moderately dark garnet color
in the glass. Brooding aromas of purple berries lead to a big boy wine with a charge of purple and black fruits
that floods the mouth with goodness and generosity. Beautifully crafted and very charming, with impeccable
balance, deftly managed oak, and a lengthy finish. More appealing when tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle when the aromatics really came alive.
2015 Talisman Starscape Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.56, 267
cases, $56. This vineyard source was previously named Floodgate and prior to that, Mark West Vineyard. It is
located at the southern end of the Middle Readh. Pommard, Dijon 777 and “828.” Yield 2.8 tons per acre.
Ambient fermentation with 25% whole cluster. Aged 19 months in French oak barrels, 55% new. The wine was
bottled unfiined and unfiltered.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose leads with aromas of black
cherry, blackberry and spice. Well-ripened boysenberry and plum flavors in a mid weight plus style accented
with redeeming spice. Richly endowed, yet very charming with an appealing elegance. The haunting finish
exhibits some drying tannins, but is extremely persistent.
2015 Talisman Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 224 cases, pH 3.74, TA
0.55, $59. Certified organic vineyard planted in 1994 in relatively light clay-loam soils. The site is naturally low
in vigor with low yields. Clones 2A, Swan, Pommard, two suitcase selections and Dijon 113, 115 and 777. Yield
1.1 tons per acre. Feral fermentations with 25% whole cluster. Extended maceration prior to pressing and
barreling. Aged 18 months in French oak cooperage, 56% new.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of
mushroom earthiness and blackberry jam. Mid weight flavors of blackberry, cassis, black tea and a hint of oak.
Admirable balance, with modest tannins and a long, lip-smacking finish.
2015 Talisman Gunsalus Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.56, 196
cases, $58. The first harvest of this vintage (August 27). Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777. Yield 2.1 tons per
acre. Ambient fermentation using 30% whole cluster. After a cold soak, fermentation lasted 14 days after which
the fermenter was sealed for an extended maceration. 38 days after picking, the tank was drained, the
remaining grapes pressed, and the wine sent to barrel from five coopers. The wine remained unracked for 19
months aging in 50% new French oak.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. This is a typical red-fruited bottling
from this vineyard. Aromas of well-spiced, dark red cherry lead to a mid weight cherry bombast essence
accented with flavors of cola, spice and mocha. Forward-drinking, with a slick texture, merged tannins, and a
long, cherry-fueled finish.
2015 Talisman Destein Estate Bennett Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 50 cases, $N/A. Vineyard is
located in Jamison Valley at the east end of the Bennett
Valley AVA. It is subject the cool air flowing through the
Petaluma Gap. Soils are scanty, non-vigorous. Dijon 777
clone. Yields 2.0 tons per acre. Ambient fermentation with
25% whole cluster. After a week-long fermentation, the
fermenter was sealed for extended maceration. About 40 days after
picking, the must was pressed and the wine barreled to five different
coopers. The wine remained unracked for 21 months in 50% new
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very pleasant aromas
of dark cherry and baking spices draw you into the glass. Instantly
gratifying, with a mid weight core of delicious black cherry and black
raspberry fruit flavors that are expansive in the mouth. Terrific harmony, with a silky, refined mouthfeel and a
very long finish that exhibits a peacock tail of black cherry goodness. Flat-out terrific.
Paul Lato Wines, Santa Maria, CA
Paul started sixteen years ago with six barrels of wine. Today, his wines are featured on some of the wine lists
of fine restaurants in Lyon and Paris. A quest for America’s great Pinot Noir led him to Santa Barbara County in
2002. Since his first fine Burgundy that he experienced as a 21-year-old while studying to be a sommelier, he
has been in love with the Pinot Noir grape. The wine was a 1990 Comte de Vogue Les Amoureuses. But it was
the Burgundies of Henri Jayer that he experienced years later that really blew his mind.
Paul learned early one that it is impossible to recreate French Burgundy in California and it was a mistake to
make wines that tasted similar to those of Burgundy. He found that California Pinot Noir might be less complex
at times than their French counterparts, but they provided more consistency and value.
Paul now offers a multitude of single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The wines are sold
exclusively through a mailing list (2-3 offerings per year on a first-come, first-served basis) at
To be perfectly honest, I did not think this sampling of 2017 Pinot Noir from Paul was his best, simply because
my expectations are high for his wines, but I was not notably disappointed.
The wines reviewed here are some of the 2019 Pinot Noir releases from the 2017 vintage. All wines are
2017 Paul Lato “Duende” Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $70.
light garnet color in the mouth. Nicely perfumed with aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, earth and a hint
of burnt tobacco. A red-fruited wine with excellent acid vibe, silky tannins and a deft touch of toasty oak. The
most elegant of the 2017 vintage wines tasted, offering a lip-smacking finish with some length.
2017 Paul Lato “Suerte” Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $80.
garnet color in the glass. Brooding aromas of black fruits and sous-bois. Mid weight plus flavors of plum, black
raspberry, blackberry and a hint of tobacco oak are framed with gracious tannins. Fruit-laden, yet refined,
showing an appealing seamlessness, and a generous and long finish. This wine needs a little more time to fully
integrate the oak.
2017 Paul Lato “Atticus” John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $80.
dark garnet color in the glass. A complex nose of boysenberry, black raspberry, spice and clay loam is inviting.
Discreetly concentrated flavors of boysenberry, blackberry and cassis in a well-ripened, mid weight style. Very
earthy in tone, with a touch of nutty oak, gracious tannins and a moderately extended finish.
2017 Paul Lato “Lancelot” Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., $90.
garnet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry jam,
mushroom and comfy oak. Very charming in a mid weight
plus style, with waves of black cherry, pomegranate,
botanical and spice flavors that trigger all the pleasure
centers in the mind. Sleek, with integrated alcohol, adroit
oak impression, and a long, purple berry-infused finish. Considerably
more appealing when tasted the following day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle. Pisoni always seems to be a step above.
Rivers-Marie, Calistoga, CA
There has been considerable press about the fires that hit Napa Valley and Sonoma County in October of
2017. Fortunately, the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir wines were not affected. The growing season had been
uneventful except for a Labor Day heatwave that had more of an impact on Napa than Sonoma. Peak
temperatures were shorter and lower in Sonoma County. After Labor Day, the vines recovered quickly and
there was a return to a cool growing season.
Thomas Rivers Brown, the “celebrity” winemaker who was featured on the cover of a recent Wine Spectator
issue, has a keen love for Pinot Noir. Even though most of his clients are Napa Cabernet Sauvignon producers,
he has been crafting excellent Pinot Noir for years under the cultish Rivers-Marie label. He has great respect
for winemaker Burt Williams.
Regarding the 2017 Pinot Noir wines, Thomas said the following in his winter 2019 mailer. “The Pinot Noirs are
characterized by great focus and purity, varietal and site transparency and racy acidities, basically everything
that makes this grape so appealing. The perfume of these wines was apparent very early in their development.
Several of the bottlings made dazzling first impressions as early as the fermenter stage. I was impressed by
the lower sugars and pHs at true ripeness in 2017. This vintage was the most classic we have bottled to date.”
Most of the wines need a few years to reach full potential.
Rivers-Marie Pinot Noirs are released once yearly by allocation (everyone on the list receives the same
allocation). Visit www.riversmarie.com. A Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir were also offered in
2017 Rivers-Marie Bearwallow Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 260 cases, $60.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Black cherry aromas dominate the inviting nose with added scents of
orange peel and vanilla. Impeccably balanced with good vigor, offering mid weight flavors of black cherry, dark
chocolate and nutty oak. Some, but not imposing tannins, and a lasting finish. Close to 94.
2017 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 240 cases,
$60. Some whole cluster inclusion.
Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Very engaging aromas
of blackest cherry, cola and dark rose petal. A sleek array of dark red and black stone and berry
fruits offer considerable pleasure and excellent energy. Mid weight in extraction, with tender tannins,
a hint of nutty oak and a seductively silky mouthfeel. When tasted the following day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle, the composure was exquisite and the finish gained even
2017 Rivers-Marie Platt Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., $60. Inaugural vintage
from this vineyard. Calera selection.
Dark garnet color in the glass. Appealing aromas of black
cherry, fertile soil and rose petal. Juicy and quenching, with a discretely concentrated core of black
raspberry and pomegranate fruit. Suave in the mouth, with plenty of acidic verve, finishing long with
intense dark raspberry fruit delight. Even more appealing the following day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle sporting evocative fruit and a gorgeous, lively, and even more flamboyant finish.
2017 Rivers-Marie Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 300 cases, $60. 15%
whole cluster. Addition of Swan selection in this year’s bottling and deletion of clone “828.”
Dark garnet color in
the glass. The nose is filled with the scents of black grapes, black plum and blackberries. The biggest and
ripest fruited wine in the lineup, with a charge of dark berry fruits and a hint of raisin, underlain with a thread of
oak. Silken in texture, with integrated tannins and an oak-infused, but satisfying finish. Only California could
produce a flood of Pinot fruit like this. A little too ponderous and ripe for my personal taste.
2017 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 300 cases, $60. A Rivers-Marie
Dark garnet color in the glass. Mildly reserved aromas of sous-bois, black raspberry and
blueberry fruits. Lighter in weight than the Old Vine Summa bottling, but with a vivacious and engaging core of
dark red fruits and spice. Seamless, with lithe tannins, welcome acidity, and a caressing texture. The wine
gains appeal over time in the glass. An excellent, giving wine now that has the balance to age nicely, but lacks
the concentration and finish of the Old Vine Summa bottling.
2017 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.1% alc., 180 cases, $80. Moving into the
40th year of these vines.
Dark garnet color in the glass.
Provocative aromas of purple grape, boysenberry and plum.
Amazing fruit concentration in a full-bodied style offering an
array of black fruit and intriguing spice flavors that fan out
on the palate with vigor. Similar to a Pinot Noir grape
reduction sauce, but infused with good natural acidity and not
compotey. Great harmony with a balancing grip of tannin, and a very
long and extremely intense finish. The wine gains respect when tasted
the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. An old
vine treasure that has a special aura that defies proper description.