Pinot Noir & Chardonnay I Highly Recommend
I have stopped doing formal reviews of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but I still drink those wines regularly. On a
typical evening before dinner, I will open a bottle or two or three until I find one worth drinking. Life is too short
to drink ordinary wine. Below are amazeballs wines that I have enjoyed over the past few months listed by
vintage year. My impressions are based on drinking the wines before dinner and with food rather than critical
tasting and spitting.
2014 Phelps Creek Vineyards Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 416 cases, $54.
Crafted by fourth generation Burgundian winemaker Alexandrine
Roy who choses the best barrels from the estate fruit.
the greatest domestic Pinot Noirs I have had in recent memory!
The complete package and drinking beautiful now at 5+ years of
age. I reviewed this wine in February 2017 and scored it 96,
stating that it needed more time in the cellar. That prediction has
come to fruition and the wine would score more like 97-98 now.
Note: The 2015 and 2016 vintages of this wine are currently
available on the winery’s website ($54).
2014 Soliste Solitaire Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
63 cases, $100. A selection of the very best grapes through
multiple passes at harvest at Guidici Vineyard in the Sonoma
Coast near Occidental. A monoclone wine of Dijon “828.” 50%
whole cluster fermentation. Aged in one 600-liter oak barrel for
an extended 28 months.
Rather unctuous yet polished in this
vintage, with a complex nose of black cherry and blackberry,
forest floor and rose petal and a mid weight plus array of fresh
dark fruits kissed by earth and savory herb notes with gracious
oak support. The mouth feel is particularly dreamy. Juicy, with
amorous tannins and a gutsy finish that persists. Still
outstanding the following day from a previously opened and recorked
bottle. This wine is built for the long haul and I almost
regret popping the cork so soon. However, the extended
elevage has rendered the wine approachable now. Score range
94-95. Note: This wine is still available through the winery’s website store.
2015 Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” California Pinot Noir
alc., 750 cases, $50. A unique wine that is a blend of barrels
from the best vineyards from Santa Maria Valley with Russian
River Valley and Monterey County sources included in some
years. The blend, assembled by Jim Clendenen, is different
Everything you could ask for in a California Pinot
Noir. Elegant, sexy and balanced. This one bowled me over like
it did when I reviewed it July 20, 2019. Still giving when
sampled the following day after opening. I scored it 96 6 months
ago and I still stick with that rating. The 2016 vintage version of
this wine is currently available on the winery’s website and at
$50 is one of the greatest bargains available in California ultrapremium
Pinot Noir. Note: the 2016 vintage of this wine is
available on the winery’s website store.
2015 Guillén Family Wines Damian Winemaker’s Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.8%, 73 cases, $40. Jesus
Guillén was a brilliant, young, and self-taught winemaker that I
met and tasted with on a number of occasions before his
untimely passing in November 2018. He was both the head
winemaker at White Rose Estate Winery and Vineyard and
winemaker for his own label. This terrific wine, now five years of
age, is drinking perfectly. A winemaker’s selection on the best
barrels in the cellar, it is a blend of three vineyards and two
clones: Pommard and Dijon 667. 100% whole cluster, native
fermentation. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new.
This wine really blew me away and I wished that I had more in
my cellar. The exotic aromas reflected all the good that whole
cluster can bring to Pinot Noir with notes of dark berry, rose
petal, cardamom and burnt tobacco. Modest in weight, but highly flavorful, featuring a range of purple and
black fruits backed by firm, but not unwieldy tannins. Sterling acidity and a boisterous finish complete the
picture. Extraordinary now, but will age beautifully. I scored the wine 94 in early 2018, but this bottle was more
in the 97-98 range. Note: the winery is still operated by Jesus’ widow. Curiously, the winery’s website has not
been updated to indicate Jesus’ demise and I am uncertain who has taken over the winemaking duties.
Tresider Burns has been hired as the winemaker for White Rose Estate Winery & Vineyard while Dago Guillén
continues as tasting room manager and Gavin Joll as general manager at White Rose.
2017 Big Basin Alfaro Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., 155 cases, $60 (magnums
$129). Winemaker Bradley Brown incorporates a significant
amount of whole cluster in his fermentations and this beauty
was made with the full monty - 100% whole cluster. 18-year-old
vines. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Native primary and malolactic
fermentations. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels. Bottled
unfined and unfiltered and finished under NormaCork without
risk of cork taint. This wine is the standout among the 2017 Big
Lovely aromas of black cherry compote, spice
and burnt tobacco. Sterling balance with plenty of upfront
pleasure, packing good ripeness at a modest ABV. Luscious
black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors and a hint of turmeric
spice. Even better when tasted the following day from a
previously opened bottle. 94-95 score range. Note: the wine is
available through the winery’s website store. The Lester Family Vineyard bottling has also been a top
performer but the 2017 vintage is sold out.
2017 Drew Estate Mid-Slope Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir
13.4% alc., $70. Jason Drew has been crafted terrific wines
from his off-the-grid winery in Elk, overlooking the Anderson
Valley to the East and the Pacific Ocean 3 miles to the West at
1,250 feet elevation in the Mendocino Ridge AVA. The 7.5-acre
estate vineyard (Drew Ranch) is one of the most westerly
vineyards on the North Coast. Clones include Pommard, 943,
115, 667, Mt. Eden, Calera and a Swan selection. The first
vintage from this vineyard was 2014 and with this vintage the
vineyard is beginning to show its metal. Drew tends to use
about 30%-50% whole cluster in most vintages (30% for this
wine). The Pinot Noir wines are aged 11 months in about 33%
new French oak barrels. Mt Eden clone and Calera and Swan
Engaging aromas of black cherries, black plums,
turkey spices and forest floor. Beautifully composed with layers
of flavor mimicking the nose and finishing long and pure. 94-95 score range. Note: Drew continues to source
fruit from Morning Dew Ranch, the vineyard planted and formerly owned by Burt Williams. This is always an
exceptional bottling as well. Drew wines are sold through a mailing list.
2017 DION Old Vines Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $60. This winery produces an
exceptional lineup of wines from the 60-acre estate DION
Vineyard. This limited release bottling is produced from vines
planted in 1976 on the 10-acre Winery Block. The Pommard
vines are self-rooted and non-irrigated. The winery’s most
Clearly a special wine, with aromas of exotic
spices, black stone and berry fruits along with dark rose petal.
Bolder and riper in this vintage in a mid-weight plus style
offering delicious flavors of black raspberry and blackberry fruits
framed by modest fine-grain tannins. Impeccably balanced, with
a surge of black cherry goodness exhumed over time in the
glass on the long finish. A very classy old vines treasure that
scores in the 93-94 range. Note: the 2015 Old Vines Pinot Noir
($55, my score 93) and 2016 Old Vines Pinot Noir ($60, my
score 96) are still available. The winery’s Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, based on Dijon clones, is also a
consistent star in the winery’s Pinot Noir lineup. I am not sure this wine has been released as of yet.
2017 Occidental Freestone-Occidental Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $65. Steve Kistler departed Kistler Vineyards
as winemaker to concentrate on growing and crafting Pinot Noir
from West Sonoma Coast vineyards extending to Bodega
Headlands, almost a rock’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. Steve
started his label in 2011, hoping to have a project he could pass
on to his daughters. The 20-acres of land for the vineyards was
acquired in 1999, later adding more parcels to bring the total to
85 acres. The vineyards for the Occidental Wines label were
planted in the early 2000s with a Calera selection and field
selections from Vosne Romanée that Kistler acquired in the
early 1990s and propagated. The four vineyards in 2020 were:
Bodega Headlands, Running Fence, SWK and Occidental
Station. Kistler built a winery east of the town of Bodega on a
ridge next to the Bodega Headlands Vineyard. The wines were
initially marketed through the Kistler mailing list, but now the winery is independent and focusing solely on
Pinot Noir. For the 2017 vintage, there are four single-vineyard Pinot Noirs offered. The wines feature native
primary and malolactic fermentation, and free-run juice only. The wines are aged in Francois Frères oak
barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine is a blend of fruit from the estate vineyards and is
essentially an appellation wine. 20-30% whole clusters. Aged in 25% new French oak.
A sophisticated offering
that rivals the single-vineyard wines produced in this vintage. Medium-plus in weight with an array of enticing
dark red and purple fruits on the nose and palate. Beautifully composed of fruit, acid and tannin all in
complimentary balance and finishing with lingering purple fruit goodness. Noticeably better with improved oak
integration when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score range 93-94.
Note: I was never enamoured with Kistler Vineyard Pinot Noirs as they were too ripe and rich for my palate,
more in tune with the palate of Robert Parker who in essence has been the only critic to review Kistler’s wines
over the years. I am much more intrigued with this Occidental wine which that is not as lavishly fruited but more
refined and I consider more age-worthy. Occidental wines are sold through a mailing list. Members of the
mailing list can visit by the winery and modern tasting room located at the estate by appointment.
2018 Loring Wine Company Cortada Alta Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 400 cases, $N/A,
screwcap. Clones 23 and “828.” Aged 10 months in French
oak barrels, 15% new. This is my first encounter with this
vineyard that was planted by John Peterson high on a hillside,
the highest elevation site in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.
Moderate garnet color in the glass. Aromas of spiced black
cherries lead to an elegantly-styled, mid weight wine that
charms with fine-tuned acidity and juiciness. The flavors of
black cherry and black raspberry are infused with spice and
linger on the palate through an uplifting finish. The tannins are
suave, the mouth feel is polished and the overall impression is
one of gracious harmony. Still terrific when tasted the following
day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score
range: 93-94. Note: The 2018 lineup of Pinot Noir wines from
Loring are outstanding. Brian Loring has bottled his wines
under screwcap since 2004
2016 Lavinea Lazy River Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., 220 cases, $45.
Winemaker Isabelle Meunier, formerly of Evening Land, crafts
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in five AVAs in the
northern Willamette Valley. This was my first experience with a
Lavinea wine. A Wine Enthusiast top 100 Cellar Selection for
2019. Barrel fermented in 20% new French oak.
This is a
stunning wine that is a dead ringer for a Grand Cru Chablis.
Aromas and flavors of lemon curd, yellow peaches, lime and
melon. Bright and slightly tart with a clean, brisk arrow of acidity.
Still great when sampled the following day from a previously
opened bottle. 93-94 score range. Note: available from K&L
Wine Merchants online.
2017 Evening Land Summum Seven Springs Estate Eola- Amity Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.0% alc., 337
cases, $100. Yes, this is expensive, but worth every penny.
Produced from just 14 rows of the best Chardonnay vines at the
top of Seven Springs Vineyard. The winery considers this
offering their “utmost” and I agree. Gentle whole cluster
Champagne press cycle and aged in neutral Stockinger 500 ml
puncheons. Indigenous fermentation and aged 12 months in
puncheon and 6 months in tank. Light fining without filtration.
The glorious potential of Oregon Chardonnay is exemplified in
this classy wine. Perfumed with aromas of Meyer lemon,
poached pear, and slight matchstick reduction. The flavors of
lemon-lime and Granny Smith apple are uplifting and long in the
mouth. A good compliment of bright acidity infuses the fruit
flavors with “minerality” and juiciness. 95-96 score range. Note: the wine is still available from the winery.
2017 DuMOL Chloe Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.3% alc., 724 cases, $65. As regular readers know, I consider Ritchie Vineyard
California’s top Chardonnay source. Long-time DuMOL winemaker, Andy Smith,
has been crafting Old Wente Chardonnay from this vineyard for seventeen years.
Vines were 45 years of age in this vintage. Barrel aged 12 months in 33% new
French oak followed by 6 months of settling in tank. This is typically a lower-acid
Chardonnay with rich, California sun-blessed fruit.
An opulent Chardonnay offering
waves of succulent stone fruits and citrus offering an unctuous drinking
experience. That said, the wine is not overblown and has good focus and finishing
citric drive. I happen to relish this style of Chardonnay and have drank many
bottles of this wine over the years. 95-96 score range. Note: DuMOL wines are
sold primarily through a mailing list but bottles do show up at retailers such as K&L