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Recent Pinot Noir Wines I Have Enjoyed

Here are reviews of special wines I have enjoyed drinking over the past few months listed by vintage year. My impressions are based on drinking the wines before dinner and with dinner rather than critical evaluation through sipping, swirling and spitting.

2009 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., $69. Rhys selections and two heritage clones of Pinot Noir planted in 2004 on 10.85 acres. The defining feature of this vineyard is its intensely rocky soil composed of sedimentary Monterey shale. Elevation is 1,400 to 1,600 feet. All Pinot Noir at Rhys is fermented with native yeast, and aging is carried our in the finest French oak barrels that have been air dried for four full years in Burgundy. The consistency of the barrels implies that the wines are differentiated entirely by the vineyard and not by the barrel. The Pinot Noir wines are typically aged 18 months in barrel. The wines are never fined or filtered.

Note: Eleven years later, Horseshoe Vineyard is considered by the team at Rhys to be “one of the finest sites in California to grow Pinot Noir. The vineyard also produces Chardonnay that is “a stunning example of New World terroir….tremendously complex and invigorating wines. The 2018 vintage of Horseshoe Vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is now available as a futures order. Rhys wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list at The winery’s website is one of the most informative I have ever encountered.

· Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. The nose offers aromas of dark berries and cassis with a floral element prominent. The mid weight flavors of blackberry and black cherry are graciously in harmony with the wine’s lacy tannins and steely acidity. This wine is now drinking at its peak and it was only by fate that I decided to open the bottle at its apogee. I wish I had more. Score: 95

2012 LaRue Emmaline Ann Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

12.4% alc., 50 cases, $70. Sourced from a 3-acre vineyard near the town of Freestone. Dijon clones planted in Goldridge sandy loam soil. Aged 17 months in 50% new French oak barrels.

Note: LaRue wines are sold by owner and winemaker Katy Wilson through a mailing list at

· Moderately light garnet color in the glass. A feminine wine that has held up beautifully over time. Despite its relatively light color and lighter body, this wine delivers plenty of deep aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, blueberry and spice. There is a vein of whole cluster goodness running through. A silky mouthfeel benefits from gossamer tannins. Still refined and classy as I noted in my December 10, 2014 review and drinking at its peak now. Rated 94 previously and still Score: 94

2015 Press Cellars Helluva Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., 300 cases, $25. (Just being released currently). Wine buyer and retailer Patrick Campbell crafts a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Helluva Vineyard, 5.5 acres located near Boonville. I scored this wine 93 and it is now sold out. The winery is owned by three families from San Diego: Campbells, McDonalds and Giboneys. Smith Story Wine Cellars, Betwixt Wines and Handley Cellars have bottled vineyard-designated wines from this vineyard. Pommard 5 clone. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 60% new. · Dark garnet color in the glass. This wine offers the typical black cherry fruit aromas and flavors of the Pommard clone. Bombastic in style, with well incorporated oak seasoning and agreeable tannins, finishing with a satisfying black cherry cordial finish. This beauty reminds me of a typical Russian River Valley Pommard-based, wellripened Pinot Noir such as those produced at J. Rochioli. The price is not a misprint! Score: 92

2016 Fulcrum Gap’s Crown Vineyard Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 224 cases, $68. Clones “faux 828,” and 667. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Note: I have been following and reviewing the wines of David Rossi since 2006 and have seen a recognizable rise in quality. The Gap’s Crown Vineyard bottling is deserving of the most accolades year in and year out. Interestingly, David lives in New Jersey and travels back and forth for winemaking operations and sales events. The coronavirus has slowed, yet not stopped him. He continues to pay his employees through the shutdown. He says, “We will not let some virus take us out. As soon as it is safe to open, we will open the doors.” Fulcrum’s tasting room is located on the Sonoma Plaza. The wines are also sold through a mailing list at

· Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Generous aromas of blueberry, blackberry jam, and spice. Very seductive on the palate, with a silken texture and a long, deep core of purple and black fruits that caress the palate. Evocative harmony with a lasting finish of vibrant fruitiness. Previously rated 97 when reviewed April 14, 2018, and still pumping out the glorious Pinot charm. Score: 97

2016 Kelley Fox Wines Maresh Vineyard Red Barn Blocks Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 46 cases, $75. Grapes were sourced from the original 1970 plantings of Wädenswil and Pommard clones surrounding the Maresh Red Barn. Maresh is the 5th oldest vineyard in Oregon and is farmed by Jim and Loie Maresh. Kelley was formerly the winemaker for Scott Paul for ten years . Her long-time personal relationships in the Willamette Valley allow her to source outstanding fruit from Maresh Vineyard, Hyland Vineyard and Momtazi Vineyard. This wine saw no new oak (as all Kelley Fox Pinot Noirs).

Note: Four 2018 Maresh Vineyard Pinot Noirs are currently offered including three block-designates ($75-$100) at

· Moderately light ruby red color in the glass. A very elegant, feminine wine with gracious aromas of red cherry, spice, sandalwood and thyme. Very silky and sexy on the palate with fresh flavors of red cherry and red currant. Impeccably balanced with a lasting finish. This wine is at a nadir now. Score: 95

2016 Soliste Renaissance Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., 45 cases, $85 ( available by allocation). The goal at Soliste is to focus on each specific clone of Pinot Noir that is best in harmony with each vineyard site: Single Vineyard, Single Clone, and Single Cooperage wines - Monoclone®. Claude Koeberle and Don Plumley have the dream to be in the conversation with the legendary Burgundies because they are the benchmarks that inspire and drive their madness. They feel that the 2016 vintage Soliste Pinot Noir wines are the most Burgundian of all the vintages produced to date. This wine is from The Sonatera Vineyard, specifically a few rows of vines that allowed to craft a deeper wine, pressing 50% whole cluster to create more layers without losing elegance. Claude remarked, “I have never tasted a Pinot Noir of such pedigree outside of my native Bourgogne.” Claude is prone to hyperbole but I am agreement with him with regards to this wine. I respect his palate, for Claude is a rare breed - a chef for over 50 years who co-owns restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles - and who has a unique, unlimited knowledge of and perhaps more important, a unmatched passion for Pinot Noir and its role at the dinner table.

Note: Because this is a very challenging time for wineries and restaurants, Soliste is currently selling two wines normally sold only to restaurants at restaurant direct-wholesale prices: 2014 Les Cailles Russian River Chardonnay and 2015 Narcisse Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, both $28. Les Cailles Chardonnay has only been sold to The French Laundry and Narcisse is the winery’s blend of Monoclone® Pinot Noir vineyards created specifically for restaurants. Visit

· Moderate garnet color in the glass. Soaring aromas of black cherry, black raspberry and spice. Richer than many Soliste Pinot Noir wines, but still nimble and coaxing on the palate, with flavors of black cherry and boysenberry. Substantial weight in the mouth, yet sleek and comforting, finding solace in a welcome contribution of oak and a finish that just won’t quit. Still generous when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating the potential for longevity. A truly extraordinary wine and one of the best I have ever tasted from this winery. Score: 97

2016 Williams Selyem Burt Williams Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

13.6%, pH 3.51, TA 0.60, $85. Released fall 2018. Last vintage of the Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir by Williams Selyem as Burt Williams sold the Ranch in 2015. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 57% new 43% 1-year-old.

Note: Williams Selyem wines (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel) are allocated through a mailing list at

· Moderately light garnet color in the glass. This is an extremely easy-drinking wine showing exceptional harmony. The aromas of cherry and cardamom lead to a light to mid weight styled drink that is cherry-driven with added flavors of tobacco and licorice. The gossamer tannins make for a gracious mouthfeel and the finish is long and highly gratifying. Still fine when tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. I am sure this wine has at least another 6 good years. Score: 94

2016 LUMOS Temperance Hill Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 145 cases, $45.

Note Dai Crisp and his spouse PK McCovy started the LUMOS Wine Company in 2000. Since 1999, Dai has managed the Temperance Hills Vineyard, a 100-acre site in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA that is considered one of Oregon’s most esteemed vineyards. A tasting room, housed in an historic barn, is located in Wren, Oregon, 16 miles west of Corvallis. LUMOS wines are sold on the winery’s website at Prices are quite reasonable ($28-$45) considering the pedigree of the grapes sourced from Temperance Hill Vineyard. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. Black fruits are featured in this mid weight wine that sports excellent harmony. Since last reviewed in October 2018, this wine has gained considerable appeal. The core of dark berry and stone fruits so typical of this vineyard are vivid and saturating. The tannins have mollified since last tasted, and the wine aims to please. Score: 92

2017 RAEN Home Field Fort Ross-Seaview Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $80. 4.8 acres, ancient marine soils at an elevation of 1500 feet. Whole cluster fermentations rely only on native yeasts. Clone 777. Aging is in neutral French oak barrels for 10 to 20 months depending on the site and vintage. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration.

Note: RAEN (pronounced “rain” to remind us that wine was rain first and translated to Research in Agriculture and Enology Naturally)) winery, a partnership between winegrowers Carlo Mondavi and Dante Mondavi, focuses on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The three Pinot Noir wines offered: (1) Freestone Occidental Bodega Vineyard planted to clone 667, Pommard and a Calera selection ($95); (2) Fort Ross-Seaview Home Field Vineyard (going forward will be known as Sea Field) a site located just north of Jenner overlooking the Pacific Ocean ($80); the Sonoma Coast Royal St. Robert Cuvée (clones “828,”, 667, rVR1, Pommard and a Calera selection), a blend of fruit from the West Sonoma Coast ($60). Chardonnay is sourced from the Charles Ranch Vineyard located in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA ($90). The wines are eagerly sought after and highly allocated to a mailing list at This young winery is proving to be Pinot Noir par excellence.

· Moderate garnet color in the glass. an elegant, but very aromatic and flavorful wine offering aromas and tastes of ripe cherry, strawberry, exotic spice, wild herbs, and forest floor. This is one terrific wine to drink now that has excellent rapport between the fine-grain tannins and acidity. There is a clear whole cluster foundation that elevates this wine. I literally wanted to drink the whole bottle. Welcoming and amicable when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 96

2017 Bien Nacido Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay

12.6% alc., 251 cases, $40. The famed Bien Nacido Vineyard has been bottling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under their Estate label since 2011. Grapes for this wine come from own-rooted, 45-year-old vines planted in shale with limestone outcroppings. This W Block of Chardonnay is the oldest block at Bien Nacido Vineyard, planted in 1973 to the original Wente clone. Whole cluster pressed, native fermentation, 100% malolactic fermentation, and aged sur lie 16 months in French oak barrels (25% new) and stainless steel. Bottled unfiltered.

A tasting room for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estate wines is located in downtown Los Olivos. Note: I did taste the 2016 Bien Nacido Estate Santa Maria Pinot Noir ($50) but cannot give it a recommendation since I found the oak barrel work to be overbearing. A tasting room for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estate wines is located in downtown Los Olivos. Visit

· Aromas of lemon, pineapple and straw with noticeable toast and nuttiness. Excellent restraint and edginess on the palate with flavors of grapefruit, lemon rind and lime shot through with an arrow of spirited acidity. This wine avoids the ripe fruit tropical flavors common in many California Chardonnays. An excellent value considering the pedigree of the grapes. Score: 92

2017 Littorai Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $85. Sourced from vines that are farmed using organic and biodynamic principles. Littorai was one of the first purchasers of fruit from Hirsch Vineyard along with Steve Kistler and Burt Williams who first showed up together at Hirsch Vineyards in 1994. The three winemakers crafted startling good and age-worthy Pinot Noirs and spurred the notoriety of Hirsch Vineyards. The vineyard is planted to Pommard and Dijon clones and heritage selections including Swan, Calera and Mt Eden. This bottling includes 114, 777, Pommard clones and a Swan selection. Typically, Littorai wines are aged 16 months in French oak with about 25% new barrels.

Note: The winery’s website is Littorai wines are sold only through an allocated mailing list. The wines are also available at many fine restaurants.

· Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of mixed berries including strawberry framed by sandy tannins and bright acidity. Texturally of great interest but otherwise not exciting at this stage. Largely unchanged when re-tasted the following day from a previously opened bottle. Giving, but not yet generously, requiring patience. Score: 91

2017 Peter Michael ‘Le Caprice’ Fort Ross-Seaview Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $130. Released April 1, 2019. This estate vineyard was planted in 2006 at 1,000-1,500 feet elevation on the first ridge-line from the coast to a suitcase clone of Pinot Noir. Soils are alluvial sediments, decomposed volcanic material and clay. The name of the vineyard is a reference to the capricious character of Pinot Noir. This bottling is typically the most fruit-forward of the three Peter Michael estate Pinot Noirs. Native yeast fermentation, aged 16 months in 50% new French oak barrels. The winemaker is Nicholas Morlet.

Note: 3 wines are produced from the Peter Michael estate Seaview Vineyard: Le Caprice, Ma Danseuse and Clos du Ciel. A fourth Pinot Noir, ‘Le Moulin Rouge,’ is sourced from the Pisoni Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The wines are allocated to a mailing list that is now full and interested consumers can join a waiting list at The winery in Calistoga is available for tours and tasting to private members and waiting list members by appointment.

· Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Intriguing aromas of black cherry, ripe strawberry, spice and redwood forest floor. Beautifully composed with exquisite balance, offering deep flavors of black cherry fruit that saturate every nook and cranny in the mouth. Very suave in texture in a medium weight style, with a mix of warn leather, floral and herbal undertones. Extremely satisfying now but displays the harmony that guarantees at least ten more years of drinking pleasure. Still righteous juice when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 96

2018 Larkspur Dundee Oregon Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $9.99 (with grocery store 6-pack purchase). Easily located in your favorite supermarket (Kroger, Fred Meyer, Fry’s etc.). Winemaker is Sarah Cabot who has several years of winemaking experience with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Vineyard sources and vinification details not available. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Welcoming aromas of black cherry and subtle oak spice. Silky in the mouth and very easygoing, with a core of black cherry fruit accented with a hint of spice. The tannins are well-proportioned, oak is well-mannered, and the dry, lip-smacking finish has a little length. This wine will not lead to an epiphany but will work as a satisfying everyday quaff. Score: 88

2018 Privé le nord Estate Chehalem Mountains Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc.,∼200 cases, $65. Le Nord is the north block of the Privé Vineyard at 600 feet elevation. 100% Pommard clone, 100% destemmed. The wine was aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 25% new.

Note: Mark and Tina Hammond only produce 950 cases annually, specializing in Pinot Noir from their 2-acre vineyard, but also offering Syrah and Pinot Noir Port. Wines are available to a member’s list only. The Privé Vineyard was originally planted in 1980 and then grafted to Pommard clone in 1998 by the Hammonds after they acquired the vineyard in 1995. The label was launched in 2001. Other Pinot Noir bottlings include Le Sud (from the south block of the vineyard) and Joie De Vivre (a limited, reserve). Pricing varies with length of time one is on the member’s list. Etched magnums are available. Visits to the winery are welcome by appointment (minimum order of 6 bottles requested). Visit This is one of my favorite producers of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.

· Moderate garnet color in the glass. The wine is reserved upon opening, revealing its charms slowly over time in the glass. Aromas of Bing cherry, rose petal and spice tantalize. Middleweight in style, with flavors that replicate the aromas with a dusting of oak. Plush in the mouth, with balanced tannins, and an exceptionally long finish of black cherry goodness. Considerably more giving when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Best to give this beauty another 3 to 5 years in the cellar. Score: 93

2018 Toil Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 755 cases, $50. Released spring 2020. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 32% new and 68% neutral.

Note: This wine comes from Figgins Family Wine Estates that includes Leonetti, Figgins and Toil Oregon and is produced and bottled in Walla Walla Washington. The winemaker, Chris Figgins, is the son of Gary Figgins, the well-known winemaker who founded one of Washington’s cult wines, Leonetti Cellars. The inaugural wine was produced in 2012 from grapes sourced in the Willamette Valley. The new Toil Estate Vineyard is located in the Chehalem Mountains but has not yet produced a commercial crop.. Chris may be the first eastern Washington winemaker to offer a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The wines, that include a Chardonnay and Rosé, are sold through a mailing list at

· Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Friendly aromas of cherry, strawberry, baking spices, and a hint of rose petal. Inviting freshness and vitality in a mid-weight style offering a satisfying core of black cherry fruit underlain with spice and subtle oak. Easy going in a forward drinking style. Score: 92

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