Pinot Noir Shootout Prelims
The 6th Annual Pinot Noir Shootout began this month with a number of preliminary
tastings and will continue until the finals which will be held on January 16,
2008 in San Francisco. Over 250 Pinot Noirs from North America, France, New
Zealand, Australia and Chile will be paired down by a distinguished tasting panel
to approximately 40 finalists and then presented to the public, trade and press
at The Pinot Noir Summit on February 9, 2008 in San Francisco. At the Summit,
the public has the opportunity to vote for their favorite wines tasted blind in a
walk-around format, and the results are be compared to the scores given by the
professional judges. Attendees are also be able to meet the winemakers and/or
winery owners of each of the finalists after they are judged and unveiled.
Affairs of the Vine and Wine Works will conduct The Pinot Noir Shootout and International
Wine Review will join the final judging. Affairs of the Vine
(www.affairsofthevine.com) is a wine education company, specializing in corporate
events, interactive wine workshops, and Wine Boot Camp held at various locations
in California wine country. Wine Works is an informal association of wine
writers, educators and consultants. International Wine Review provides the wine
trade and wine enthusiasts with a bi-monthly publication that features current and
accurate information regarding important wine regions of the world and in-depth
tasting reports (www.i-winereview.com).
The competition is quite unique for several reasons. During the preliminaries,
thirty-two wines are tasted blind in four flights of eight over several hours, allowing
attentive and extensive evaluation of each wine. This format tends to eliminate
palate fatigue as a factor in judging. At many major wine competitions, judges
must sample at least 100 wines per day, and often many more. Judging at The Pinot
Noir Shootout is independent of producer, appellation, vintage and price. A
100-point scoring system is utilized, but the emphasis is on the copious notes that
the judges create for each wine. The judging panel is comprised of a diverse
group of Pinot Noir-loving professionals including representatives from the press
(Dan Berger, Vintage Experiences; Tina Caputo, Wines & Vines; Graham Parnell,
Vineyard and Winery Management; Jay Youmans, MW, International Wine Review;
and yours truly), sommeliers (Courtney Cochran; Christopher Sawyer, Carneros
Bistro/Lodge), wine buyers (Shaun Green and Keelyn Healy, K&L Wines; Kristi
Mohar, Fiesta Market), winemakers (Anthony Austin, Sonoma Coast Vineyards), restaurateurs (Cluney Stagg, Bistro Des Copains; Ken & Ellen Landis, Landis Shores Oceanfront Inn,
Half Moon Bay), wine educators (Barbara Drady, Affairs of Vine; David Jones, Wine Works; Laura Ness,
Appellation America; Lisa Zimmerman), and wine writers (Michael Cervin, Ziggy Eschliman, Alan
Goldfarb, Ray Johnson, Jordan MacKay, Ben Narasin, and Ronn Wiegrand). There are more judges per
entry than broad-based wine competitions. The results and reviews are gender-based in that male
and female judges’ scores and comments are tabulated separately.
Through my participation in the preliminary tastings, I was able to sample almost 100 Pinot Noirs.
There were many wines that lacked the elegance, finesse, texture and sensuality that I look for in a
good Pinot Noir. Tasted blind, these generously fruited, rather than complex wines, with higher alcohol
and heavy oak could easily be mistaken for Syrah. I am always honing in on acidity in particular.
Acidity is crucial for refreshment, compatibility with food and aging. Some of these Pinot Noirs had
enormous richness and concentration, but lacked acidity. I like to call these wines “P-no-no-R.” There
were, however, several excellent Pinot Noirs that I can recommend that were not the judging panel
consensus favorites, but my personal choices. In talking with other judges, however, there was consensus
of opinion on some of my choices that served to verify the pedigree of these Pinot Noirs. The
big surprise of the tastings was the quality of a number of Pinot Noirs originating in Monterey County.
An interesting list of flavor and aroma components in Pinot Noir was compiled by Barbara Drady of
Affairs of the Vine and handed out to the judges. This list highlights the most commonly encountered
aromatic and flavor descriptors for Pinot Noir. Common fruits are cherry, raspberry, raspberry jam,
strawberry, strawberry jam, orange peel, tangerine, grapefruit, black cherry, cranberry, blackberry,
blackberry jam, pomegranate, plum, ripe tomato, roasted tomato, currant and dried cherry. Floral
elements include violets and rose petals. Spice notes include cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, cola,
clove, oregano, nutmeg, pepper, rosemary and sassafras. Vegetal descriptors include rhubarb, wet
leaves, mushroom, beet, black olive, and green tea. Wood elements are oak, char, smoke, various
spices, and cedar. Still other descriptors are chocolate, coffee, barnyard, wet leaves, earth, quinine,
spearmint, peppermint, leather, meat, and tobacco. The complete list would take pages.
2005 Hahn Estates Monterey Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 22,000 cases, $23. The Hahn Estates is located
on the Monterey Coast in the Santa Lucia Highlands and sources grapes from
estate owned vineyards and non-winery owned vineyards in the Santa Lucia
Highlands and Arroyo Seco appellations of Monterey County. Nicolaus Hahn
is a Swiss businessman who became enamored with California wine and purchased
the Smith & Hook Winery in 1980. In 1991 he created the Hahn Estate
brand. In German, Hahn means “rooster,” and the rooster is prominently displayed
on the Hahn Estate label. In 2000, the winery and vineyards underwent
a large-scale renovation under the direction of president Bill Leigon.
The winery’s labels now include Hahn Estate, Smith & Hook, Red Flyer and
Cycles Gladiator (HRM Rex Goliath was sold to Constellation Brands in 2005).
The current winemaker is Adam LaZarre and consulting enologist is Barry Gnekow. This wine won
Best of Class at the California State Fair. Winemaking is traditional and aging is carried out in new and
neutral French oak for 10 months. The fruit for this wine came from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
clean aromatics of fresh cherries and strawberries. Red fruit driven with deft use of oak, a pillowy texture,
and perfect balance. I plan to make this my house Pinot. Astonishing quality at this production level
and price point. The 2006 vintage was tasted by another panel and equally well-received.
Hahn Estates Pinot Noir is available on the winery website, www.hahnestates.com. Hahn Estates tasting
room in the Santa Lucia Highlands is at 37700 Foothill Road, Soledad. 831-678-4555.
2006 San Saba Monterey Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 600 cases, $28.95. Founded by
Mack and Barbara Lemmen in 1975, this winery has been making wines in small
amounts since 1981 - who knew? They farm a 70-acre vineyard which lies up
against the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. Wines from the best blocks
of the vineyard are bottled under the San Saba “Lions” label, and the remainder of
the estate-grown grapes go into a second label, Bocage, made in an easy-drinking
style. This wine is the second release of San Saba Pinot Noir. The vintage was extremely
prolonged, with harvest extending into mid-November. Clones are 115,
667, 777 and Pommard 4. Aging was carried out in 50% new and 50% neutral oak
barrels. The winemaker is Sabrine Rodems.
The nose is intriguing with scents of
cherries, violets and a hint of oak and iodine. Demure red fruits are presented in a
lighter style with plenty of finesse. Nice soft texture, lively acidity and on point balance.
San Saba wine is available from the winery by phone, 831-678-2212. A tasting room is open daily at
35801 Foothill Road, Soledad. The website is www.sansaba.com.
2005 Windward Vineyard Gold Barrel Select Paso Robles Westside
14.1% alc., 250 cases, $60. Owners Marc Goldberg and
Maggie D’Ambrosia purchased 25 acres of rolling hills off Highway 46,
west of Highway 101 near Templeton. The site’s rocky limestone, sloping
well-drained soil and location the Templeton Gap seemed ideal for
Pinot Noir. They cleared the land (previously a rhododendron farm)
and planted 10 acres of Pinot Noir in 1990. The four clonal selections chosen were HMR (Paso Robles),
Adelsheim (Oregon), Bien Nacido and Sanford & Benedict. Goldberg’s reverence for Burgundy has
led him to style his wines in an Old World fashion and his label proudly displays the word monopole
(monopole is a Burgundian concept which means the vineyard has one owner and both viticulture and
vinification are handled under one roof). The first vintage of 320 cases was 1993 and Windward Vineyard
Pinot Noirs have received many accolades since.
Charming perfume of red cherries, strawberries,
oak and Xmas spice. Tasty cherry attack which persists with a clean and tangy finish and suede-like tannins.
Windward Vineyard wines are available on the website at www.windwardvineyard.com. The 2006
vintage has been released but I would advise cellaring a couple of years before opening. Older vintages
are still sold to wine club members. Tasting room open daily at 1280 Live Oak Road, Paso
2006 Girasole Mendocino Organic Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., 9000
cases, $15. Born to Italian immigrants, Charlie Barra planted the home
ranch Redwood Valley Vineyards in Mendocino County in 1955 and
has farmed 200 acres of vineyards since. He was an innovator (first to
use water for over-head frost protection in Mendocino) and an activist
(fought for state regulations that changed the way farmers are paid for
grapes). BARRA of Mendocino brand was started in 1997 and Girasole
(“jee-ra-sol-ay”) in 2001. All wines are estate grown and from organic-certified grapes.
A very pretty nose of red raspberries, strawberries and violets. Clean red fruits and well-integrated tannins.
A wine of appealing harmony.
Pinot Noir is available for sale on the website at
. Located two hours north of San Francisco,
the winery is open for tasting daily. The address is 7051 N State
Street, Redwood Valley. Private tours with Charlie (photo left) are
available by appointment. 707-485-6784.
2004 David Bruce Tondre’s Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot
14.8% alc.,55 cases, $45 Despite very large production (60,000
cases), this Santa Cruz Mountains winery continues to craft very attractive
Pinot Noirs. David Bruce was a true Pinot Noir pioneer in California, and
although not heavily involved in the winery now, his family has carried on
admirably. The winery was bonded in 1964 and the estate vineyard in Los
Gatos has 9 acres planted to Pinot Noir at 2,200 feet. Grapes are sourced
from all over California. The winemaker since 2004 is Mitri Faravashi.
Enticing aromatics of black cherry and cola with a hint of farmyard. Spiced cherry compote lingers on the
palate for an eternity. Velvety texture and perfect balance. A queen bee.
David Bruce wines are available on the winery’s website at www.davidbrucewinery.com. The winery
is located at 21439 Bear Creek Rd, Los Gatos. 408-354-4214.
2006 Ventana Vineyards Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 1,800 cases, $28. Ventana Vineyards,
founded by former Navy pilot, Doug Meader, was one of the pioneering wineries in Monterey County,
and can now celebrate 30 years of winemaking. Over these years, Ventana has become “The Most
Award-Winning Single Vineyard in America.” Ventana is a Spanish word for
window so-named because the vineyard abuts the Ventana Wilderness and
symbolizes a “window to the future in viticulture.” The current winemaker
is Reggie Hammond. The Arroyo Seco region is one of eight AVAs in Monterey
County and lies between Soledad and King City, straddling Highway
101. Its neighbor is the more famous Santa Lucia Highlands appellation.
Spiced cherry with a sidecar of oak on the nose leading to nicely-weighted
fruits including cherries and red berries, all enhanced by Xmas spice and deft
use of oak. Reminds me of a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Quite a charmer.
Ventana Vineyards are sold on the website at www.ventanawines.com. 831-372-7415. The charming
tasting room is housed in a circa 1919 Old Stonehouse at 2999 Monterey-Salinas Highway, Monterey.
2006 Robert Stemmler Nugent Vineyard Russian River Valley
14.6% alc., 2200 cases, $40. This is
one of three excellent Robert Stemmler Pinot Noirs crafted by winemaker Kenneth Juhasz, the 32-yearold
wonder kind behind Donum Estate and Auteur Pinot Noirs. The Nugent Vineyard is an 11-acre site P,anted to Dijon Clones.
Hard to stop smelling this voluptuous Pinot extract
which is very haunting and sexy. A fruit-driven wine that is juicy, succulent,
long and smooth. Pinpoint balance. Very Caliesque.
Robert Stemmler wines may be purchased on the website,
www.robertstemmlerwinery.com. A tasting room is open on the Sonoma
Square in the town of Sonoma. 707-939-0651.
2005 Row Eleven Wine Co Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., 800 cases,
$36. Founded by Richard de los Reyes (“Ricardo D” to his colleagues) several
years ago, the name comes from searching for the best rows from the best blocks
from the best vineyards. Row Eleven is a unique Multi-Alternating Proprietor or
MAP that utilizes several winery facilities, each specializing in a particular variety,
in contrast to having one central facility to process grapes. The finest vineyards
are then linked to these specialized wineries. Reyes crushes only the best rows,
uses whole berries and ferments 10° cooler than most other winemakers. His style
is fruit-forward. The grapes for this wine are from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, Dijon
clones 115, 667, 777 and Pommard.
Darker fruits, particularly black cherries run
through this wine from start to finish. The demurely presented fruit has plenty of
finesse and the alcohol, which is nicely integrated, creates a sweet note and a velvety
Row Eleven Wine Co Pinot Noirs are available on the website at www.row11.com.
2006 Ardiri Estate Grown Napa Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc.,560 cases, $45. This is a new project
produced and bottled by Gypsy Dancer Estates in Oregon for Ardiri.
The name is Sicilian for “taking a risk” and can also mean “being consumed by fire.” The
Carneros vineyard contains Dijon clones 115, 667, 777, 828 and rare Heirloom selections.
My highest scoring
wine of the tasting competition. Beautiful and complex aromatics featuring ripe red cherry, red
berry, floral notes, oak, char and a hint of allspice. Spiced cherries carry the attack with a hint of oak and
herbs. The mouth feel is creamy, there is a healthy tannin structure, and the finishing spicy kick is lingering
Ardiri The new website is www.ardiriwine.com.
2005 Robledo Family Winery Los Carneros Pinot Noir
$35. Reynaldo Robledo Sr. came to California
from Michoacan, Mexico in 1968 at the age of 16, and along with several relatives, began to work in
the vineyards pruning vines. He quickly advanced himself, managing crews of workers within a year.
Eventually he became vineyard manager for large vineyards and in 1996 formed his own vineyard
management company, Robledo Vineyard Management. In 1997, he released 100 cases of wine under
the Robledo Family Winery name, the first Mexican migrant worker to establish his own winery. Today,
his seven sons and two daughters work in the business and production is 12,000 cases of wine a
year. Through the years, he purchased several vineyards and now owns 220 acres in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties.
Dark Pinot fruits, primarily black raspberry, and oak
lead off followed by more luscious dark fruits front and center. Tannins are
well-concealed. A long, scented fresh berry aftertaste is memorable.
Robledo Family Winery is open for tasting by appointment at 21901 Bonness
Road, Sonoma. The website is www.robledofamilywinery.com.
Knocking on Heaven's Door
2006 Longboard Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 1053
cases, $28. This unique winery has the motto, “wine, waves and soul.” Surfer,
winegrower and winemaker Oded Shakked is the co-owner with Robert Watkins
and Bruce Lundquist. Shakked was formerly the winemaker at J Winery and
Vineyards. He left in 2005 to start his own label and downsized to a production
level of 10,000 cases. The label has actually been producing wines since 1998,
but the 2006 vintage is the first for a Pinot Noir. Grapes are sourced from the
O’Neil Vineyard and Wohler Bridge Vineyard, both in the Russian River Valley.
Confected cherries and cola dominate the aromas. Elegant in style, the flavors echo
the aromas. The finish is pleasing with fine-grained, slightly drying tannins.
Longboard Vineyards has a fun tasting room a few blocks off of the plaza in
Healdsburg at 5 Fitch St. There is a redwood surfboard bar and a plasma television
showing surf videos. Wines are sold on the website at
2004 Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Russian RiverValley Pinot Noir
A joint effort between winemakers James Hall and Anne Moses and the
sales and marketing team of Donald and Heather Patz. This is the first
release from this vineyard located in the hills above Green Valley in
Sonoma County. The planting is all Dijon clones. I tasted this wine on
several occasions in the last year without much of an impression for me,
but now it has finally come around.
Red fruits and a bouquet of roses in
the nose. An earthy wine tasting of wood-framed red cherries and red
raspberries. A bit muscular but tannins are svelte.
Patz & Hall winery has a wine tasting salon in Napa which is available for private and seated tasting
by reservation for $35 - 85 Bordeaux Way, Suite A, Napa, 707-265-7700. The wines are available on the
winery’s website at www.patzhall.com.
2004 Domenico Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 2000 cases,
$36. Owner and winemaker Dominick Chirichille (Dominic in Italian) has an
ambitious lineup of multiple varietals he produces from his winery on the San
Francisco Peninsula. Since beginning in 2005, the winery has won multiple
awards in competitions. Grapes are sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains
and other California appellations.
Exotic woods and red fruits entice. Baking
spices, including cinnamon, and red cherries and oak lead the parade. Mildly
drying tannins characterize the finish.
Domenico Wines tasting room (open daily) and event venue is at 1697 Industrial Road in San Carlos.
The Bacchus Winemaking Club allows wine enthusiasts the ability to craft their own wine under guidance
at the winery. The websites are www.domenicowines.com and
2004 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Owner Craig Hasserot and winemaker Erich Bradley craft
this excellent Pinot Noir that has been reviewed in the PinotFile favorably in
the past. Tasting the wine in a blind lineup confirms my previous attraction
This wine has shed some weight since last tasted and is quite lovely now.
Plenty of flamboyant oak and smoke in the nose. Plush soft fruits leaning toward
the red side with cinnamon spice. Elegant in style with lively acidity on
Sojourn Cellars Pinot Noirs are sold through a mailing list at
www.sojourncellars.com. The 2005 vintage has been released.
2006 Babcock Winery &Vineyards Grand Cuvée Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.3% alc.,950 cases,
$40. Bryan Babcock has been crafting wines from his family-owned winery in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation
of Santa Barbara County since 1989. He has won many awards, including being named by the
James Beard Foundation as one of the “Top 10 Small Production Winemakers in the World.” This wine
is 85% Babcock Estate Pinot Noir, 14% Rabbit Ridge Vineyard Paso Robles Pinot Noir and 1% Syrah.
Aged for 10 months in 44% new French oak.
The aromas are very earthy, damp and funky. Delicious
cherry fruit with sidecar notes of spice and organic matter. The lively finish is very refreshing and urges
the drinker to sip on.
Babcock Winery & Vineyards wines are available on the website at www.babcockwinery.com. The
tasting room at 5175 E Hwy 246 in Lompoc is adjacent to Melville Winery. 805-736-1455. The Grand
Cuvée is nearly sold out at the winery.
2005 Flying Goat Cellars Dierberg Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 425
cases, $42. Norm Yost produces small lots of several Pinot Noirs from vineyards
in Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County. He is a true
garagiste with a small winery in the Lompoc “wine ghetto.” He has been at
it for many years, knows what he is doing, and his wines have been consistently
fine in recent years.
Nice clean mineral infused cherry fruit on the entry
which follows through to the finish. Not particularly complex but well-crafted,
harmonious and easy to drink.
Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noirs are sold through a mailing list, retail distribution, and on the website
at www.flyinggoatcellars.com. Tasting by appointment. 805-688-1814.
2005 LaZarre Hahn Estates Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 275
cases, $50. Adam LaZarre is a former Navy radar specialist who developed a fondness for wine while
in the Navy. After his college training at Fresno State, he was brought on board at Hahn Estates in 2001
to revamp and revitalize the brand. He quickly brought the Hahn Estates lineup of wines many accolades
and along with Paul Clifton, he proceeded to develop the wildly successful Rex Goliath brand
which sold to Constellation Wines for $30 million dollars. The two of them then went to work developing
the Cycles Gladiator label. LaZarre produces a small amount of two Pinot Noirs under his own
name with grapes sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard and Sierra Madre Vineyard.
Complex scents of
cherry, oak, cardamom, and iodine. Plenty of sweet and racy red Pinot fruits with plenty of lift and lively
acidity on the finish. A great food wine.
LaZarre wines are sold only to restaurants and loyal Hahn Estates customers. See write up on page 2
about Hahn Estates.
2006 Rodney Strong Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., $22 This is one
of those venerable long-standing labels you often see in the supermarket but pay little
attention to. Times have changed, and these two wines indicate that this winery is producing
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that is both distinctive and qualitatively outstanding.
Rodney Strong was among the first modern wine pioneers in the Russian River Valley,
planting his River East Vineyard in 1968. The current owner is Tom Klein. The winemakers
are Rick Seyre and Gary Patzwald and the viticulturalist is Douglas Mcilroy. This wine
is 97% Pinot Noir and 3% Syrah.
Rich, bright fruity perfume with lovely spice and cherry
flavors, an oak sidecar, and a healthy tannic backbone. This wine will benefit from more time
in the bottle.
2005 Rodney Strong Reserve Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., $45. The grapes are from a more recent planting of Pinot Noir in honor of owner Tom
A veritable spice cabinet in the nose along with crushed cherries and a hint
of toast. Nicely weighted and balanced, this easy drinker has plenty of spiced cherry, clove
and oak flavors with a tart finish.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is located at 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg (on
Highway 101 3 miles from the town of Healdsburg on Old Redwood Highway). 707-433-6521. The
wines are sold on the website, www.rodneystrong.com. A hospitality center and tasting room is open
daily, along with guided tours of the winery.
Earth Bound but Worth a Look
2005 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 475 cases, $60. Way too young
to drink now and thus still unreleased.
Tempting deep, dark fruits which are still engulfed by oak.
Plenty of earthy spirit with a citrus lift on the lingering finish.
2004 Clouds Rest Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 490
cases, $100. A lot of disagreement on this wine among tasters. Some liked it,
others scored it very low. There will be few takers at this price.
and strawberries with noticeable oak and herbs in the aromatics. Plenty of bold
fruit and oak, finishing woody and tangy.
2006 Five Rivers Winery Central Coast Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., 47,000 cases, $13. A value-play Pinot
Noir from the Brown-Forman lineup of wines. Grapes are sourced from select vineyards in Santa Barbara
County. Widely available in supermarkets. A good daily drinker.
Light in color. Confected cherry
aromas. Full Pinot fruit flavors which are a bit tart. Nice spice component. 8998 North River Road, Paso
2005 Prodigal Wines Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 275 cases, $36. The first appellation release
from this new producer.
Sexy aromatics of red Pinot fruits, violet and subtle oak spice. Elegantly
styled. Decent fruit on the attack which fades a bit on the back end. Easy to drink, just wish for more on
the finish. A producer to watch with great promise.
2005 Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
$20. A partnership formed in 1996 between Royce Lewellen and Louis Lucas, Dan
Gehrs crafts the wines from estate vineyards at a winery in Buellton.
Light in color.
Scents of barnyard and red Pinot fruits. Light and soft on the palate with lively acidity on
the finish. Understated but attractive. Showing better than last year.
2005 Mahoney Vineyards Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir
325 cases, $36. Francis Mahoney
has 35 years of experience growing grapes and making wine in Carneros.
A very sensual offering
in the glass with cherry pie and spice interest. Decent red fruits, but rather simple and lacking punch
and fullness on the mid palate. The nose trumps the flavors.