The upshot: there are now more great Pinot Noirs being made than you can shake a stick at. Pinot lovers these days feel like kids in a candy shop at venues like World of Pinot Noir. So as much for myself as for your possible interest, here are some of the highlights from that weekend in Shell Beach – all exceptional wines, worthy of a place in any wine list or cellar – out of some 150 total wines tasted, listed in rough order of my personal favorites (although I loved them all!):
2006 Failla, Vivien Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Brick red color gives little warning of the huge, sweetly intense, pure, red berry perfume in the nose, and the compact yet gentle, silken, feminine feel positively bursting at the seams with lush, viscous berry flavors, lingering endless on the palate.
2006 Pey-Marin, Trois Filles Pinot Noir (Marin County)
Extraordinary rendering of the newly explored, ultra-cold climate, coastal region between the Bay and Sonoma Coast. Color is pale, transluscent ruby, but the nose is huge – fragrant Pinot perfume laced with smoky-spicy sensations. On the palate, long, lively and silky; the bright, luscious fruit vibrant with mouth-watering acidity and restrained tannin and oak.
2007 Lane Tanner, Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
The product of a mature, intuitive winemaker who has mastered her sources. Brilliant crimsom red leading to a sweet, wild berry nose charged up with multiple, pronounced, organic spices (cinnamon, anise and fennel) against a backdrop of smoky oak. Medium-full, meaty quality to the rich, wild berry fruit on the palate, supported by firm, rounded tannin.
2006 Nevis Bluff, Central Otago Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
An intense Pinot fragrance literally jumps from the glass with beautiful sweet berry perfume, harmonized with suggestions of rose petals and charred, spiced meats. Fresh, lively, fluid yet zippy feel on the palate, framing a voluminous fruitiness wrapping around the palate like a velvet glove, underscored by moderate tannin before tapering off into a mouth-watering finish.
2007 Roessler Cellars, Griffin’s Lair Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Sourced from a colder pocket of the Sonoma Coast, centered in the Petaluma Gap, giving a juicy concentration of dried red berries beneath pure, unfettered Pinot perfumes. Velvet glove feel on the palate, accentuated by a glycerol fleshiness and moderate, compacted tannin, giving a dense, solid feel to the concentrated fruit qualities.
2007 Small Vines, MK Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Another bright, new star producer, fashioning fresh, lovely, pristine Pinots, fragrant with lush fruit and peppery, clove-like spices. On the palate, the intense, focused fruitiness is balanced on a pin – moderated body and tannin filled with deep, concentrated, velvet textured sensations, amplified by a glycerol viscosity.
2007 Small Vines, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
The “big brother” bottling of Small Vines’ MK bottling is deep, luscious, concentrated red and black berry; the perfumes enhanced by multiple spice qualities (peppermint, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger). Thick, juicy fruit qualities on the palate, undiminished by strong, youthful tannin and toasty oak, finishing with a sinewy, tobacco-like sweetness.
2006 Hitching Post, Perfect Set Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
100% from Kathy Joseph’s Fiddlestix Vineyard, Gorgeous, lacy, pure, almost ethereal Pinot and ginger spice perfumes; sweet, velvety entry, beefed up by young, blustery tannin and lively acidic snap, pumping up the juicy fruit sensations nearly wall-to-wall on the palate, and into a long, electrical finish.
2006, Alma Rosa, La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
By Richard Sanford, the original owner of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the first historical planting of Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills. La Encantada was planted in 2000, and was the first CCOF certified organic vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Gorgeous, multi-faceted black and blueberry tart-like perfumes with dark forest, underbrushy, humus-like undertones; a dense, broad yet svelte mouth-feel held together by sturdy tannin, fleshed out by luscious, almost sweet, floral, crushed berry flavors.
2006 Badge, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
By Bruno D’Alfonso (formerly of Sanford); brilliant Pinot red; deep, luscious, multi-faceted nose boasting cherry cola fruit and super-spices (smoke and Pinot pepper and mint); and on the palate, plump with glycerol textured fruit, yet broad, meaty, gripping on the palate, flashing sexy, silken fine layers over dense tannin.
2006 d’Alfonso-Curran, Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
The new collaborative label by spouses Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran (pictured above -- formerly of Sea Smoke, and now full-time with Foley Family Wines). Intensely fragrant varietal perfume layered with lightly toasted oak and suggestions of dried herb stalks; finesseful and toasty on the palate, the fruit riding on muscled tannin into a long, sweet finish.
2006 Failla, Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
Flowery fresh and airy, wild berry/rose petal perfume; rich, lively, plush with velvet layers of red berry flavors, finishing long, sweet, gently on the palate.
2007 Costa de Oro, Dijon Selection Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Tight yet floral, mildly spiced rosebud of a nose, brimming with juicy red fruit; rounded, fleshy quality on the palate, the plump flavors silky and juicy on the palate.
2005 MacPhail, Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Another new name fashioning a stable of big-time Pinots with apparent ease. Fleshy black fruit and big, beefy qualities hit both high and low, vibrant notes in the nose. On the palate, a buoyant balance of intense, silky, fragrant fruit layered with broader strokes of a slightly feral meatiness and muscular tannin; yet all wrapped up with the grape’s natural inclination towards levity and finesse.
2007 MacPhail Family, Goodin Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
The nose in this cuvée is deep and intriguing; mixing dark berries and cherry with smoky spices and earthy, truffle-lish complexities. Dense and sinewy medium sized body, filled to the top with velvet textured fruit and strong fisted tannin.
2005 Fiddlehead Cellars, Lollapalooza Pinot Noir (Fiddlestix, Sta. Rita Hills)
The crème de la crème of Kathy Joseph’s estate (Fiddlestix, where winemaker pictured above) vineyard. Brick ruby red; the nose is both floral and beef-brothy, touched by sweet, toasty oak; sinewy, medium body with a sense of feminine delicacy, yet brimming with sweet cherry/cola-like fruit and subtle sensations of roasted meat.
2006 Fiddlehead Cellars, Seven-Twenty-Eight Pinot Noir (Fiddlestix, Sta. Rita Hills)
From select blocks of the Fiddlestix Vineyard; tight, yet pure, fragrant, black cherry-like Pinot perfume, merged with peppery and smoky oak spices; fine, medium-full body, perfectly rounded tannin and glycerol adding to a plush, sculpted feel.
2006 Soter Vineyards, Mineral Springs Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon)
The second vintage from the master winemaker’s (Tony Soter) home ranch. Violet tinged ruby giving fair warning of fairly concentrated, tight, compact wild cherry fruitiness in the nose, harmonized with vanillin oak. Even better on the palate; plump and juicy in the middle, packed with well muscled tannin, and strong enough to fashion a long, sweet and intricate finish.
2006 Etude Wines, Temblor Carneros Estate Pinot Noir
Rich, bright, sweet, multi-faceted nose of wild cherry and red berries tinged with light toast and cinnamon sticks; intense, densely packed, fleshy fruit sensations on the palate, solidified by medium tannin and zippy acidity.
2006 Campion, Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands)
A densely textured, yet pronounced, curvaceous style of Pinot; the fruit, lush and fragrant in the nose, round and easy in the entry, thickened by firm tannin in the middle, yet fine and delicate in the finish.
2007 Nick Goldschmidt, Boulder Bank Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Juicy, lush, fragrant nose of red and blue berries mixed with blackcurrant cake; on the palate, the culinary feel continues with soft, round, plump, supple fruit sensations, the spices turning towards ginger and cardamom.
2006 J. Wilkes, Hillside Pinot Noir (Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley)
Very floral, pretty red fruit (cherry/raspberry) with exotic ginger/peppery spice and vanillin/minty oak; big, zesty, exuberant fruit in the entry, becoming very soft, fine and silky, finishing with a lovely, feminine, balanced feel.
2006 Sinor-La Vallee, Talley-Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir (Arroyo Grande Valley)
Deep, smoky, aggressive style, punctuated by luscious, bright, intense red berry fruitiness, folded into a medium body fleshed out by snappy acidity and moderate yet sinewy tannin.
2007 Muddy Water, Slowhand Pinot Noir (Waipara, New Zealand)
Very pretty, pure, sweet and airy Pinot perfume harmonized with low-key oak and slightly feral, wild, earthy notes, with a light layering of evergreenish underbrush. On the palate, round and luscious; the fruit manifested in red and blue berry sensations, zipped by lively, snappy acidity. Very varietal, and very “New Zealand” at the same time.
2007 Dierberg Vineyard, Steven’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Unusual (for Pinot), purplish ruby cast, signaling a big, thick, dense house style. Nose of sweet, concentrated fruit and oak, pepper, cinnamon and even celery spices; aggressive fruit and tannin, still nicely tucked into round, fleshy, smooth textures
2006 Dierberg Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Glistening, dark ruby red leading to slightly toasty, kitchen spice inundated nose enveloping sweet, crushed berry aromas; the rich, spicy, smoky qualities continuing on the palate, hitting it full-on with a rich, luscious, brimming, hedonistic feel.
2006 Mount Eden Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Brick ruby, understating a pure, pungent, smoky, generously spiced Pinot fruitiness that follows; medium-full, plump and pliant on the palate; the fruit, fleshy, silken, and balanced, before finishing soft and easy.
2006 Le Fenêtre, Le Bon Climat Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
This Pinot does not take a gentle approach, but rather a big, broad, aggressive tannin laden style. Yet the solidity lends a fine contrast to a ripe, lush, bright, fragrant fruitiness, with smoky spices extracted from both fruit and oak.
2006 Chehalem, Oregon Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley)
This cuvée formerly called Rion Reserve; bright, clear ruby and fine, lush mix of red and black berry aromas; fleshy feel supported by firm, well muscled tannin, sporting fresh, brambly wild berry flavors, long and velvety on the palate.
2007 MacPhail Family, Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)
(Winemaker/proprietor James MacPhail pictured above). Pale burgundy red followed by lush, ripe varietal fruit spiced with black pepper, clove and sweet oak. Big (for Pinot), brawny, chewy, rather rough hewn on the palate; these untamed qualities (pretty much the story of Anderson Valley style Pinots) more than compensated by the aggressively spiced, ripe, sweet varietal fruitiness.
2007 Foley Family, Barrel Select Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
Shy but sweet strawberry fragrance with smoky oak and tea-like nuances; velvet textured, mouth-watering red berry flavors , finishing long, sweet, gentle.
2007 Cargasacchi, Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Deep ruby color, and even deeper, plummy, smoky, spicy nose, exuding cherry cola-like Sta. Rita Hills style fruitiness; fat, round qualities on the palate, the fruit lush and juicy, supported by firm yet unobtrusive tannin.
2007 Belle Glos, Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Intense, perfumed nose of red berry and cherry, touched up with light toast; long, silky, fine, medium-full sensations with a light acidic smack.
2007 Pali Wine Co., Keefer Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
Smoky, aggressive style – woodsy, roasted, meaty sensations complimenting plummy red berryish Pinot fruit. Broad, full, rounded feel; sturdy tannin and aggressive oak wrapped around a plump, generous fruitiness.
2006 Flying Goat, Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
Sweet, ripe, spiced (like cinnamon dusting) strawberry/raspberry nose; the fresh, flowery, red berry qualities following up in a fine, silky/lacy feel perked up by zippy acidity, sticking to the palate in a long, lively finish.
2006 Jim Ball, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Seemingly typical of the Anderson Valley Pinots, an emphatic, aggressive nose, exuding black and red berries mingling with smoky oak spices; energetic acidity pushing up luscious fruit wrapped in toasty/smoky oak, underpinned by firming tannin.
2007 Chamisal, Edna Valley Pinot Noir
From the winery formerly known as Domaine Alfred (re photo of winemaker Fintan du Fresne below) -- bright, focused perfume of red berry/cherry cola, tight grained vanillin oak, and flowery, almost Syrah-like violet notes. Soft, velvety entry into medium weight body; the plush qualities spiced with chocolate and roasted coffee beans, overriding young, narrowing tannins.