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2001 Whitcraft "Bien Nacido N Block" Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California

Chris Whitcraft is not subtle. "This is the best Pinot Noir in California," he said, as he poured my glass. While I'm not willing to make the same claim, I will say that the wine I tried reflects some of his brash confidence. Thankfully, that confidence is lacking in arrogance, and is just the way that Whitcraft operates -- he's an ordinary guy who is one hundred percent passionate about what he does. If you want to get a sense of his personality, you need go no further than his newsletters, which are honest and lacking in all pretense.

Whitcraft Winery is the seemingly inevitable outcome of a career that Chris has spent in the winery business, first as a retailer, then journalist, then producer, and now vintner. For nearly 20 years, Whitcraft has been weaving his way through the California wine industry, and the relationships that he has built in the process seem to be serving him in good stead. He currently sources grapes from several top-tier vineyards including Bien Nacido, French Camp, Hirsch Vineyards and Melville among others. He's on his fourth or fifth vintage now, and going strong.

Whitcraft's passion is for single vineyard, small-lot Pinot Noir, but he also produces a Chardonnay as well as a Lagrein -- a dark, rich, red varietal I hadn't heard of until Chris introduced me to it.

All of his wines are treated with an old world delicacy and attention that is admirable:

"All of the reds and most of the whites are never fined, filtered or pumped and the smallest amount possible of sulfur is used. No other chemicals, other than natural yeast and, if necessary, natural acids are used. This requires a much larger effort than most other wineries are willing to do. We don't even use electricity unless absolutely required."

This old world, tradition-rich mentality is to a certain extent reflected in the wines, which are a fusion of both traditional Burgundy character and new world fruit.

Tasting Notes:
Bright ruby in color, this wine has a dusty nose with scents of earth and just the slightest touch of farmyard aroma that drifts over some hints of the red fruit to come. In the mouth it is less restrained than you would have expected with that nose -- ripe strawberry and raspberry flavors dominate the palate -- extracted but not entirely over the top, tapering to a nice finish.

Food Pairing:
Try this one with a slow roasted pork shoulder.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $30

This wine can be found at K&L as well as several other retailers and restaurants on the west coast.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud