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06.29.2005

California's Best Pinot Noirs?: I'm Still Recovering From Pinot Days

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Don't think you'd ever get tired of drinking Pinot Noir? Try tasting 200 of them on a single day. I attended the First Annual Pinot Days Festival in San Francisco last Saturday and I'm still recovering.

This festival is actually a long time in coming. Several varietals have had their own trade organizations and tasting events for years (Zinfandel - ZAP, Petite Sirah - P.S. I Love You, Cabernet - The Cabernet Society, Rhone Varietals - Rhone Rangers and Hospice du Rhone, etc.) but Pinot has languished with inattention from a big budget tasting event perspective.

No longer.

The folks at the Bay Area Wine Project along with some Bay Area winemakers and Pinot Aficionados put together a full weekend of events celebrating Pinot Noir, with a special focus on California (though as you will see below, there was some representation from Burgundy and Oregon, albeit limited).

Held at Fort Mason in San Francisco, like most of the major public and trade tastings in the area, over 100 producers and a few importers showed up to pour their current wines as well as barrel samples from recent vintages.

The event itself was relatively well put together, and was thankfully not the oversubscribed, howling mass that characterizes ZAP these days. Both winemakers and attendees were unhurried and relaxed, except for a few winemakers who were choosing this event to publicly debut their wines.

Overall, I have to say that the quality of the wines was extremely high. In my tasting report below, I've left off the wines that scored below an 8.5 on my 10 point scale simply because there were so many at 8.5 and higher that it didn't make sense to include them. Having said that, however, there were no wines that broke the 9.5 barrier for me and came close to being a 10. This may be a result of the sheer number of wines I tasted (I haven't counted, but I'm guessing it's somewhere near 200) but I'm fairly confident that while there were a number of outstanding wines, I didn't taste one among the group that rose to the 10 point level.

My other observation is that prices are most certainly going up for California Pinots. Again, I haven't made a calculation, but I'd guess that the average bottle price at this tasting was probably around $30, with the most expensive over $80. That's pretty steep, especially when you compare it to Zinfandel or Rhone blends, though still behind Cabernet.

Overall, there are some fantastic wines here, and a number that are great values. I hope my notes are useful.


TASTING REPORT:
All wines are Pinot Noir and from California unless otherwise noted.

2004 A.P. Vin "Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Maria Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2000 Joseph Swan "Trenton Estate," Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Joseph Swan "Cuvee de Trois," Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Kosta Browne Winery "Kanzler Vineyard" Barrel Sample. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Kosta Browne Winery "Amber Ridge Vineyard" Barrel Sample. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Kosta Browne Winery "Cohn Vineyard" Barrel Sample. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Rex Hill, "Maresh Vineyard," Oregon. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Papapietro Perry Winery, Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.


2004 A.P. Vin "Rosella's Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Brogan Cellars, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2001 Calera Wine Company, Central Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Capiaux Cellars, "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Eric Kent Wine Cellars "Stiling Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Kosta Browne Winery, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Kosta Browne Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2001 Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $85.
2002 Joseph Swan "Trenton Estate," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Keller Estate "La Cruz Vineyard - Block 4" Barrel Sample, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Loring Wine Company "Garys' Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Domaine Arloud "Les Ruchots" 1er Cru Morey St. Denis, Burgundy, France. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Domaine Serene "Evenstad Reserve," Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Patton Valley Vineyards, Oregon. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Papapietro Perry Winery "Peter's Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Papapietro Perry Winery "Leras Family Vineyards," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.

2003 Patz & Hall Wine Company "Hyde Vineyard" Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2002 Patz & Hall Wine Company "Alder Springs," Mendocino County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Porter Creek Vineyards "Fiona Hill Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Roessler Cellars "Sangiacamo Vineyard," Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Skewis Wines "Bush Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $42.
2001 Talisman Cellars "Thorn Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Tantara Winery "Dierberg," Santa Maria Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Tantara Winery "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Higlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Woodenhead "Buena Tierra Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $46.
2002 Woodenhead "Elk Prarie Vineyard," Humboldt County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.


2004 A.P. Vin "Gary's Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2001 Arcadian Winery "Sleepy Hollow Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2003 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $39.
2004 August West "Rosella's" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2001 Calera Wine Company, "Jensen Vineyard," Mt. Harlan. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Calera Wine Company, "Ryan Vineyard," Mt. Harlan. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2000 Calera Wine Company, "Mills Vineyard," Mt. Harlan. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
1998 Calera Wine Company, "Selleck Vineyard," Mt. Harlan. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Capiaux Cellars, "Widdoes Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Capiaux Cellars, "Widdoes Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2003 Capiaux Cellars, "Chimera." Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2004 Capiaux Cellars, "Freestone Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Casa Vincola "Tayerle," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $24.
2003 Chasseur, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Clos Saron "Pinot Too," Sierra Foothills/North Yuba. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2003 Domaine Alfred, San Luis Obispo. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Domaine Alfred "Califa," San Luis Obispo. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Eric Kent Wine Cellars "Stiling Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/. Cost: $??.
2002 Goldeneye Winery (Duckhorn), Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2000 Gryphon Wines "Reserve," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Gryphon Wines "Reserve," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $88.
2001 Hartford Family Winery, "Seascape Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2001 Hartford Family Winery, "Velvet Sisters Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 J. Wilkes "Bien Nacido Vineyard" Santa Barbara County. Score: 9. Cost: $50.
2001 Joseph Swan "Saralee's Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Keller Estate "La Cruz Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2004 Loring Wine Company "Rosella's Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 MacPhail Family Wines "Toulouse Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2003 Morgan Winery "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2002 Nicholson Ranch Winery "Cactus Hill Reserve," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Nicholson Ranch Winery, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Frederic Magnien "Les Suchots" 1er Cru Romanee, Burgundy, France. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2003 Vincent Dureuill "Vielles Vignes" Rully, Burgundy, France. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Domaine Serene "Jersualem Hill Vineyard," Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Lachini Family Estate "Lachini," Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 9. Cost: $36.
2001 Freja Cellars "Winemakers Reserve," Willamette Valley, Oregon.Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Toulouse Vineyards "Estate," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2001 Truchard Vineyards, Carneros. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Vision Cellars"Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Woodenhead "Wiley Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2002 Papapietro Perry Winery, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Porter Creek Vineyards "Fiona Hill Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $28.
2002 Porter Creek Vineyards "Hillside Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $55.
2003 Roessler Cellars "Savoy Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Siduri "Vander Kamp Vineyard," Sonoma Mountain. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2002 Skewis Wines "Floodgate Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2002 Skewis Wines "Montgomery Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2002 Tandem Winery "Auction Blocl" Barrel Sample. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Tantara Winery "Bien Nacido Adobe," Santa Maria Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.


2004 Alfaro Family Vineyards Estate Barrel Sample. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $39.
2001 Arcadian Winery "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $50.
2003 August West "Rosella's," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 August West "Graham Family Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Bouchaine Vineyards, Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 Brogan Cellars "Helio Dorio" Barrel Sample, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $75.
2004 Brogan Cellars "Summa Young Vines" Barrel Sample, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Byron Vineyard & Winery, Santa Maria Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Casa Vincola "Tayerle," Las Brisas Vinyard, Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $24.
2003 Chasseur, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2004 Clos Saron "Home Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Sierra Foothills/North Yuba. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2004 Dain Wines "Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Mendocino County. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Dutch Bill Creek Winery, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Dutton-Goldfield Winery "McDougall Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $48.
2003 Eno Wines "Fairview Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2004 Eno Wines "Fairview Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2002 Failla Winery "Hirsch Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $48.
2002 Gryphon Wines, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Gryphon Wines "Reserve," Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2001 Hartford Family Winery, "Sevens Bench Vineyard," Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2000 Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $88.
2002 J. Wilkes "Bien Nacido Vineyard" Santa Barbara County. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $50.
2002 MacPhail Family Wines "Toulouse Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2003 Marguerite Ryan Cellars "Silacci Vineyard," Monterey. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Marguerite Ryan Cellars "Peay Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2001 Marimar Torres Estate "Don Miguel Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2001 Marimar Torres Estate "Christina." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Mon Lis "Sleepy Hollow Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Morgan Winery "Rosella's Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2002 Nicholson Ranch Winery "Estate," Sonoma. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Murdoch James "Blue Rock," Martinborough, New Zealand. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Stoller Vineyards "Chehalem," Dundee Hills, Oregon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2003 Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Patz & Hall Wine Company, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $33.
2003 Perbacco Cellars, Arroyo Grande Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2002 Perbacco Cellars "Barrel Select Dionysus", Arroyo Grande Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2003 Roessler Cellars "Las Brisas," Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2001 Saintsbury "Reserve", Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch," Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Siduri "Hawk's View Vineyard," Oregon. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Siduri "Pisoni Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2001 Talisman Cellars, Russian River. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Tandem Winery "Keefer Ranch." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Testarossa Vineyards "Sleepy Hollow Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Testarossa Vineyards "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Toulouse Vineyards "Estate," Anderson Valley. 1st vintage. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Vision Cellars "Rosella's VIneyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Woodenhead, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.


2004 Alfaro Family Vineyards "Gary's Vineyard" Barrel Sample. Score: 8.5. Cost: $39.
2003 Martin Alfaro, "Schultze Vineyard", Santa Crus Mountains. Score: 8.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Ampelos Cellars, Santa Rita Hills. First vintage, 85 cases made. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2001 Arcadian Winery "Pisoni Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $75.
2002 Arcadian Winery "Fiddlestix Vineyard," Santa Rita Hills. Score: 8.5. Cost: $50.
2002 Arcadian Winery "Dierberg Vineyard," Santa Maria Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $50.
2003 ROAR "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Buchli Station (Bouchaine), Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Byron Vineyard & Winery "Nielson Vineyard," Santa Maria Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Casa Vincola "Tayerle," Las Brisas Vinyard, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2003 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County. Score: 8.5. Cost: $19.
2002 Chateau St. Jean "Durrell Vineyard," Sonoma Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Clos Saron "Home Vineyard," Sierra Foothills/North Yuba. Score: 8.5. Cost: $45.
2002 Copeland Creek, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Copeland Creek, Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Dain Wines "Alder Springs" Barrel Sample, Mendocino County. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Davis Bynum "Bynum and Moshin Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Dutton-Goldfield Winery "Dutton Ranch," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $35.
2003 Dutton-Goldfield Winery "Sanchietti Vineyard," Russian River Valley/Green Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $35.
2001 Elkhorn Peak Cellars, "Estate - Jamieseon Canyon," Napa Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $30.
1999 Elkhorn Peak Cellars, "Estate - Jamieseon Canyon," Napa Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $30.
2002 Eliott Family Cellars "TR Elliott - Queste." Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Eliott Family Cellars "TR Elliott - Queste." Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Eno Wines "Presumed Innocent" Morelli Lane Vineyards, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $25.
2002 Esterlina Winery (Sterling), Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Esterlina Winery (Sterling), Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Failla Winery "Keefer Ranch" Barrel Sample, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $42.
2001 Fort Ross Vineyard "FRV." Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Gundlach Bundschu Winery "Rhinefarm Vineyard," Sonoma Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Hamel Wines "Campbell Ranch - Annapolis," Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5. Cost: $28.
2003 J. Wilkes "Val-Foss Vineyards" Napa Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $27.
2003 Kingston Family Vineyards "Alazan," Casablanca Valley, Chile. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Brian Kosuge Wines, "The Shop Vineyard" Barrel Sample, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Morgan Winery "Twelve Clones," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $25.
2003 Morgan Winery "Double L Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Mahoney Vineyards "Las Brisas," Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Nicholson Ranch Winery "Estate," Sonoma. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Domaine Delarche Grand Cru Corton Renardes , Burgundy, France. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Lange Winery, Willamette Vallet, Oregon. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Rex Hill "Dundee Hills Cuvee," Oregon. Score: 8.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Shea Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 8.5. Cost: $47.
2003 Elk Cove Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2001 Hamacher Wines, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Old World Winery "Laughlin Valley," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Old World Winery "Powerhouse Vineyard," Potter Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Old World Winery "Windsor Gardens," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Paraiso Vineyards "Paraiso," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $28.
2004 Point Concepcion Wines "Cargasacchi Vineyards," Santa Rita Hills. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Roessler Cellars "Red Label," Sonoma County. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Saintsbury, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Siduri "Keefer Ranch Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Siduri Barrel Sample, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Skewis Wines "Salzgeber Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $40.
2003 Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, Central Coast. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Talisman Cellars "Truchard Vineyard," Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Tandem Winery "Sangiacomo Vineyard," Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Truchard Vineyards, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2000 Tudor Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $35.
2003 Tudor Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Vision Cellars, Sonoma. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Whetstone Wine Cellars "Hirsch Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Tantara Winery "Rio Vista," Santa Rita Hills. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.

Comments (17)

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.30.05 at 4:21 AM

Wow. What heroism in the face of duty.

I'm sure it's all a blur, but did you get a general sense of what areas were consistently better or what styles were more successful?

Lenn wrote:
06.30.05 at 6:53 AM

Aww...poor baby had to taste all that pinot.

Everyone, let's have a pity party for Alder :)

Seriously though...I always appreciate your round-ups of these things. It takes a dedicated wino to give scores to so many wines.

What was the lowest score you gave for the day?

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 8:07 AM

I know. I know. I expect no pity. :-)

There were a few 7's in the bunch and a bunch of 8s. Nothing dropped below that.

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 8:22 AM

Terry,

Good question, and something I should have thought to include in my summary above had I thought about it.

For my money, most of the the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley appellations produce the most consistently great wines, and the largest quantity of them. However, because these are big areas there are also a lot of wines that come from there that are just OK. However, find a good producer, who you know get's good grapes, and their RRV or SC Pinots in 02,03, and 04 will be a good bet.

I think these represent my favorite styles as well -- classically cool climate with cranberry, pomegranate, and red currant being the dominant flavor profiles with the most successful wines having a hint of earthy tea or exotic spices, some tannin, and a good backbone of acidity.

The other area that is pretty consistent in quality (but fairly diverse in stylistic interpretation) is the Santa Lucia Highlands -- a much smaller area with great fruit. Some people make some huge, powerful wines from this area -- thick, brooding, fruit saturated wines that when done well have an amazing depth and power that is only possible in California Pinot Noir (and generally not desired by people who are Burgundy fans) and can be done well (e.g. A.P. Vin and Kosta Browne) but also can easily get to the point of being Syrupy nasty. I think only a few people have really nailed this region well.

The most inconsistent California Pinot region for me is the Anderson Valley. I've had some fantastic wines from this area, but they are much more infrequent than other appellations. Mostly I seem to find astringent, slightly bitter wines here, or on the other end of the spectrum, wines that are soft and fleshy with some good fruit, but without proper structure.

Anyhow. Hope that helps.

Ryan wrote:
06.30.05 at 9:21 AM

After a quick 'scan' I only noticed one Santa Rita Hills wine, and no other wines from the Santa Barbara area. Were the Santa Rita & Santa Ynez appellations not represented at the event or did their wines simply not make the cut?

After the Sideways effect you'd think they would be quite interested in keeping the interest level high, so I'm curious to know if many showed up. I recently returned from the region and found a few great Pinots down there, though many wineries are sold out, including Melville who claimed they sold out of all Pinots in 72 hours. How ridiculous!

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 9:26 AM

Ryan,

Good question. There were a few wines from that area, but certainly most of the producers were not represented. The pinots on offer were mostly Monterey and north. A couple from San Luis Obispo area.

Anonymous wrote:
06.30.05 at 9:37 AM

Alder:

Thanks for the excellent review. I stayed away, anticipating ZAP-like mobs. Anyway, at the risk of retreading something you've already covered here, is it my imagination, or is the California wine market becoming increasing overpriced, out-of-proportion to the indicies that measure wine pricing or global markets? I subscribe to QPR, so I see the disparity in terms of price to quality. Generally, I don't know a damn thing about wine prices, but I'm increasingly astonished at the prices in California. With Pinot Noir, I guess it's harder to make, which could justify the higher prices, but that doesn't explain overpriced Chardonnay. Thoughts? In the meantime, I'm partial to better deals in France, Spain and Italy.

--Rob

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.30.05 at 10:30 AM

Rob, I am with you 100% on that one. Excellent point. As a teacher, my ability to buy anything that strikes my fancy is quite limited. Which is why I am so into the southern Italian indigenous wines, which are usually (not always) a great value.

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 10:46 AM

Rob,

No doubt. Pinot is now joining Cabernet in the "Hard to find a really good one in California under $20" category. There are a few, however. The Keller Estate, Swan, Domaine Alfred, and Saintsbury are all in that range, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Even despite the exchange rate, there are definitely values to be had in Italy and Sicily as well as the south of France. And don't forget Germany and Austria! Some of their wines are INCREDIBLE values, mostly because American's know nothing about them.

Terry Hughes wrote:
06.30.05 at 10:55 AM

Alder, thanks for the sound bites. Helpful to someone who lives far from the scene.

As to not including the summary the first time, I'm impressed that you had the energy to write the review at all! Ah youth...

Rob wrote:
06.30.05 at 11:07 AM

Thanks to and your readers for tips and concurrence. I have tried the Saintsbury, and enjoyed it very much. Hopefully, market demand for quality at reasonable prices will begin to kick-in as it does in other markets. But I sense it probably won't in California, for reasons I'm at a loss to explain.

Fatemeh wrote:
06.30.05 at 12:34 PM

I really wanted to attend Pinot Days, but found myself really not interested in battling the crowds. Hindsight being 20/20, this probably would have been the year to go.

This is a great round-up, and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Sta Lucia bottlings on your list. It's a region that holds a whole lot of potential, but it seems to churn out a lot of "hot" and overextracted wines.

Like you, I generally prefer the cooler climate CA pinots; if I want a big, inky, spicy wine, it's a zinfandel I'm reaching for.

Jack wrote:
06.30.05 at 2:19 PM

Pinot Days Crowds? It did sell out - amazing for a first-time event. But only late in the day was there even one crowded spot; it was definitely not like Zap, RhoneRangers or Family Winemakers where you have to fight at times to get a taste of something.

In general, I was quite happy with the quality of the 130 wines I tasted that day (yes, Alder is the Uber-taster compared to me). Was it just me or did alcohol levels finally begin to recede - I was pleasantly surprised at finding very few Zin-like pinots.

I do have to say that a few too many of the wines were too similar, nor, like, Alder, did I taste anything extraordinary. But I have to say, I like pinot aged and these guys were mostly babies.

It was a great event, all-in-all!

jeff wrote:
06.30.05 at 2:45 PM

great post, alder. i was happy to see j. swan do so well. at $20, the cuvee du trois is a bargain year after year...at least, relative to the rest of the rrv. the tasting room is worth checking out if you haven't. it's a glorified shed -- a real throwback -- and the tasting bar is often manned by the winemaker, when he's not driving the forklift. you also cited a couple tandem wines. I think it's an up and comer. the keefer ranch releases have been pretty special.

Alder wrote:
06.30.05 at 2:50 PM

Jeff,

Glad you liked it. I completely agree about the Swan Cuvee De Trois. Amazing value there. I love Tandem's stuff as well but it's a little more pricey.

enoch choi wrote:
06.30.05 at 10:33 PM

great job!

10.14.14 at 8:34 AM

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