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2003 Belle Glos "Clark & Telephone Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, CA

belle.glos.jpgSo let's say you're a winemaker. You have a winery. You've been making Cabernet for maybe 50 years. You've made a lot of it. You've won a lot of awards. You made more Cabernet. You've made so much Cabernet, for so many years that your name is nearly synonymous with Napa Cabernet. What happens, then, when one day you want to make Pinot Noir? In 2001 Chuck Wagner faced this precise problem. Caymus Pinot just doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Caymus Cab, now does it?

In reality the owner and winemaker for Caymus Vineyards has always had a secret thing for Pinot Noir. Wagner even grew Pinot in Rutherford (of all places) for several years, and made small batches of it under other labels, as well as several prominent bottlings under the Caymus label in the 1960's, all the while selling most of the fruit off to other wineries. During the last 20 years apparently he also acquired about 150 acres near Santa Barbara as well as some recent contracts for grapes in the Sonoma Coast. In 2001 he got serious about Pinot and started the Belle Glos label, named after his mother Lorna Belle Glos-Wagner.

The vineyards that Wagner purchased contain some of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the state, and many acres are on their original rootstock. The yields produced by these vines are naturally low, and they are further reduced by careful pruning and training. For the 2003 vintage, yields were just over one ton per acre, and the fruit so spectacular that Wagner decided to name the vineyard distinctively and produce a single vineyard bottling from it. The vines sit at the intersection of Clark Road and Telegraph Road.

Since 2002, Joseph Wagner, Chuck's son, has been the winemaker and general proprietor of the Belle Glos label, with some assistance from John Bolta who currently makes Conundrum.

This wine was fermented using three different strains of yeast, and some lots of grapes were given extended maceration while others were pressed immediately. It was aged in French oak with approximately 60% of it new and 40% used three times. I am unsure of the case production on this wine, but I get the feeling it is low.

And why is that? Perhaps because of one of the distinctive features of the wine, which is the Maker's Mark-style dipped wax capsule which covers the neck of the bottle. This sexy little feature makes for quite a striking profile on the shelf or in the rack. However, it is also a perfect treat for any sommelier you might despise or for a houseguest whose fingertips you would enjoy seeing sliced off onto your dining room floor. Trying to cut through that thick red wax to get to the cork was incredibly annoying and difficult, not to mention dangerous. I had to resort to a rather sharp knife when the blade on my waiter's corkscrew wouldn't do it, and felt several times like I was about to slip and draw my own blood.

Note to winemaker: Cool concept. Pain in the ass execution.

Tasting Notes:
A light cinnabar color in the glass, this wine has a very pretty, high toned nose of cranberry, orange mulling spices, and ginger. In the mouth it has a very nice, silky mouthfeel, excellent acid balance, and very spicy flavors of pomegranate, cinnamon, rosehips. I go hints of cloves and black pepper on the finish, which was decent. While the flavors were excellent the wine lacked a little bit of complexity and depth that I would have liked. Perhaps these will develop more over time, as this is a young Pinot which will no doubt improve with some bottle age.

Food Pairing:
The spiciness of this wine makes it well suited to contrast with sweeter mellower flavors. It would be a great complement to Cindy Pawlcyn's Mongolian Pork Chops.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $34

This wine is readily available for purchase online.

Comments (13)

Noah wrote:
10.12.05 at 7:18 AM

Nice review Alder. This particular pinot was a little too "big" for me when I tasted it a few months back.

Next time you get a wax closure try holding a candle directly under the top of the bottle. It will soften the wax (don't do it too long)and it will come right off. Easy-peasy.

Alder wrote:
10.12.05 at 8:11 AM

Ah. Good trick. Should have thought of that myself. Maybe if I had been to sommelier school I would have learned that one.

beau wrote:
10.12.05 at 9:23 AM

Alder - had to laugh at your wax comments.  I tried Belle Glos' Oeil de Perdrix rosé a few months ago and damn near sliced my hand/finger/arm off.  I plan to give this Pinot a try as I was mighty impressed with BG's rosé.

Bill Wilson wrote:
10.12.05 at 9:26 AM

Great review! We were able to sample this wine during our recent trip to the 2005 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Disney World. My wife and I were both enchanted by this wine, and I agree it will be very interesting to see how it evolves over time.

Now I need to go hunt some down from a local seller.

Geoff Smith wrote:
10.12.05 at 11:43 AM

Just a technical point in viticulture. I'm not sure what you mean by 'original rootstock.' Oftentimes, wine writers use this term in describing ungrafted vines, when they should say "ungrafted" or "own-rooted" vines----or, as grape-growers frequently say, 'vines on their own feet.'
Rootstock, technically speaking, only applies to the American or American-hybrid vitis which the vitis vinifera (European) is grafted on. This rootstock forms the root system. In the old days, grapegrowers frequently used 'St George' rootstock, which is technically a selection of vitis rupestris. Then, in the 60's and 70's vineyards were frequently established using 'A X R' rootstock, which stood for a French-American hybrid of Aramon and vitis rupestris. Nowadays, of course, there are dozens of "rootstocks" available, with such sexy names as 3309, SO-4, etc.



Alder wrote:
10.12.05 at 11:48 AM


Thanks for the requested clarification. These are "own-rooted," "ungrafted" vines.

benton wrote:
10.20.05 at 11:55 AM

I just cork it through the wax. You don't need to cut the wax as the cork will pass right through it.

chefdillon wrote:
10.24.05 at 8:42 PM

FYI - Belle Glos has listened to the 'inconveinent' wax topper and difficultly opening the bottle, especially tableside for waitstaff. What they have done is two fold: on the Rose (if you're luck enough to still find any) is to place a small 'ripcord' around the top of the bottle just below the first ridge where you would normally cut the foil. If you see a little tab, grab it and pull and a small bit of very stong packing like tape will peel a line right around the neck and the top of the wax will come right off. On the Pinot Noirs, there is a hard capsule under the top of the wax above the cork. Send the worm of your corkscrew directly through the wax and into the cork. With a bit more effort than a regular cork (think an extra long Barolo cork) you should be able to pop the cork and the top of the wax right off. Hopefully this help avoid and injuries. But remember, anything worth having is worth working for, it will just taste that much better!



Sean wrote:
10.30.05 at 3:41 AM

I couldn't agree more.

Mike wrote:
12.13.05 at 10:41 PM

The cork pulls the wax through, not a big deal..
And new bottles all have the ripcord thing...
Fantastic wine!!

Dian wrote:
07.21.07 at 2:22 PM

I love this wine and the new "pull tab" makes removal of the wax very easy.

Alder wrote:
07.21.07 at 4:35 PM

I completely agree. Love the new pull tabs.

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