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12.10.2005

Sonoma's Best Pinot Noir: Highlights From Pinot on The River 2005

pinot.festival.logo.jpgBetter late than never, isn't that what they say? I attended the Pinot on The River event over a month ago (October 20-30, 2005), but my schedule has prevented me from writing anything up about it until now. If only I didn't have to work for a living. In any case, here's my report from what continues to be one of California's best wine tasting events.

Last year's event, the debut of this weekend festival of Pinot Noir held in the sleepy town of Guerneville on the Russian River, was a joy to attend. Fabulous weather, a low key atmosphere, and a manageable number of wineries pouring made for an altogether perfect tasting experience. This year, the weather was just as good, and the atmosphere remained low key, but the number of wineries pouring their stuff nearly doubled as did the number of attendees, making for a bit more of a crush in the tasting tent. My sense is that the event suffered from its own success the previous year, and was perhaps overly ambitious, especially for the small space in which it was held.

Despite the crowding and the massive number of wines (really only taxing for the folks like me who try to taste nearly everything) this tasting continued to maintain its standard of exceptionally high quality wines. Whether this is because Sonoma County wines continue to improve in quality (there were plenty of non-Sonoma wines there, as well) or more likely because of the wineries that choose to pour at such an event, I was very impressed with the wines as a whole in terms of their quality. Many people were pouring 2003 wines, and I think it's safe to say without qualification that it is a great vintage for Northern Californian Pinot Noir.

Perhaps related to the quality of the grapes, and in particular the rising cost of Pinot for those winemakers who buy grapes on contract from growers, the prices for these wines continue to rise steeply. I haven't thrown the wine notes below into excel to verify this scientifically, but I'd say the average price per bottle at this tasting was about $40. Forty Bucks!! At those prices, it seems that just like Napa Cabernet, really good California Pinot Noir is now the domain of collectors and wealthy wine aficionados only. The mainstream wine drinking public will have to content itself with either mass produced wines, lower quality wines from second-tier producers, or wines made from blends of excess wine purchased on the market.

As someone who loves California Pinot Noir, this is really quite sad, not only because it means I end up drinking less of it than I would like, but also because it means that just like Burgundy, most people won't often (or ever) get a chance to taste the best wines. With any luck, someone will make another wine movie where the main character likes Sauvignon Blanc, and then Pinot prices will fall back to earth eventually.

Since I'm way behind on writing up this event, I've transcribed my scores only for wines that scored higher than 8.5/9 on my scale. All wines are Pinot Noir unless otherwise noted. Because most of the prices were so high, I've also called out the wines which I believe represent the best values at the tasting.

Enjoy.


TOP VALUES:
2003 Moshin "Barrel Select," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Moshin "Lot 4," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Vision Cellars, Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Porter Creek "Fiona Hill Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Woodenhead "Humboldt," Mendocino County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Chasseur, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2001 Windward, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.


TOP WINES:
2003 DuNah, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Arista "Toboni Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Failla "Hirsch Vineyard" , Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $48.
2004 Halleck "Three Sons." Score: 9.5. Cost: $38.
2003 Kosta Browne "Koplen Vineyard" Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Merry Edwards "Meredith Estate Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $48.
2003 Peay "Estate," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Papapietro Perry "Pommard Clone," Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Woodenhead "Wiley Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.

2003 Chasseur, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2002 Arcadian "Dierburg Vineyard," Santa Maria Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Arista "Harper's Rest," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2001 Dutton Goldfield "McDougal," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $48.
2003 Domaine Alfred "Califa," Edna Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2002 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Reserve, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2000 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $42.
2003 Testarossa "Garys' Vineyard." Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $54.
2003 Moshin "Lot 4," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2004 Vision Cellars "Cole Ranch," Mendocino. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $65.
2003 Vision Cellars, Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Moshin "Barrel Select," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Tandem "Auction Block," Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: Not for sale.
2004 Tandem "Keefer Ranch," Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $42.
2004 Alcina Cellars, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2004 Alcina Cellars "Sangiacomo Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $48.
2004 A.P. Vin "Garys' Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2001 Windward, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Porter Creek "Fiona Hill Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $28.
2003 Porter Creek "Creekside," Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Papapietro Perry, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Woodenhead "Humboldt," Mendocino County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2001 Marimar Torres "Don Miguel Estate." Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $47.
2003 Macrostie "Wildcat Mountain Vineyard," Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $39.
2002 Robert Hunter, Sonoma Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.

2002 Dutton Goldfield "McDougal," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $52.
2003 Dutton Goldfield "Dutton-Sanchietti Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $52.
2004 Freeman "Keefer Ranch" Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2003 Lost Canyon "Saralee's Vineyard" Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2003 Halleck "Estate." Score: 9. Cost: $58.
2001 Arcadian "Pisoni Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $75.
2002 Arcadian "Sleepy Hollow Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Chasseur, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2002 DuNah "Sangiacomo Vineyard," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2004 Loring Wine Company "Keefer Ranch," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2003 D'Argenzio . Score: 9. Cost: $36.
2003 Copeland Creek, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2004 Copeland Creek "828 Clone" (Barrel Sample) Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 De La Montanya "Christiana's Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $32.
2003 Tandem "Keefer Ranch," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2002 Tandem "Sangiacomo Vineyard," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2002 Arcadian "Pisoni Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9. Cost: $75.
2003 Inman Family "Olivet Grange." Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2003 Russian Hill "Meredith Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Vergari, Sonoma Mountain. Score: 9. Cost: $39.
2002 Skewis "Bush Vineyard" Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2001 Hanzell Sonoma Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $85.
2003 Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $50.
2003 Testarossa "Palazzio." Score: 9. Cost: $32.
2004 Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2004 Williamson, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2003 Williamson "Red Cuvee," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2003 Macphail "Sangiacomo Vineyard," Sonoma Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2002 Robert Hunter, Sonoma Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2004 Pellegrini "Olivet Lane," Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $24.
2003 Porter Creek "Reserve," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $60.
2003 Porter Creek "Hillside," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $60.
2003 Papapietro Perry "Peter Vineyard," Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Windward, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2002 Windward, Paso Robles. Score: 9. Cost: $30.

2003 Domaine Chandon "Renal Road," Sonoma. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2002 Fort Ross "Fort Ross Vineyard" Sonoma Coast. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2004 Freeman "Akiko's Cuvee." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2004 Freeman Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2004 De La Montanya, Pinot Meunier / Pinot blend. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2003 Amici Cellars, Mendocino. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $42.
2002 Esterlina, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2003 Esterlina, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2001 Dutton Goldfield "Devil's Gulch," Marin. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $48.
2003 Ken Brown "Bien Nacido Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2003 Ken Brown "Clos Pepe Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2001 Skewis "Montgomery Vineyard" Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2003 Roesseler "Sangiacomo Vineyard" Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $28.
2001 Roesseler "Savoy Vineyard," Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2003 Martinelli "7 Mules Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $50.
2003 Moshin "115 Clone," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2000 Moshin "Proprietors," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $22.
2001 Orsi Papale, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2003 Vision Cellars "Rosella's Vineyard," Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $50.
2003 Windward "Barrel Select," Paso Robles. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2003 Woodenhead "Buena Tierra," Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $46.
2003 Woodenhead, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2002 De La Montanya "Tina's Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2003 De La Montanya "Tina's Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2004 De La Montanya "Tina's Vineyard." Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.

Comments (6)

GregP wrote:
12.10.05 at 11:45 PM

Alder,

Better late than never :-)) I guess I missed the Freemans, really wanted to try them.

Agree the event was a bit crowded for the space, but did have a really nice representation. I only had limited time to taste and concentrated on a small number of labels, good to see your notes.

Also, Alcina Cellars Sangiacomo is Sonoma Coast, not Carneros. Sangicomos have a number of vineyards. Bottlings from Alcina Cellars and McPhail are from Sonoma Coast vineyard only, others have either all Carneros fruit or a mix of both.

Alder wrote:
12.11.05 at 1:41 PM

Greg,

Thanks for the note and the corrections. I've changed my notes to reflect the right appellation.

Brian Mast wrote:
12.11.05 at 11:37 PM

As a consumer and enthusiast, this event was hog heaven - of course. But after an hour or so, it was hard to keep up w/all the amazing wines, so I'm impressed that you tasted that many (clearly I wasn't spitting as much as I should have -- thankfully my wife drove us home!). We tend to avoid tastings under the tent, because you can lose your palate quickly, but it was worth the challenge.

Interesting that one of my favorites, as well -- the Windward 01 -- was not from Russian River. They do deliver such a great, balanced, earthy Pinot. The Merry Edwards Meredith Estate was another standout -- Merry calls it her "blue" wine - notes of blueberry, violet. Very distinct and elegant among the brawny Pinots being poured (yummy in their own right.)

vinofyl wrote:
12.12.05 at 12:04 PM

Glad to see Windward get noticed. Visited the winery last January and found them to be the only ones in the Paso Robles area specializing exclusively in Pinot Noir. The owner, formerly a hospital administrator, is also the winemaker and tasting room manager. He makes Pinots in the Burgundian style and is one of the very few who will offer vertical tastings.

J Masters wrote:
12.12.05 at 11:27 PM

Esterlina, my favorite wine and my favorite place to visit..
http://EsterlinaVineyards.com

Glad to see it noticed. Love googles blogsearch..

Vision Cellars & Esterlina's Cole Ranch are excellent too..

J Masters

B. MacDougal wrote:
12.15.05 at 4:26 PM

I also attended this year's Pinot on the River with my wife. We both agree that the space was a little tight but that the wines, in general, we great. We especially enjoyed Kosta Browne, Brogan Cellars, and Copeland Creek. I'll have to say however, that the surprise for us was a winery we hadn't heard of before - Arista Winery. We thought that both of the Pinots they poured were outstanding. The guy pouring said this was only their 3rd or 4th vintage. I highly recommend these wines to anyone that is looking for a hot new producer. Anyway, we thought this was a great event and we plan to attend again next year!!

Brian MacDougal

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