Acid Freaks Unite: Highlights From the 2015 IPOB Tasting

Every year, I look forward to the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) tasting in San Francisco. Started by Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch as a way to highlight a group of Pinot Noir producers in California that they felt were pioneering a more delicate, refined, and yes, balanced, style of wines, the tasting has grown into one of the highest quality tastings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (with an occasional Syrah slipped out from underneath the table) in California.

Despite having been held for five years now (in cities across the country and most recently Japan, too) the event continues to be controversial, at least among industry insiders. Some winemakers I know (even those who don’t make Pinot Noir or Chardonnay and therefore aren’t speaking from a place of feeling left out) suggest that at best, the event is exclusionary in its limited portfolio of wineries, and at worst, the event in its very constitution implies that wines not in attendance are UN-balanced.

I tend to think such objections have little merit. Any consumer tasting with a specific focus must be exclusionary by definition, and an event’s organizers should have the prerogative to determine a set of criteria for inclusion if they like. In the case of IPOB (which at first was just a group of friends’ wineries), Parr, Hirsch, and several other tasting panel members accept submissions for inclusion which are tasted blind. The popular event has been adding several wineries to its roster each year (though probably slower than many would like).

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Consumers, of course, couldn’t care less about the wine industry politics surrounding the event, and have flocked to it with great excitement, if only because it showcases a set of very small-production wineries whose wines are usually only available via mailing list, and who don’t all appear at larger regional tastings.

I adore most of the wines poured at the tasting, because I’m an acid freak, and these wines generally have great acidity. But I don’t always have time to taste everything on offer. This year I was short on time, and couldn’t make it to about half the tables in my tour ’round the event space at the top of the Metreon in San Francisco (by far the best venue for the event in its history).

Here then are the highlights (the highest scoring wines) from my tasting at the event. As usual, where possible I’ve included a link to purchase the wines, though you will see many are not available for sale on the internet.

Enjoy!

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2013 Ceritas “Peter Martin Ray” Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and lemon pith. In the mouth gorgeously stony white flowers, lemon oil, and lemon juice flavors crackle with stunning acidity. Totally fantastic. Very floral finish. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2013 Ceritas “Charles Heintz Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of nutty pine sap and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, juicy lemon pith and pink grapefruit dance across the palate with zingy acidity. Fantastic mouthwatering brightness. Long finish. Cost: $55. click to buy.

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2011 Au Bon Climat “Nuits-Blanches au Bouge” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Bright gold in the glass this wine smells off tangy lemon zest and lemonade. In the mouth, the wine is a bright lemon curd live wire crackling with fantastic acidity and minerality. Gorgeous lemon zest and a hint of grapefruit in the finish. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2013 Chanin Wine Company “Los Alamos” Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of sappy tangerine and lemon peel. In the mouth, tangerine oil, lemon curd and wet granite swirl and sparkle on the palate with mouthwatering acidity and gorgeous length. A hint of a saline kick at the end seals the deal. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2013 Liquid Farm “White Hill” Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of juicy lemon and crushed nuts. In the mouth, pink grapefruit tanginess mixes with lemon pith and a wonderfully chalky quality. Phenomenal acidity. Nice length. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2013 Liquid Farm “Golden Slope” Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of bright lemon and white flowers. In the mouth, juicy lemon pith, lemon juice, and lemon zest all swirl in a floral bouquet with great acidity. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2013 Liquid Farm “FOUR” Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of stony white flowers. In the mouth, the wine is lean and angular with lemon pith and white flowers draped over a slab of wet stone. Deeply mineral with great acidity. Cost: $74. click to buy.

2013 Liquid Farm “Bien Nacido Bien Bien” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers and lemon pith. In the mouth the wine bursts with pink grapefruit and wonderfully chalky, bright acidity. Citrus pith and wet stone linger in the finish. Cost: $64.

2013 LUTUM “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of juicy lemon and orange peel. In the mouth, stony and bright flavors of lemon peel, lemon pith, and tangerine zest have a nice stony underbelly. Great acidity and length. Cost: $50.

2013 LUTUM “Durell Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of stony lemon curd. In the mouth, lemon curd, sweet lemonade, and wet stone all crackle with excellent acidity. Cost: $50.

2012 The Ojai Vineyard “Solomon Hills” Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Pale gold in color, this wine has a resinous green apple and lemon aroma. In the mouth bright flavors of green apple and lemonade have a tangy even pine sap quality that lingers with brilliant acidity into the finish. Cost: $32. click to buy.

2013 Wind Gap “Gap’s Crown” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of smoky marijuana resin layered over lemonade. In the mouth that smoky quality continues with juicy lemon peel, marijuana resin, and lemon curd married to a nice stony minerality. Very long finish. Cost: $48. click to buy.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10

2005 Drew Family Cellars “Ashley’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of sweet candied raspberries. In the mouth flavors of cedar and cherry are velvety with extremely fine-grained tannins. Amidst this plush fruit a deep stony minerality crackles and chimes through the extremely long length of the wine. Incredibly youthful and clearly in it for the long haul. It will probably improve with time, but, really, how do you improve on this? Phenomenal. Cost: n/a.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5

2013 Ceritas “Costalina” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of stony raspberry and cranberry. In the mouth, raspberry fruit has a long bright purity on the palate, mouthwatering and fresh. Hints of herbs dance around the palate but mostly this is pure raspberry filtered through icy mountain stream water. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2013 Ceritas “Eliott Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone, raspberries, and mixed herbs. In the mouth herbs and crushed wet stone flavors have a tautness to them thanks to brilliant acidity and taut tannins that linger for a long time through the finish cradling a delicate core of raspberry and redcurrant fruit. Cost: $55.

2013 Ceritas “Hellenthal Old Shop Block” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of redcurrants and wet stone, with notes of dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeous stony redcurrant and dried herb flavors have a bracing minerality to them and a bright acidity that makes the mouth water, even as tannins flex their muscles in the finish. Cost: $60.

2012 Cobb Wines “Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has an intense stony raspberry aroma. In the mouth it achieves a sort of crystalline purity, as if the flavors of bright raspberry and redcurrant are encased in crystals of quartz and then just faintly brushed with a dust of tannin. Fantastic acidity and length. A stunner of a wine. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2012 Cobb Wines “Rice-Spivak Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Pale garnet in color, this wine smells of marijuana resin and redcurrant. In the mouth, lean and herbal flavors of redcurrant are incredibly juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Tight tannins wrap around the core of the tangy, mouthwatering and mineral fruit core. Fantastic length and purity. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2012 Drew Family Cellars “Weir Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet raspberry and cherry. In the mouth the wine has incredible purity of fruit, with raspberry and cherry pit flavors vibrating with the crystalline brightness of a struck tuning fork. Fantastic acidity and barely perceptible tannins keep the flavors lingering long through the finish. Outstanding. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2013 Drew Family Cellars “Morning Dew Ranch” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried flowers and forest berries. In the mouth fantastically long flavors of raspberry, dried flowers, and marijuana resin are hugely juicy and delicious. Unique and utterly compelling. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2012 Drew Family Cellars “Valenti Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs and red berries. In the mouth flavors of raspberries and raspberry leaf are dusted with fine grained tannins, and the scents of dried herbs. Fantastic acidity makes the fruit mouthwatering, as does its lean tangy quality that lingers for a long time in the finish. Delectable. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2013 Kutch Wines “Bohan Dillon” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine has a stony raspberry and rainwater aroma in the glass. In the mouth, tight tannins wrap around electrically bright flavors of dried herbs and red raspberries and redcurrants. Fantastic acidity and length, with an incredible mineral core. Cost: $49.

2013 Kutch Wines “McDougall Ranch” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine has a fantastically floral nose of dried flowers, raspberry, and wet stones. In the mouth, raspberry, dried herbs, and a hint of Darjeeling are gripped by tight, smooth tannins, and seemingly drenched in a wet stone minerality that is quite astonishing. “Stony as hell” reads the scribbled tasting note in my notebook. Fantastic. Cost: $59. click to buy.

2012 LaRue Wines “Coastlands Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral raspberry and black raspberry fruit. On the palate, mouthwateringly juicy flavors of raspberry and citrus have an almost saline quality, with savory dried flowers and wet stone qualities that linger in the finish. Mysterious and outstanding. Cost: $75. click to buy.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2009 Clendenen Family Vineyards “Le Bon Climat” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in the glass with a hint of ruby, this wine smells of red apple skin and dried raspberries. In the mouth the wine is silky as well, with flavors of leather, cedar, red apple skin and raspberries. Beautiful earthy and savory notes linger in the finish. Nice depth. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2012 Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” Pinot Noir, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of wet stones raspberries and green herbs. In the mouth the wine has a lean tautness with raspberry, redcurrant, and herbal notes with faint tannins. Nice finish. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2012 Big Basin Vineyards “Alfaro Family Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light garnet in color, this wine has a bright and stony aromas of herbs and raspberry fruit. In the mouth Beautifully athletic, taut tannins wrap around a core of raspberry, redcurrant, and wet stone minerality. Delicious. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2012 Big Basin Vineyards “Lester Family Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cedar. In the mouth juicy cherry and raspberry fruit takes on a hint of dried herbs in the finish. Cost: $44. click to buy.

2013 Chanin Wine Company “Bien Nacido” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of stony, herbal raspberries. In the mouth raspberry and raspberry leaf flavors mix with a stony minerality that is tied to the bright, angular acidity of the wine. Mouthwatering and delicious. Imperceptible tannins. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2013 Chanin Wine Company “Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cedar. In the mouth juicy and tart redcurrant and raspberry have a racy quality thanks to excellent acidity, and notes of herbs linger in the finish. Imperceptible tannins. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2012 Cobb Wines “Emmaline Ann Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of herbal raspberry and raspberry leaf. In the mouth lean, juicy and herbal flavors of raspberry and mixed herbs are dusted with a powder of faint tannins. Excellent, bright acidity and length. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2012 Copain “Monument Tree” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of spicy cedar and raspberry. In the mouth the wine has a spicy kick of herbal savoriness along with the core of cherry and raspberry fruit. Tight tannins linger for a long time in the finish. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2013 Drew Family Cellars “Fog-Eater” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, earth, cedar and cherry. In the mouth, juicy raspberry fruit sits nestled in a dusty bed of tannins perfumed by bright cedar aromas. Great acidity and length. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2012 Knez Winery “Cerise Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
A cloudy medium garnet in color, this wine smells of sour cherry and raspberry. In the mouth, flavors of plum skin, sour cherry, and raspberry have a slight carbonic maceration quality: a yogurt tang to them that adds to rather than detracts from the wine, though it may not be to everyone’s style. Faint, powdery tannins. Great acidity. Cost: $47. click to buy.

2012 Knez Winery “Demuth Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Light to medium garnet with a cloudy haze to it, this wine smells of dried flowers, cherry, and raspberry fruit. In the mouth cherry and raspberry fruit is dusted with fine grained tannins and has a nice stony underbelly. Notes of cedar linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. Cost: $47. click to buy.

2012 Knez Winery Syrah, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of white pepper and blackberries. In the mouth blackberry and cassis flavors are quite stony and shot through with the spice of white pepper and dried herbs. Excellent wet chalkboard minerality lingers with the white pepper in the finish. Cost: $39. click to buy.

2013 Kutch Wines “Falstaff” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry fruit tinged with stony herbal aromas. In the mouth, the wine has a crystalline bright raspberry character that turns floral and herbal in the long finish. Great balance. Cost: $59. click to buy.

2012 LaRue Wines Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells super juicy, with raspberry and bright citrus notes. In the mouth, that juiciness pays off in spades as citrus, raspberry and redcurrant take on a stony freshness. Fabulous acidity and length. Candidate for the best (and probably among the most expensive) mere Sonoma Coast designated (as opposed to individual vineyard) wine? Cost: $60. click to buy.

2012 LaRue Wines “Rice-Spivak Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of stony raspberry and redcurrant with a touch of dried flowers. In the mouth, juicy flavors of raspberry and citrus have a fantastic brightness to them and nice silky texture. Cost: $70. click to buy.

2012 Red Car “Hagan Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth wonderfully stony raspberry flavors have a zingy and juicy quality that is quite mouthwatering. Barely perceptible tannins. Cost: $68. click to buy.

2012 The Ojai Vineyard “Solomon Hills” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of earthy cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth bright and juicy cranberry and cherry flavors soar through a long finish, barely touched with faint tannins. Nice acidity. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2013 The Ojai Vineyard “Bien Nacido Clone 22” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Light garnet in color, this wine has a very unusual smoky quality to its herbal and raspberry fruit aromas. In the mouth, stony raspberry flavors are gripped by strong tannins with a firm hold on the fruit. Nice balance, but perhaps needs a couple of years to smooth out. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2013 Wind Gap “Woodruff Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Pale garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, mixed herbs and a resinous raspberry and redcurrant fruit. In the mouth extremely mineral flavors of raspberry and redcurrant mix with an earthy, spicy quality that is quite distinctive. Excellent acidity, a nice mineral backbone, and great length round out the wine. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2013 Wind Gap “Sun Chase Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, wet earth, and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, delicious flavors of raspberry and raspberry leaf are tinged with a deep wet earth quality that is quite compelling. Faint tannins dust the mouth through the finish. Cost: $60. click to buy.