Category Archives: Pinot Noir

2012 Bohème “Stuller Vineyard” Pinot Noir

Sonoma Coast AVA; 14.1% ABV
Purchased March 24th at Palo Alto; $14.99

IMG_0151I was really excited to see these come in. This winery is a project started by the former Belle Glos vineyard manager who also happens to be part of the Wagner family (Caymus and many others). The website has a ton of great technical data on this particular vineyard (link here) with high points being that it sits at 1200 feet of elevation about 6 miles inland form the Pacific Ocean and is farmed in two blocks, one hillside the other hilltop. This particular wine spent 21 months in neutral French oak. If you like the brooding, almost cocktail-like style of Pinot Noir, I think you’ll like this one.

The wine poured a dark ruby garnet and was all blackberries and cream on the nose. I would have guessed zinfandel confidently had this been a blind tasting. On the palate, it’s a full-bodied wine with an almost viscous mouthfeel. I got black cherry, cinnamon, orange peel with some underbrush or cooking herbs as well with a long 8-10 second finish. Structure doesn’t really emerge until about an hour in the glass, and even at that it’s a softly built wine but surprisingly held up well over 3 days of consumption. A nice bottle that tastes expensive but just doesn’t have what I look for in a pinot.  Definitely drinkable and enjoyable, but at it’s higher price point there are likely better options out there.

2010 Santa Alicia “Edición Limitada” Pinot Noir

Casablanca, Chile; 14% ABV
Imported by Halby Marketing, Sonoma, CA
$6.99 at Palo Alto on February 28th

IMG_0084Getting out from under the back-log and wanted to get this up before the sale as I know this is still around in quantity, at least at Palo Alto. This came in with two other Santa Alicia wines (a “Shiraz” which was not good and the “Millantu” red blend which was very good) and I picked up a bottle because the price point seemed nice and the packaging alluded to some quality. A brief web search had me immediately regretting my decision. Wine Enthusiast panned this, giving it 80 points, calling it bitter and astringent. That review was dated 2013, and all I can surmise is that the wine was either totally shut down or that they got a bad bottle. I really liked this and found it a refreshing change of pace from the darker, more brooding pinots that have been around lately.

This wine pours sweet and a little one-dimensional, but after about an hour or so really opens up to display a wide spectrum of strawberry, pomegranate, and red cherry flavors with nice balancing brightness from the acidity. There’s a hint of some mushroom earthiness on the nose, but it doesn’t carry over to the palate. Bright, clean fruit, some oak influence, and no noticeable flaws make this a solid choice for a $7 pinot. Two thumbs up from me, especially for $5.60 on the sale next week.

Stemmler 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Sonoma Coast AVA, CA; 14.5% ABV (I think)
$13 at the Oakland, CA, store on 29 Oct

stemmler_2013_pinotnoirOn first pour, and early on, I thought this wine was lovely, showing, lighter red cherry / strawberry / raspberry, orange, and tasty herbal complexity.  However, with more air, the fruit filled out into thicker and relatively simple darker red / black cherry with the other complexities much in the background.  It seemed to developed as much as it was going to on the first night after about 2:15 of air, but it was still a relatively coarse wine compared to what it had been on opening.  I suspect the delicateness and complexity is under there, but will need more age to be easily available.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle was really quite lovely, showing elegant flavors of black cherry, strawberry jam, dark red raspberry, orange, complexity in the cocoa / coffee / cola area, and dried herbs.  The wine will probably be more accessible in another year or two, but it seems like a good deal in Pinot, especially at the sale price.  It will probably be gone before the sale ends, anyway.

Forty-Seven Friends 2010 Pinot Noir

Sonoma County, CA; 14.1% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 19 Oct

fortysevenfriends_2010_pinotnoirI had been intrigued by this bottling because the color of the wine through the bottle looked nicely complex, and, hey, some quirky one-off bottling like this could be a sleeper hit.  And, indeed, it is delicious!

The wine needs only a little air in the glass to become very smooth, ripe, rich, and elegant, showing flavors of dark red cherry, strawberry jam with hint of dark red or black raspberry, dried orange, and earthy root beer / cola.  It starts out a little more full than I generally prefer Pinot Noir, but (1) it’s delicious anyway, and (2) it actually becomes less heavy, less dark in flavor, and more liquidy elegant as it airs.  It was so good, we greedily sucked it all down, leaving none for the next day.  While it did not taste at all too old, I expect the day when it does is coming soon, so drink up.

Spelletich 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve

Elkhorn Peak Vineyard, Napa Valley, CA; 14.0% ABV
$9 at the Richmond, CA, store on 15 July

Spelletich_2012_PinotNoirReserveThis bottle looked very interesting at first sight.  The wine inside the bottle is indeed excellent for the price.

The wine is pretty good after being decanted about an hour, but continues to improve.  At two hours, the wine shows a complex nose of dark red and black cherry, perhaps slight plum, orange peel, vanilla, and wood / spice.  There’s more of that on the palate, in very nice balance.  Despite the slight viscosity of the ripe fruit, the nearly-zingy raspberry acid on the finish helps the wine go well with food.

The next day, the saved single-glass, screwcap bottle was at first more dark and rich, but still basically the same.  However, it also became a little more acid, with the plum jam aspect becoming more like dried salt plum, but still very good.  While this wine is not at all over the hill, you probably shouldn’t wait another year to drink it, and there’s certainly no need to.

Paraiso 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, CA
$6 at the Long Beach, CA, store on 2 June

20160617_174408Poured though an aerator straight, the wine’s nose invites immediately with some dark, bright red cherry fruit, heavily toasted wood, and barrel spice and paired with dark ruby color and long legs in the glass.

First thoughts upon tasting summon those similar to tasting $15-20 Pinots where there’s some defect that permeates through the wine’s presentation. Here, it’s a combination of the heavy fruit and bright, almost mineral acidity where neither comes into balance with the rest of the wine.

Many winos are familiar with the industry commentary surrounding the emergence of the word “smooth” in reviews in recent decades but this wine does smooth out with time, and not much time at that. 30 minutes in, it begins to sort its idiosyncrasies out and the components harmonize a bit more. Now we are getting somewhere. It’s a blind date that begins questionably that is potentially worth the time by the middle of the appetizer.

As time passes, the wine doesn’t come all that much more together and the elements that combine to make it more inviting cannot do anything more to overcome what is too much ripe fruit, toasted oak and acid. The wine is bigger than expected and to its detriment.

Tasted on Day 2, the wine deteriorates quite a bit and the fruit sweetens considerably, moving this even more into the Thumbs Down category.

“Cheap pinot” from CA seems to go one of two ways for me: thin, tart, dilute cherry cola with zero finish or something similar to this wine. It’s not terrible but it’s a Thumbs Down for me, especially compared with comparably-priced GO Pinots. I was hoping for something better out of SLH, which in my understanding can be a decent, lower-cost alternative to Santa Maria Pinot. Not here.



Double J Ranch 2013 Carneros Pinot Noir

Carneros AVA, Northern California; 13.8%ABV
$7.99 at the Long Beach, CA, store on 1 June

This wine appealed visually right away with a clean, classy label on nice paper with slightly metallic, reflective tracing as seen in the photo.Double J Ranch Pinot Noir

I had a pretty darn positive reaction from first sip, which clearly let me know that the wine needed to open up. Over the first two hours, the initial alcohol hit lessened and the dark cherry and raspberry came to the forefront. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied and just needed a good amount of time to smooth out and was better integrated at 3 hours than at two. There is a balanced amount of oak here, enough to complement, but not detract from, what comes across as a pretty straightforward and typical Carneros effort. It knows what it is and what it is not. It has structure throughout from initial sip to the finish. The fruit is pretty delicious without being too dominant and integrates well with the amount of oak used.

On the first night, the 13.8% alcohol kept getting in the way for me. Maybe from spending time in France recently, I got used to lower alcohol wines, and I’ve never really had issues with higher alcohol ones (I have a 16% ABV Old Vine Zin in my review queue). So, I left it to sit stoppered in its original bottle after using a Vacu Vin.

On night two, the wine was as good if not better with the fruit flavors coming through more profoundly. Night three was similar with a glass left to finish up and the only perceptible difference was some shortening of the finish and dissolution of qualities from the nose. It still drank well.

For me, though, I could never quite get past the alcohol which I felt was pretty pronounced here. This isn’t a huge knock on the wine overall but it was persistent, and I still give it an enthusiastic 2 Thumbs Up and a solid Very Good rating for the price. I think it reflects well at its supposed $19.99 retail price point and in that strong $7-8 Pinot Pricing segment we’ve seen over the last few years (at least in Northern CA). It’s far from the best Pinot you will ever try but I think this is a nice wine from someone who appears to be a proven winemaker and reflective of what most would expect from Carneros. Happy drinking!

More on the winemaker here if interested:

Gustave Lorentz 2014 “Le Rosé” (of Pinot Noir)

Alsace AOC, France; 12% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 March.  Another customer came to the same conclusion I did and cleaned out the remaining 30 bottles on 25 March.

Lorentz_2014_RoseOfPinotNoirDespite being put off by the recent Pinot Noir from Alsace, this wine looked quite intriguing to me, so I bought one when the sale started.  It’s certainly not like my favorite southern French rosés, but it is quite good for the price.

Seedboy wrote that this wine is “nice and crisp and minerally with just enough fruit.”  When I opened it, I found it a little fuzzy and funky, but after being open a bit, it “clarified” and became very clear-tasting and elegantly structured.  I tasted quince jelly, yellow apple, rose hip, orange roses, with crystalline minerality.  Really beautiful and delicious.

The next day, the second half in the fridge was more fruity but less structured, still tasty but falling a little flat.  Overall, still Thumbs Up.

Two Current Pinots Noirs

I opened these both tonight with pan-fried salmon, saving a half bottle of each (stoppered in 375ml bottles with very little air) for later.  I’ll update this post if the second halves change my opinions much, but I doubt that will happen as they both seemed quite stable.  (See update below.)

Weibel Family 2012 Pinot Noir
Potter Valley, Mendocino County, CA; 13.5% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 16 March

Weibel_2012_PinotNoirOf the two, I thought the color through the bottle looked more promising in this wine: more delicate and nuanced in the way I prefer.  It’s indeed pretty good Pinot for the money.

I thought both of these wines benefited from a couple hours of air in the bottle.  (That’s after I poured out the first halves.  I suspect this method results in longer airing times than my usual decanting, not that it matters that much for these wines.)  The Weibel showed lighter red cherry with a little strawberry, gentle sappy / earthy Pinot funk, with a lively, airy juiciness.  I would have thought this was pretty good CA Pinot for the money if I hadn’t opened it with…


Pinnacalitos de Chalone 2009 Pinot Noir “La Belle Vue”
Chalone Appellation, Monterey County, CA; 14.8% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 16 March

Pinnacalitos_2009_LaBelleVuePNThis was pretty engaging from the first sip, but, again, I thought it was better after a couple hours of air.  Then, it showed earthy, almost rocky, very dark red cherry fruit, with smoky complexities (bacon? leather?), intense but with nice delineation.  Sorry I had so much fun drinking it I didn’t stop to take notes.  My impression is that while it’s great to drink now, it’s not heading over the hill immediately, and could keep well in good storage for a couple more years.  I think this is an outstanding value in CA Pinot Noir.



Update next day: The second half of the Weibel Family Pinot Noir surprised me by airing to become dominated by flavors of red / purple table grape and a little raisin.  It’s still pleasant enough wine, just not what I expect from Pinot Noir.

Two Novelties in Pinot Noir

Graf Hardegg 2008 Pinot Noir “Vom Schloss”
Weinviertel region, northeastern Austria; 13% ABV
imported by USA Wine West for World Wine Headquarters
$3 at the Richmond, CA, store on 3 March; all gone next day

GrafHardegg_2008_PinotNoirThe only previous Graf Hardegg wine I’ve tasted before was a rosé of Pinot Noir.  It tasted like it had been a lovely wine but was a bit too old by the time it showed up at the GO.  So I was rather wary of this wine when it showed up.  But at this price it sold quickly, and I thought I’d get one (to open with the Pinot below) before it vanished.  It was amazingly good!

I did not take notes but what I recall is lovely, delicate Pinot flavors of light cherry, strawberry, slightly stemmy earthiness, Pinot funk, and slight orange.  When I opened it, I was worried it would start tasting spoiled after some air, but it became slightly darker and more compelling with time.  It was so good that I opened the half bottle I had planned to store for another night, and we had no trouble finishing it.

Louis Sipp 2009 Pinot Noir “Nature’S”
imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, SF, CA
Alsace, France; 12.5% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 29 Feb

LouisSipp_2009_PinotNoir_AlsaceI had never tried a Pinot Noir from Alsace before, and I had no idea what to expect.  It turns out it is, much like Alsatian whites, closer to a German style of wine than to a more typical French.  It has the character of a more northern wine, softer and darker, with a certain mustiness that is not just Pinot funk.  The fruit showed darker red cherry and not too much else.  I was not very excited about this wine, and the second half bottle (stored in a 375ml bottle and stoppered with very little air) was not much different.  I found it tolerably Drinkable.