Archive for the ‘Review pinot noir wine’ Category

Melville Estate Pinot Noir 2009: It Takes Two…

melvThe name on this bottle belongs to Ron Melville, who grows mighty fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah grapes in the very cool climate of the Santa Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County. The name of the winemakr belongs to another Santa Barbara winery.

But it takes two to tango, right?

Ron is the owner of Melville Vineyards, and he grows and sells wonderful grapes to some of the best names in California wine. Does Jaffurs ring a bell? How about Whitcraft? And what about Brewer-Clifton?

The Pinot Noirs made by these wineries from Ron Melville’s grapes have earned stratospherically high ratings, and command prices upwards of $50 a bottle. So what does Ron do when he wants to bottle his grapes under his own label? He teams up with the best winemaker he can find, who also happens to be one of his customers.

Greg Brewer is one of the leading lights in Santa Barbara winemaking, and arguably makes some of California’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Brewer-Clifton, he’s created Pinot’s and Chardonnays that are very Burgundian in style: elegant, well-structured and age-able. Read the rest of this entry »

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Intensity Without Heaviness: Siduri Strikes Again

siduriI’ve said plenty of nice things about Siduri Pinot Noir, because they just always seem to be knock-down good.  So when I wanted a Pinot for a wine and food pairing dinner, I took a flyer on a Siduri I’d never tasted and that was so new it had (gasp!) no ratings!

Did I dare serve a wine that hadn’t been blessed by one of the Godfathers of the wine biz? This would be crazy behavior for all those review freaks who drink and buy according to someone else’s opinion, but I know Siduri, and Siduri knows Pinot Noir, so I knew I’d made a safe bet.

So lets’s get down to the wine. I chose Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2009, which was so new that it hadn’t even made it to Siduri’s own website. I checked out the tech notes on the previous vintage (which was, of course, long since sold out), and learned that Siduri’s Sonoma County is usually a blend of  fruit from several vineyards from Sonoma Mountain and the Sonoma Coast AVA. I’ll discover the blend eventually, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and we sure loved our pudding…

The wine I poured showed very youthful, vibrant color and the nose jumped right out of the glass and into my nasal receptors.The intensity of the fruit was clearly obvious, with rich dark cherry, spice and a hint of smoke. The palate didn’t disappoint — sweet berries hit me right up front, followed by hints of cola, tobacco, and more rich berries. The whole thing was wrapped up in a velvet package, with a mouthfeel that was so voluptuous it was almost sinful (almost…).

Here’s the best part: it was intense without being heavy. It never slipped over the line into that, “Is this a Pinot or Petite Sirah” territory. I think this is an indication of masterful winemaking, and that’s why Adam and Dianna Lee, Siduri’s owners/winemakers, been so well awarded over the years.

Clearly, I was knocked out (again) by a Siduri Pinot. I want to taste it again, though, and see what a few months of bottle aging does to it. Hey, I see another wine and food pairing dinner coming on…. Stay tuned!

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South of the Equator Wins Again: Morande Reserva Pinot Noir 2009

chileI wrote a few days ago about a cheap and cheerful red wine from Chile. I said Morande Pionero Carmenere was easy to enjoy, without challenging your palate or grey matter in any way. So I pulled out another bottle of Vina Morande from their higher-end Reserva line.

This one is the Morande Reserva Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley 2009, and I admit I was skeptical when I saw “Pinot Noir” on the label. Beyond a cheap grocery store brand, Chile isn’t known for its Pinot Noir, but for the bolder, earthier reds such as Carmenere, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. So I put on my Researcher cap and dug up some useful info.

First of all, Chile represents a vast wine-growing region, with many different micro-climates. Its geography is unique, because the country is boxed in by four topographic features: the towering Andes mountains to the east; the cool Pacific Ocean to the west; the driest place on earth to the north (that would be the Atacama Desert); and glacial Antarctica to the south. Wow — that’s a lot of geography for a long, skinny country.

But those seemingly-daunting features have also created a wine-growing paradise. They protected Chilean vineyards from the Phyloxxera epidemic that decimated the world’s growing regions in the late 1800′s. They’ve also created many micro-climates that make it possible for Chilean winemakers to source world-class fruit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Like a Girl in a Pretty Pink Dress: Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir

There’s nothing new about the Fotinos family and their Pinot Noir. Their Carneros vineyards have been in the family for more than 40 years, and their Pinot Noir has been going into bottle almost as long. But it wasn’t always their bottle: for 33 years they private labelled their wine and sourced grapes to a slew of name-brand wineries. In 2006, the sons of the original Fotino created the inaugural vintage of Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir.

I was sent a bottle of the 2007 Fotinos Brothers Pinot Noir Los Carneros OSRII Block for review, and noted the impressive packaging right off the bat: 24 carat gold embossing screams, “Hello, I’m expensive.” But it could be just another pretty face, right?

The wine poured out a soft rose color, and was almost translucent (I could read my notes through it). The color suggested very light body, but of course, the proof is in the smelling and tasting.

The nose was stand-offish at first. I had to really work to get some delicate Bing cherry, and it was at that point that I realized this thing was gonna play hard to get.

I poured a good slug more to get some volume going in the glass, gave it a hearty swirl, and then turned my back on it — “OK, be that way,” I said.

And eventually, this wine opened. I had to be patient and wait for its richness to develop, but eventually it showed me this:

A delicate, velvety, almost sweet palate of cherries and rhubarb that was as soft as dandelion fluff in my mouth. The more it sat, the more intense it became, until I was picking up hints of caramel (from the French oak, I assume) and rich strawberry. There wasn’t a lot of complexity on the finish, but who needs it when there’s this kind of fruit? Read the rest of this entry »

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Raptor Ridge Winery


Raptor Ridge Winemaker Scott Shull

We met Annie Shull yesterday. She was standing behind the wine bar in a very nice Scottsdale retail shop, pouring wine and talking to the customers who wandered up. She does this a lot, as do the sales and marketing people from other up-and-coming wineries. The mission is to take their wine to the people — to pour their vintages down the throats of willing wine drinkers, thus building, one wine drinker at a time, a devoted following for their wines and winery.

Annie’s winery has jump-started that process. Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, Oregon has gotten such great press, almost from the very beginning, that they’ve happily sold out many of their vintages well before the next year’s release. All the name publications — Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits, which has named them a Winery of the Year — have awarded them many 90+ ratings. And that’s a very good thing.

Raptor Ridge’s winemaker is Scott Shull, Annie”s husband, who launched their venture in 1995 like many small producers: in his garage and on his kitchen table. His focus is Pinot Noir, and he sourced grapes from vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. His winemaking focus is on allowing each vineyard to shine. He ferments and barrel ages each vineyard lot separately, and then produces each cuvee (there do about eight Pinot Noirs and a Pinot Gris) by tasting and blending just before bottling. This winemaking is as hands-on as you can get, from the vineyard right through to the bottling line.

The results speak for themselves. I tasted four of their wines, and was impressed with each for different reasons.

The Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris 2009 is a fabulous example of this varietal, which has become Oregon’s signature white grape. The nose is aromatic with peach and citrus notes and a suggestion of sweetness, but the palate is laser-beam clean, with tangy tangerine fruit and very crisp acid. The finish is anything but cloying, finishing rich but dry. I see why this vintage of Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris earned top ratings.

And speaking of vintages, I asked Annie whether there was truth to the now-commonly-held belief that 2007 was a crummy vintage in Oregon, while 2008 was the best ever. She pointed out that it was the wine press who fed us this theory, and that it wasn’t necessarily borne out across the board. In fact, her wines suggest the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

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A New Twist on the High Alcohol Debate


Adam Lee of Siduri

I’m intrigued by the debate that’s raging among winemakers, critics, and wine consumers about alcohol content in wines. I wrote a post a few months ago, “How High Is Too High,” where I laid out the basic arguments on both sides.

OK, I admit that I didn’t present a totally unbiased opinion — I think my verbal “body language” showed that I sided with the go-for-it, balls-to-the-wall kind of wines.

But I just came across an article that takes the debate to a new level. It’s written by Eric Asimov, the very respected wine writer for The New York Times. You can’t get more respected than that…

So in his column, “A Gadfly in the Pinot Noir,” Asimov recounts the tale of a panel he moderated at a recent Pinot Noir symposium. Now, that’s not a situation that would seem to invite verbal fireworks, but there was a dramatic twist near the end of the proceedings that has created a mini-uproar in the wine community.

Check this out, and let me know what you think.

By ERIC ASIMOV, The New York Times

IT’S been called the Ol’ Switcheroo, and the Great Pinot Noir Kerfuffle. Depending on your point of view, it was either a surprise changeup that proved a point, or a dirty trick that proved nothing at all. Either way, the stunt that the winemaker Adam Lee pulled at a pinot noir seminar earlier this month has evoked both claims of vindication and cries of outrage throughout the wine-drinking world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quiet Power & Elegance: Rex Hill Pinot Noir

rex hill

Sustainable farming: this little ladybug keeps pests away without using chemical pesticides.

I love family-owned wineries. That’s a broad statement, but I’m not afraid to make it. It seems that every sip of their wine speaks to me of   commitment, passion, and a love for wine-making.

Enter Rex Hill, a family-owned winery that’s been crafting wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since the “good old days” (read “1982,” when the first owners shoveled out a former pig farm and started planting Pinot Noir). They also started farming “sustainably”, which is a commitment to produce better fruit through organic growing practices and to leave the land in better shape than when they got it.

Organic and sustainable practices may have contributed to the really knock-out Pinot I tasted recently, but Oregon’s wonderful 2008 vintage put it over the top. Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 was the product of the “near perfect” 2008 harvest. Warm weather in the final weeks before picking contributed to smaller yields and more intense flavors in the grapes. The result is a fragrant nose of bing cheeries, raspberries and violets, and a rich palate brimming with intense red berry fruit and spice. Most noticeable, though, is the full body, well-integrated tannins and bright acid that balance the opulent fruit.

To me, this Pinot was like Oregon on steroids. I’ve never tasted this kind of elegance and power in a Willamette Pinot at this price. Did I mention it retails for around $26? It’s a steal at that price, and you should rush out and…steal some. (Well, not really, but do go buy some).

I’ll be on the look-out for more good 2008 Oregon Pinot’s, so stay tuned for future reviews. For now, grill up some salmon, pop the cork on a bottle of Rex Hill, and enjoy!

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Wine Made With Passion: Siduri Wines


One of Siduri's vineyard sources,Cargasacchi.

We recently spent some time visiting wineries in California’s Sonoma County and Napa Valley, and one thing jumped up and hit us in the kisser (not that we hadn’t suspected it already, but this visit confirmed our worst suspicions). Here it is: there’s Good Wine, Wine Made From the Heart, Wine Made By the Family That Owns It; and then there’s Corporate Wine. And you don’t need to look at any business prospectus to see which one is which. It reveals itself when you call the winery, when you walk up to the tasting room counter, when you take your first sip of the wine. It may say, “We’re made with personal passion and conviction,” or “We’re made by someone else, and we just work here.”

We visited many family-owned wineries, because that’s who we seek out. We believe in their passion, their conviction, and their “make it or break it” drive to succeed. So we had a wonderful time discovering Seghesio Family Vineyards, Barnett Vineyards, Steltzner, Cline, Landmark, and Siduri and Novy. We loved (and respected) them all. But one of the best stories is the tale of Siduri and Novy, and it epitomizes everything we love about family-owned wineries.

We found Siduri and Novy in a sheet metal warehouse in Santa Rosa. There were no ivy-covered walls; no Tuscan style mansion; not even picturesque acres of rolling vineyards. And there was no STAFF — one person was the “staff”. It was just… a warehouse. But the wines… TO DIE FOR!siduri

This winery was created by Adam and Dianna Lee, two folks from Texas who arrived in California Wine Country with a whopping $24,000 in their wish fund. They expected to buy vineyards and make great wine with their $24,000, not knowing that the Big Guys in the wine business spend more than that on their business cards. They didn’t realize that, with land prices in Napa running at about $250,000 AN ACRE (and that’s BEFORE you spend $20,000 an acre to put in vineyards) the wine business had become a rich man’s game.

But being tough Texans, they didn’t fold up and roll back to the Panhandle. Instead, they used their seed money in the most efficient way possible — they bought the best grapes they could find, from the best vineyards in the state. They made them into wine using the least intervention possible, so the great grapes would reveal themselves as…great wine. And, oh yeah, they happened to get some of this wine in front of this guy named Robert Parker, Jr. who gave it 90 points and shot it into orbit. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the point is, they knew that great wine starts in the vineyard, and it didn’t matter if they owned the land the grapes were grown on.  They could control the process, in part by buying fruit by the acre instead of the ton (ensuring that they got the best QUALITY out of their vineyards, rather than the most QUANTITY). Siduri now makes over 2o excellent Pinot Noirs, sourced from vineyards from Santa Barbara to Willamette Valley, and they are all spectacular values. They don’t own any land, and they haven’t built a Tuscan mansion tasting room — they just make damn fine wine.

As Dianna says, “Would you rather us put our money into a fancy building, or into the bottle?” Now that’s wine made with passion.

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Old World Pinot Noir from the New World

llai llai3CorksRATING – 3 corks out of 5 When wine drinkers think of the long ribbon of vineyards that forms Chile’s wine regions, we think of bold and robust reds like Carmenere or Cabernet Sauvignon. But Pinot Noir? Who would’ve thought?…

A review of this wine, Llai Llai Pinot Noir Bio Bio Vineyard 2008, wouldn’t be complete without a little back-story.  First, the vineyards are located 300 miles south of Santiago, in the southernmost wine-growing area in Chile.  That’s way far away from the Equator… But the distant latitude creates  a cool climate, which explains how it’s possible to make respectable Pinot Noir in Chile.

The Llai Llai winery also began as a joint venture between Chile’s Bodegas Corpora and — wait for it — Burgundy’s Boisset Group. So winemakers from the Mecca of Pinot Noir brought their expertise to this New World outpost. Pierre Marchand and Louis Vallet actually make wine in Burgundy after the fall harvest, and then high-tail it to the Southern Hemisphere to work the opposite-season harvest there.

So what about the wine? Well, Chile is undeniably a New World wine region, but you’d never know it from sampling this wine. Llai Llai Pinot Noir drinks as though it fell off a truck somewhere in Burgundy. The appearance is delicate and ruby-colored, and the nose offers a hint of delicate cedar and mushroom. The palate leads with tart berries and — let me say it again — delicate spice notes. The finish has a little tannic grip, which is surprising in a Pinot that was aged only 50% in oak. I think it just needs a little time to soften up.

Long back-story short — if you favor the style of Burgundy and Oregon, you’ll appreciate this as a well-made, well-structured Pinot Noir. Especially at the value price of $12 -$13. That’s a cool $10 or $20 less than any quality wine from the other regions. Enjoy!

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