Home California A North to South West Coast Pinot Noir Tasting

A North to South West Coast Pinot Noir Tasting


My apologies for the slow down in posts last week. Mid-week my laptop quit working and it took until the weekend to get it sorted out. i yi yi. Thankfully the fix wasn’t too expensive, as I wouldn’t have been able to replace my computer. This is just a tiny homespun blog, after all. I’m grateful to have it working again. There is a lot of writing to catch up on.

Hope you’re all doing well!


Developing a Pinot Noir Tasting

As I posted about a month and a half ago–Victoria, Australia reinspired my devotion for Pinot. The wines are so full of life and liveliness in Victoria that Pinot Noir often carries a wonderful vibrancy and tension, with freshness and just a touch of surprise that I appreciate.

Returning, then, to the United States, I decided to design a Pinot tasting with North American wines, focused on finding and sharing examples from here that offer such interest. The goal behind the group of 25 wines tasted, then, was to gather a range of wines banding around a focus on vibrancy, tension, and acidity. The selections were based either on previous experience with the wines, or recommendations, as well as availability. Many were provided by samples–the complete list of samples versus purchase appears at the bottom of this post. There are of course a wealth of other wines that could have also been included.

Tasting North to South

A couple weeks ago several of us got together to taste through the 25 Pinot Noir wines from the West Coast of North America. The other tasters were winemakers that work with Pinot. We did not taste blind out of an interest in considering the specifics of the wines’ vinification, soils, and climate.

Following are notes on the wines from the tasting. Each of the wines were tasted first with the group, then again the next day, and for a final time on the third day.

The top stand out wines from this tasting as a whole were the Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, followed closely by the Eyrie 2010 Estate. Three more stand outs were found in the Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown, and the Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills.

Okanagan, British Columbia

Black Cloud 2009 Pinot

Representing the Okanagan, we were unfortunately able to access only one wine. Okanagan is an area of growing interest that produces what some consider to be the top Pinot Noir of Canada. In June of this year, the Wine Blogger’s Conference will be hosted in the Okanagan, so expect to see a wealth of online traffic about the region later this summer.

Black Cloud 2009 Altostratus, Remuda Vineyard, 13.2%
The Black Cloud Altostratus comes in with a pomegranate and fig, lightly toasty, and ripe, pretty nose. The aroma moves back and forth between ripe scents, and underripe scents, a phenomenon that follows in the palate, as the wine drinks as though it came from both an early slightly-green pick and a later riper one. There are concentrated flavors of dried berries and musk here alongside more woody, and lightly medicinal ones. The wine brings a strong mid-palate focus, with slightly rough tannin, and good moderate acidity. I am interested in tasting further vintages of this wine, as the 2009 was a rather compressed vintage for the region, which may be showing as a challenge here.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon Pinots

The Willamette Valley was the big winner, with the group generally pleased by the overall quality of each of these wines. In each case, the Willamette wines also simply became more alive over the three day tasting period, with more lush and pleasing flavors and greater liveliness.

Cooper Mountain 2010 Reserve, 13.5%
The Cooper Mountain Reserve offers the nice tension of older vines alongside great acidity. The nose is floral and dance-y also showing both fresh and dried strawberry, and rhubarb, as well as a touch of funk. The palate comes in juicy and lean giving more elemental flavors starting with a rich opening, an ultra-light mid-palate, and a long finish. The wine was a bit simple upon opening but the flavors relaxed, becoming more lush with air, and drinking beautifully on day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, 13.1%
Big Table Farm‘s Wirtz Vineyard 2010 is a beautiful wine, and yummy. The aromatics are a nice blend of Italian herbs, berry, rhubarb and spice all lifting from the glass. On the palate a vibrant mix of green bean freshness and orange plus grapefruit zest accent red fruit and pink flowers. This wine is full of life and just kept getting more lively into day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Resonance Vineyard, 12%
The Big Table Farm Resonance Vineyard started much more muted compared to their Wirtz, but techno-danced its way from the glass by day 3, full of vibrancy. The wine carries a wider nose focused on red berries, red flowers, and cardamom. The palate follows, offering a smooth, lush texture. While it opened less fresh on day 1, the aromas and flavors of this wine became more vibrant and complex as it stayed open. I’m impressed by its vibrancy with air.

* Eyrie 2010 Estate, 13.5%
The Eyrie Estate gives a wonderful combination of lean structure, and rich flavors making the wine feel both refreshing, and compelling. The nose gives more than just red berry and rhubarb, offering herbal notes and just enough vineyard sweat and garlic to bring intrigue. The wine has a pleasing sandwash silk texture, and a long lean-line finish. The sexiness on this wine just kept increasing into day 3. I am a fan.

** Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, 13.5%
The big winner of the tasting found itself in the complexity and focus of Eyrie’s Original Vines Reserve, drawing entirely from the original plantings from the mid-60s. The Reserve is vibrant and full of life in the glass, giving smooth tannin, a lean body, full of rich flavor, and a long finish. The nose comes in musky, and fresh at the same time, showing porcini reduction, grapefruit zest, red and pink flowers, pomegranate, and dried black cap raspberries, all beautifully integrated. On the palate the flavors follow with a pleasing spice and light menthol lift. This wine comes together through beautifully integrated elements, and a pleasing, well-knit complexity of flavors.

* Antica Terra 2010 Willamette Valley, 13.0%
The Antica Terra gives a great example of desirable focus with rough hewn edges. That is, this wine does well at showing a winemaker’s focus coupled with the willingness to let the wine be a touch feral and of its own mind. The nose gives scents of small berried, concentrated red fruits, with hints of greenery, and just a touch of fuminess. The palate carries a textural focus giving rhubarb, strawberry with light graphite, spice, and a little bit of pleasing stink. The Antica Terra has power without being overwhelming, though it does also present as just a touch hot in the mouth.

Northern California with Ant Hill Farms

Ant Hill Farm Pinots

For Northern California we tasted through the smallest bottlings from Ant Hill Farms 2011 Pinot Noirs. Ant Hill Farms focuses on small sites as well where they have hand’s on connection to the farming. What is common through the Ant Hill Farms wines is an enlivening mineral tension.

Ant Hill Farms Mendocino 2011 Comptche Ridge Vineyard, 13.2%
The Comptche Ridge bottling from Ant Hill Farms is an ultra lean wine with a focus on mineral tension, and a long finish. The nose brings together bay leaf, herbal earthiness, and a touch of aspirin lift, moving into lightly sweet red fruit, light cocoa, and notes of lime on the palate. The flavors here give ideas of sweet (but not sugar) fruit but with a lean focus and a long drying finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Demuth Vineyard, 13.1%
The Demuth Vineyard needs time to open, as the wine presents as closed right now. That said, there is a great juiciness and tension here that I believe will offer more flavor later. What the wine does give now includes red fruit, dark chocolate with stem chewiness, light brazil nut, and a refreshing methol lift rolling into a long fresh finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Abbey-Harris Vineyard, 13.4%
Where the Abbey-Harris Pinot from Ant Hill Farms starts as red methol and cherry, it opens into cardamom and bergamot, with leafy notes and hints of copper. The wine starts simple but offers more complexity with air showing graphite and red berries on the palate, chewy stemmy notes, and nice tension coming from an enlivening minerality, and long finish.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Pinots

With the wealth of Pinot Noirs made in Sonoma County we focused on bringing together a few labels that connect through winemaking experience and site.

* Verse 2011 Pinot Noir Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros, 12.9%
The Verse 2011 gives spiced red fruit and a light tang on the nose, rolling into a juicy raspberry full plant expression–berries, pleasing seed crunch, and bramble with leaf. The flavors are lush, deepened with elements of white sage, pink flowers, and blueberry leaf, followed by a lightly briny finish. The texture here is smooth, giving a light graphite reduction, and a drying finish.

Vivier 2011 Sonoma Coast, 13.5%
Vivier‘s Sonoma Coast Pinot blend draws from fruit off of all three of his vineyard sites–the Terra di Promisio, Sun Chase, and Gap’s Crown. There are nice layers of fruit here but the palate comes in a bit wider than I prefer (and more so than on either his Sun Chase or Gap’s Crown single vineyard bottlings). The wine opens initially with a bit of funk on the nose that blows off to reveal strawberry, with blueberry leaf, and touches of aspirin. There is a broad mid-palate here, with a long breadth of flavors through the finish.

* Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast, 12.8%
Carrying an herbal and earthy focus, the Wind Gap Pinot is all about minerality and leanness in a way I enjoy. The wine shifts away from fruit flavors instead bringing in raspberry leaf, with some red berry rolling through juicy, with accents of tomato leaf, cumin, and graphite on a long textural finish. There is a great enlivening tension here throughout that vibrates in with almost electrical-metallic accents I enjoy.

Boheme 2009 Stoeller Vineyard, 14.3%
Boheme Pinots are each made from vineyard sites managed through hand’s on farming by the winemaker. The Stoeller Vineyard sits at 1200 ft elevation ultra close to the coast showing focused fruit, and its coastal elevation influence. The wine offers a lovely experience of drinking Pinot pie–giving cooked fruit, baking spice, and pie dough all together along with sea air freshness, and a juicy tingling finish.

* Boheme 2009 Taylor Ridge Vineyard, 14.5%
The Taylor Ridge Vineyard was my favorite of the three Boheme Pinots, offering a pretty example of its style, also showing well over the three days. This wine is all about breadth, lightness, and a long finish, showing a little broader than the Stoeller, without being overly broad. The flavors include cooked fruit and spice, opening into more floral elements over the three days, with polished sand tannin and a lot of juiciness leading into a long finish.

Boheme 2009 English Hill Vineyard, 14.7%
The English Hill Vineyard is the furthest inland site for Boheme Pinot, giving a slightly warmer red fruit expression on the palate in comparison, and red fruit and flower on the nose. The wine has the widest palate presentation of the three, with ultra clean lines of flavor, and lean tannin. The finish brings in herbal and dried grass notes rolled through with cocoa.

The Central-Coastal Stretch

Central Coast Pinots

Calera 2009 Mt Harlan Ryan Vineyard, 14.1%
The Ryan Vineyard shows the incredible throat tension generated by a bit of limestone and elevation on the vines. The wine has an aromatic focus followed by a perfumed lift in the mouth. It comes out all fig and date mince meat with cocoa and nutmeg. The wine couples both a dryness and slippage in the mouth giving a sexy, lush texture leading into a drying lightly salty finish full of tight lines. This wine is a bit of a challenge while enticing at the same time, like going out with a New York woman after life in a small town for several years.

* Presqu’ile 2010 Rim Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo, 13.0%
One of the most intriguing of the wines in the tasting, the Presqu’ile Rim Rock gives a strong textural focus riding on a core of pliant, dark, round fruit that then moves with the flavors of the Southwestern United States–jalapeno on the nose, hatch chiles on the palate, dried black bean and mole–alongside orange oil, cocoa, red berries, and light caramel. It’s both yummy, and strange, not your typical Pinot Noir. I enjoyed it.

Nagy 2009 Santa Maria, 14.5%
The Nagy 2009 opens with a reductive funk that blows off and gives over to light red cherry, and light green pepper. The palate keeps some reductive elements accenting cocoa, cherry, and mint palmed by hot peppers and black tea on the finish, all touched through with fine cord textural tannin. Give this wine some time in the bottle, or some air to open up.

Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara County

Bien Nacido Pinots

Chanin 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.7%
The Chanin Bien Nacido gives sweet red fruit and a touch of funk on the nose, followed by a candied red fruit expression on the palate. The alcohol comes in as hot on this wine showing primarily in the finish on top of a core of tension. I would be interested in tasting other vintages from Chanin as the 2010 drinks like it was a challenging vintage that didn’t quite come together in bottle.

The Ojai Vineyard 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.0%
Offering kirsch accented by notes of rainwater, and lightly candied powder accent on the nose, the Ojai Bien Nacido carries into lightly dusty soil, cooked cherry, and light green chili on the finish. The wine has a singular focus throughout its presentation that remains consistent through the three day tasting period.

Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County

Santa Ynez Pinots

Pence Ranch 2010 Weslope, 14.5%
2010 marks the first vintage for brand new vines for Pence Ranch, its vineyards growing just outside the Eastern boundary of Sta Rita Hills AVA. The Weslope portion of the vineyard grows in Western facing sloped clay, taking the brunt of the ocean winds the Santa Ynez Valley is famous for. The wine offers a terra cotta spice and raspberry leaf focus with hints of smoke, white clay, and metallic elements, all coming through a lush texture, good juiciness, and a long finish with good tension.

Pence Ranch 2010 Uplands, 14.5%
Where the Weslope portion of Pence Ranch rests in deep clay, the Uplands grows in finer grained mixed loam, with protection from the wind. The vines of both sites are the same age, just coming online for harvest with the 2010 vintage. The Uplands bottling shows more leafy and peat aromatics giving a light smokey element with medicinal accents in the mouth. This wine is all about the acidity, and smooth while grip-able texture. It is a touch hot on the finish.

Pence Ranch 2010 Estate, 14.5%
The Estate bottling from Pence Ranch brings together a blend of both the Weslope and Uplands sites combining the clay and peat aspects of the two, alongside smoke and cherry, with spice notes. There is a juicy mid-palate here followed by a juicy, focused, lightly reductive finish and tight lines throughout. The Pence Ranch wines are worth watching over the next several years–they drink with the elements of young fruit that is perhaps less focused now and will likely show more complexity with age. Considering how new the vines and project are, the wines still seem to give a (albeit young) sense of genuine site character. I’ll be interested in seeing how future vintage releases taste.

* Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills, 14.7%
The Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills was a crowd pleaser with its fresh ripe red berry focus touched by sweaty red tropical flowers, fresh sea water and air, touches of terra cotta, and hints of green chili heat. The wine had a nice long mineral line throughout with good stimulation, a pleasing balance of tongue pinching tannin and real juiciness and a lightly powder-touched finish. This wine shows off subtle, fresh complexity.


Black Cloud, Cooper Mountain, Eyrie, Ant Hill Farms, Verse, Wind Gap, Boheme, Chanin, The Ojai Vineyard, and Pence were all provided as samples.

Vivier, Calera, Nagy, Presqu’ile, and Brewer-Clifton were purchased.

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