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Pinot Noir for Cabernet Lovers

July 22, 2010

PINOT NOIR FOR CABERNET LOVERS – Sandy & Michael’s, Los Altos, California (7/19/2010)


Sandy, Michael and many of their friends are predominantly Cabernet lovers, but they’re open to Pinot Noir and wanted to learn more about different styles of domestic Pinot and to get some pointers on what they should be looking for in shopping for Pinot. Sandy and Michael hosted us, and we tasted through our set of 10 Pinots over appetizers before settling in for salad and some delicious salmon burgers with a glass of our favorite Pinot.

Based on what we all brought, I divided our wines into two flights based on anticipated ripeness levels, figuring it was better to start with the riper, more fruit forward ones, and then to follow with the ones likely to have higher acidities. My division, putting the Santa Lucia Highlands and Russian River Pinots in the riper flight, was accurate as far as those went, but off when it came to our ’01 Thomas Fogarty from the Santa Cruz Mountains, which was higher in acidity than other vintages of Fogarty I’ve tried. Those I picked for the higher acid flight–from producers known for picking earlier for higher acidities, and from Oregon–all properly fit that flight.

I learned that our Cab lovers were looking for fruit, and appreciated body and structure in their Pinots. A couple of them found that they liked the younger wines better, and weren’t big fans of the secondary and tertiary characteristics of our older Pinots. I can get pretty jaded about Pinot, as I taste so much of it, and hang out with a lot of Burgophiles, so it was educational to get a fresh read on these wines from wine lovers who don’t drink that much Pinot. I think most of them will be adding Pinot to their shopping list, and looking for more from Testarossa, Pisoni, Copain, Calera and Rhys.

For more comments about particular wines, and how well our Cabernet lovers liked them, see below.

Champagne Starter

Riper Pinots


I tend not to be a fan of the riper style of Pinot in most cases, but I make an exception for the pure and usually very structured Pisonis. The ’05 Pisoni is still not quite fully open for business–I’d give it another couple of years–but was full bodied and structured, which most of our Cab lovers seemed to like. The gang was also appreciative of the ’08 Paraiso as being a good value at $20. I was picking up a touch of smoke on it, but I agreed it was a heck of a buy at that price point, there being so few good Cali Pinots under $30. Those who liked fruit forward Cabs also liked the fruit forward Testarossa. The Fogarty, with a touch of brett and camphor on the nose and the palate, was much less popular with this crowd. The Sonnet was pretty typical for Russian River, exhibiting the cola notes so distinctive of the area.

  • 2008 Paraiso Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
    Dark raspberry red color; brooding, tart raspberry, soy sauce nose; a little tight, tart raspberry, tart orange palate with a touch of smoke; medium finish (great value for $20; 11 mos. in oak) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Testarossa Pinot Noir Palazzio – USA, California, Central Coast
    Bright cherry red color; nice, rich, cherry, raspberry, cranberry, French oak nose; tasty, tart red fruit, cranberry, French oak, toast palate with good acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (blend from Bien Nacido, Doctor’s, Fritschen, La Cruz, Rosella’s, and Sanford & Benedict vineyards; 11 mos. in oak, 43% new) (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Pisoni Pinot Noir Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
    Dark raspberry red color; lovely, aromatic, French oak, sandalwood nose; rich, tasty, a little tight yet, raspberry, tart cherry, French oak, structured palate; medium-plus finish (still needs another few years) (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Thomas Fogarty Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Slightly bricking medium red color with pale meniscus; camphor, green nose with a touch of brett; tart red fruit, cranberry, cinnamon palate with green notes and good acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Sonnet Pinot Noir Amber Ridge – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; big cherry, cola, sassafras nose; rich, cherry cola, sassafras, focused palate; medium-plus finish (Hungarian oak barrels) (89 pts.)

Less Ripe Pinots

This flight was more my wheelhouse, and I’d brought a couple of them. I was interested to see how they fared with our Cab fans. I think the Copain was the group’s favorite, along with the ’06 Calera Reed, and both were my favorites of the flight. The ’07 Copain had the fruit some were looking for, but also good structure and acidity. The ’07 Rhys Alpine and ’97 Calera Reed had remarkably similar flavor profiles. The ’06 Serene was quite fruit forward for Oregon Pinot, but also had good balance and velvety texture. All in all, a very strong flight.

  • 2007 Rhys Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Very dark red violet color; forest floor, tart red fruit nose; mineral, Burgundian, forest floor, tart raspberry, green tea palate with green notes; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (vineyard planted to 16 clones of Pinot, including Calera, Swan, La Tache, Hyde and Wente) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Copain Pinot Noir “En Haut” Kiser – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Dark cherry red color; elegant cherry, black raspberry nose; tasty, ripe cherry, black raspberry, rich, but poised palate with good acidity and structure; medium-plus finish (Dijon clones 114, 115, 667 and 777) (93 pts.)
  • 1997 Calera Pinot Noir Reed – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan
    Bricking medium red violet color; mushroom, earthy, smoky, forest floor nose; tart red fruit, cranberry, camphor palate with depth; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Calera Pinot Noir Reed – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan
    Medium red color with clear meniscus; cranberry, tart raspberry, sexy nose; very tasty, silky textured, poised, tart raspberry with good structure and balance; medium-plus finish (from Mt. Harlan fruit planted in 1975; aged in 15% new oak for 16 months) (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve – USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Medium dark red violet color; rich, ripe cherry, raspberry, French oak nose; velvety, solid, tart red fruit, cranberry, raspberry, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (blend of 55% Dijon, 27% Pommard and 18% Wadenswil clones; aged 15 mos. in barrel, 48% new) (90 pts.)
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    July 23, 2010 1:44 pm

    The best Cab wrangling Pinot Noir is Youngberg Hill’s Jordan. It has never lost a wager, when it comes to converting Cab Lovers.

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