2019 Pinot Noir by Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA

2019 Pinot Noir by Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA

Bright, clear, ruby color. Shy nose, greets with wet hay, subtle raspberry, cherry and sweet cranberry. Swirling unlocks red vine licorice, honey nectar, and a sweet citrus afternote reminiscent of Meyer lemon. All mere suggestions at their most intense. Sophisticated.

Body greets with a gentle, soft, weighted, zesty, viscous composure. Once the palate adjusts, a soft, bitter, licorice, wet wood, cranberry, and slightly under-ripe raspberry dominate the expression. The overall expression is familiar yet different. This is clearly Santa Lucia Highlands, one of my favorite regions for Pinot Noir. A crisp, refined oak caramel vanilla rounds out the body without distracting the palate and rendering the mouth feel more plush and luxurious. This whole act quietly vanishes leaving the palate slightly dry and moist, completely neutral. Impressive. That’s a first.

This iconic region and its fairly neutral terroir among other key factors make it the perfect place for growing and making rich, nuanced, exquisite Pinot Noir with a unique expression of its fruit characteristics. In this way, this wine showcases this iconic region so well. By blending so many clones it becomes a true celebration of SLH and Pinot Noir. What a great representation. Nicely done!

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2015 Sauvignon Blanc by Sanford, Santa Ynez Valley, California

2015 Sauvignon Blanc by Sanford, Santa Ynez Valley, California

On the nose. Soft peach nectarine and lime zest. Subtle wet wood leather. Faint butter.

Body is dry, shows good balance, greeting with citrus up front quickly followed by a faint barely noticeable refined caramel. This creates a slightly viscous mouth feel. A touch of minerality further accentuates this and moistens the lips ever so slightly. Finish is characterized by citrus zest, and subtle spice warmth.

This is a classic Sauvignon Blanc. Subtle. Unsurprising from this Winemaker who’s wines tend to read like a thesis of what is possible in this region. The folks at Stanford have been great stewards of this legendary and historically significant vineyard. If you’re ever in the area I recommend stopping by to baseline your palate and establish a reference point. Nicely done folks.

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2019 Giocoso (Red Blend, Paso Robles) by Lusso Della Terra, Fiddletown, CA

Tonight’s Occasion: 2019 Giocoso (Red Blend, Paso Robles) by Lusso Della Terra (Luxury of the Land), Fiddletown, Amador County CA

Equal parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Dark semi opaque color. Out of the bottle, thick nose with lots of black plum and ripe blackberry. Secondary notes of cola and crisp vanilla caramel. Tertiary notes of thin crisp anise and wet wood leather linger in the back.

Body is nicely balanced from front to back. A slightly silky, viscous body greets the palate. Unobtrusive tannins provide good structure and counterweight to crisp caramel and anise, both framing ripe plums. The more temperate climate of this region shines here as the fruit is well expressed while remaining fairly dry. Restrained acidity goes almost unnoticed. No one characteristic is off balance. The finish is characterized by subtle dry tannic grip ripe fruit, caramel. This big blend channels the Paso Robles region and its characteristic restraint quite nicely while also remaining very approachable for a broad spectrum of palate.

I caught up with Edward, owner, winemaker and Assistant Winemaker Clare, earlier this winter and had a unique opportunity to explore an eye watering lineup of their creations. He recently relocated his operations and established his estate in Fiddletown, just outside Plymouth CA. I very much look forward to following his interpretation of the terroir out here in the Sierra Foothills. Welcome to the foothills Edward and Lusso Della Terra!

2015 Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) by Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel Valley

Tonight’s Occasion: 2015 Pinot Noir (Bel Sogno) by Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel Valley, CA

Deep ruby red color. Beautiful aromatic nose out of the bottle with notes of fresh raspberries, strawberries, and red cherries. A wet, rocky, earthy leather permeates a background punctuated by pops of red vines licorice. Swirl vigorously to reset the entire stage all over again. I love it! As it breathes, a dusty expression emerges, so faint you’d likely miss it.

Body is silky, creamy, smooth with a touch of viscosity. A touch of acidity greets the palate and remains present, adding gentle tension throughout the experience. Moderate tannins provide unobtrusive structure while refined caramel reminiscent of neutral French oak immediately tames this expression. The body is quickly dissipates leaving crisp caramel, wet rocky leather and thin, so what dusty/chalky tannins. A slightly mineral finish lingers. A gentle warm spice heat lingers through the entire experience.

This Pinot all on its own. It eschews most convention, especially for this region. Sharing only subtlety and nuance typical of this region, it has its own identity. It is dry, structured, somewhat bold for a Pinot and will likely be perceived as abstract by the average palate. It is however a well crafted, terroir driven if not fascinating wine that will keep the advanced palate perfect company, especially for New Year’s Eve. Now, if you’ll excuse me…

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2013 Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills) by Rusack, Central Coast, CA

Tonight’s Occasion: 2013 Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills) by Rusack Vineyards, Central Coast, CA

Deep ruby color. A burst of bright ripe berries fills the air as soon as it’s uncorked. This is the most recognizable hallmark of a faithful Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Crisp, bright red cherries, raspberries and berries. A soft sand and driftwood leather lingers throughout the stage. Swirling intensifies the nose across the board. It’s intoxicating. Hints of pepper dot the experience. Just beautiful.

Body greets with a touch of acidity in the form of a slight citrus cola essence. This is quickly followed by a subtle, crisp, refined caramel reminiscent of neutral French oak. Very gentle, crisp tannins quickly follow lending a grounding effect with just enough structure to frame the stage. Body takes a slightly soft, plush mouth feel. Sweet citrus (think Meyer lemon), subtle cola and berries reemerge towards the back. This marks the transition to a gentle fading finish as gentle tannins and mineral leather take turns drying and wetting the palate. A gentle spice punctuates the whole experience.

One of the first winemakers I explored from this region. It’s amazing how much of an impact the right winemaker can have on the inquisitive palate. Rusack is a must for the intermediate to advanced palate. One seeking to better familiarize their palate with this region and its unique expression. A faithful wine that is representative of both the Varietal and the region. A great sense of place. Nicely done Rusack!

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Read more on my first visit to Rusack Vineyards a few years ago.

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2018 Napa Valley Sangiovese (Eliza Jane) by Dawn’s Dream Winery

Tonight’s Occasion: 2018 Napa Valley Sangiovese (Eliza Jane), by  Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel Valley, CA.

Rich ruby color. Thick, warm nose with lots of dry berries, red cherries, and a wet woody sandy leather. As it breathes, bursts of dried, dusty mushroom and red vines emerge. Swirling vigorously only intensifies these leathery terroir notes. Wow! This is right up my alley!

Body shows good balance off the bat. Greeting with just a touch of bright acidity in a citrus expression. This is quickly balanced out getting gentle tannins in the form of dry, dark, tart plums, blackberries and currants. The wet wood and slightly mineral expression emerges and conspires with a faint crisp (neutral) oak to create a soft, silky, palate-wetting overlayment. Transition to finish begins with a fade to subtle bitter as its dry dusty tannic foundations are laid to bear once again, only this time with a gentle spice tingle.

I absolutely love Dawn’s wines. The Pinot Noirs capture so much of the spotlight that is easy to miss this gem. I wasn’t expecting this but not the least surprised. Dawn’s wines tend to catch the focused palate off guard and prompt reflection. What a lovely take on the humble Sangiovese.

Nicely done Dawn and the crew!

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2019 P.C.H. Rosé by Pali Wine Company

Today’s occasion: 2019 P.C.H. Rosé of Pinot Noir (Central Coast) by Pali Wine Co.

Some of the best Pinot I’ve had comes from the Central Coast. Light, crisp, subtle and nuanced. One of my favorite winemakers I track in my cellar is Pali Wine Co. Particularly for their signature Pinot Noir. I love how they channel the region at large. So while I may not indulge in Rosé very often, I had to try their Rosé of Pinot Noir – and I am happy to report that it does not disappoint.

Crisp bright nose with a hint of leather, bright crisp berries, touch of strawberry and a whiff of clean crisp oak. This nose fully translates into the body, bright, dry, strawberry, subtle oak and leather conspire to create a soft, rounded mouth feel. This complements a slight acidic punch very well. The whole experience fades away nicely with little drama.

It’s a great Rosé for the intermediate to advanced palate. It’s interesting to see how the subtlety of this varietal drives this Rosé’s expression especially with the subtle earth notes and berries typical of the region at large. You don’t get that often in this style of wine. It is very reminiscent of Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir – which as it turns out is precisely where the grapes are from.

To the entire crew at Pali Wine Co. Nicely done!

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2017 Pinot Noir (San Saba Vineyard), Monterey, by Wrath Wines

Tonight’s occasion: 2017 Pinot Noir (San Saba Vineyard), Monterey, by Wrath Wines

Clear bright ruby color. Dry nose is more mineral leather biased out of the bottle. Berries and fruit fall back and play second fiddle. Swirling unlocks more crisp dark berries, and cola.

Body has a pleasant balance from front to back starting with a bright attack, followed by light, crisp berries and a refined caramel. This has the effect of rendering a slightly silky mouth feel which wets the palate. Transition to finish starts with a subtle handoff of the caramel to cola and crisp, light tannins. The palate drifts between moist and dry as the finish progresses. This finally ends is a slightly dry spice tingle. An unmistakable leather lingers throughout the entire experience from start to finish. I like it.

I stumbled upon this Winemaker’s work thanks to one of you WineSnobs. I thought she did a fantastic job with their entire offering – a great selection of highly terroir driven wines. Nicely done Sabrine and the entire crew at Wrath Wines.

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2015 Pinot Noir (Orchestral) by Hahn

Tonight’s occasion: 2015 Pinot Noir (Orchestral) by Hahn Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California.

Deep Ruby-Burgundy color. Big rich nose out of the bottle with bold floral aromas, berries and damp wood forrest floor with hints of cedarwood and black licorice. As it opens up and the heat dissipates, notes of citrus make an appearance over a pleasant leather.

Body is smooth, mildly acidic. It is characterized by buttery creamy tannins and spice from front to back. This is after all a big California Pinot at 14.5% ABV. It has a fairly lush silky mouth feel which can be deceiving as this wine is fairly dry. Very little, if any fruit is carried over. The leather and wood notes conspire to trick the palate into sensing otherwise. Finish is rather subdued as it quickly fades away leaving more than a healthy tingle of spice. Faint suggestion of black currants accompanies the finale.

Hahn is a pretty big estate with many offerings through most mass market distribution. However when visiting such a winery, you have to know what to ask for. See, every winemaker no matter how big, has a passion project. One they pride themselves in. A work of personal craftsmanship which is typically never on the menu. This is what I am most interested in with any winemaker. Only 73 cases of this lovely Pinot were produced. The layering, character and complexity shows. This is the type of wine I seek out wherever I go.

Nicely done Hahn!

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2014 Pinot Noir (Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) by Sanford

Tonight’s occasion: 2014 Pinot Noir (Sanford & Benedict Vineyard) by Sanford of the legendary Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara California.

Subtle aromatic nose characterized by rich fine leather of slightly damp loamy terroir intertwined with faint sweet berries, touch of dark cherries and vanilla. This wine commands a clean palate and clear mind.

Body is balanced right down the middle, front to back. An attack with suggestion of acidity is quickly counterbalanced by subtle tannin in the form of dark cherries. This creates just the right amount of background structure and foundation for a silky, whispy mouth feel. Oak vanilla and berries continue their gentle interplay as they carry over from the nose, introducing yet more whispers of musical harmony. Body and finish appear as one through a seamless transition culminating with gentle whispers of dry tannic grip and faint spice.

This is a terroir driven wine. An exercise in restraint and balance. A strict adherence to core principles. It reads like a thesis in Pinot Noir excellence. You cannot explore wines from the California central coast without indulging in this specific Pinot Noir by this storied founders’ vineyard. I keep this particular Pinot Noir on hand in my cellar as a benchmark and reference.

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