Wine Reviews: California & Oregon Pinot

You’ve likely been bombarded by media about Thanksgiving wine pairings. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just open up all sorts of bottles and let the crowd and food sort it out.

But, thinking back over the past few Thanksgiving meals, I can’t remember a dinner that lacked at least one California Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, and of course Burgundy, will also do. For me, Pinot Noir exudes crisp autumn weather and makes me hunger for warm, hearty foods.

A lot of 2014 California Pinot Noirs are hitting shelves, and they’re tasting darn good — lots of freshness and red fruits but some show serious concentration.

This tasting includes a host of Pinots from Etude, which has been producing vibrant Carneros Pinot Noir for three decades. In recent years, they’ve expanded into a range of Pinot Noirs from other sites in California (and even a Willamette Pinot and a zinger from New Zealand). The wines taste so site-specific, and each stood out as unique in a single-blind tasting, but they maintain a house style focused on crisp acidity, juicy red fruit and lots of spice. This was my first time tasting the Willamette Valley Pinots from Lenne, a producer focused on two estate Pinot Noirs from a site near the town of Yamhill. (I’m impressed.) And we also have some late releases from Clos de La Tech and Holman Ranch.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

Review: 2010 Clos De La Tech Pinot Noir - California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
SRP: $42
Dark ruby color. Aromatically bursting with savory and spicy elements, like spiced coffee, old library books and black tea, on top of black cherries and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with some sturdy structure to the tannins, and the wine is framed by vibrant acidity. Dark, concentrated cherry and plum fruit, with dark chocolate, coffee, clove, smashed rocks, and a complex host of herbal and savory spices. Needs time to open up, or time in the cellar, but this is a bold yet complex Pinot. Impressive. Plenty of life ahead. Aged 12 months in 3/4 new French oak. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Bannockburn - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Bannockburn
SRP: $60
Vibrant ruby color. Smells like cool raspberries and strawberries with cola, rhubarb, white pepper and sage — complex and gorgeous aromas. Maintains lively acidity and freshness throughout, while sporting structured but smooth tannins. Tart strawberries and wild raspberry fruit is pure and crisp, and laced with complex elements of raspberry leaf tea, savory mushroom, topsoil, rose petals, warm spices. Gorgeous silky texture on the palate. I had no idea a New Zealand Pinot made it into this single-blind tasting, and this had be perplexed as to its origin but totally swooning over its deliciousness and complexity. I’d love to taste this in three to five. (93 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Grace Benoist Ranch - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $45
Light ruby color. Sweet but tart red and black cherry fruit on the nose, along with rhubarb, cola and eucalyptus and pumpkin pie spice. Full-bodied with moderately bright acid, velvety mouthfeel but some grip from the dry tannins. Dark cherry and plum, the fruit is juicy but a bit compact, and needs time to coax out the sweet floral, cinnamon, cocoa and mushroom notes. A sense of graphite and stony minerality lingers on the finish. Very nice but it’ll be better in a few years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Ellenbach - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $60
Deep ruby color. Aromas of sweet, chewy cherries and raspberry jam, with tobacco, cola and rooibos tea. Tart acidity, dusty tannins provide enough structure, and there are loads of sweet black cherries and raspberry jam flavors on the palate. Cola, rhubarb, rose petals, lots of other stuff going on, some clove and pine. Rich and chewy but stays fresh. Should evolve nicely over the next few years. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby/light purple color. Smells like a mix of tart cherries and raspberry jam coated in black tea and spicy tobacco. Full-bodied but tart acidity, this is a richer, more extracted Pinot but the acidity keeps it vibrant. Red plums, raspberry jam, some darker cherry fruit, add in some earth, mocha and herbal spice tea. Gets significantly better with air — I’d like to revisit in two or three years. Aged 12 months in 1/4 new French oak. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir North Canyon Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Bright ruby color. Aromas of chilled raspberries, juicy strawberries and pomegranate, mixed with rose hips, and some warm cinnamon spices — elegant and deep aromas that take time to fully develop. Medium/full-bodied with a dusty tannic structure, full of tingling acidity. Juicy black cherries and crunchy pomegranates blend with flavors of cherry wood, cedar, tobacco shop and allspice. Finishes long and crisp, more savory spices and mushroom and wet forest come out with air.. Great now but good near-term ager. 10 months in ¼ new French oak. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Etude Pinot Noir Yamhilll Vista Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $60
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy strawberries, tart red currants, dusty earth, leather and rhubarb. Fleshy texture will a full body and moderate acidity and medium tannin. Juicy raspberries and strawberry jams, with rose petals, sweet coffee, rhubarb pie and caramel. Finishes with earthy spice. Delish, ready to go, but could age in the near term. Aged 13 months in 1/3 new French oak. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2014 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $70
Deep ruby color. Smells of sweet cherries and strawberries, along with rose hops, tobacco, pickling spices and more savory notes of tilled soil and mushroom. Medium-full-bodied with smooth but structured tannins and moderately crisp acidity for balance. The tart strawberries mix with richer black cherry notes – laced with elements of soy, mushroom, pipe tobacco and earth, along with some intermingled notes of cigar box and light roast coffee. Delicious stuff now but it should evolve nicely over the next few years. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 53% new. (91 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Holman Ranch Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Carmel Valley
SRP: $35
Light raspberry color. Smells of tart strawberries, cherries, and red apple peel topped with pepper, rhubarb, fennel and cola. Fresh acidity, light-medium-bodied (12.8% alcohol) with fine tannins that still provide structure. A lighter, brisk approach but still plenty of texture and flavors. Sour cherries, watermelon, wild strawberries, the tart fruit is laced with notes of tobacco, pepper and dusty earth, just a hint of cola. Vibrant, fresh, tangy, showing wonderfully right out of the bottle. (89 points IJB)

Review: 2015 Inconceivable Wines Pinot Noir The Fog Prince - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Dark ruby color. Aromas of sweet red cherries, raspberry jam, cola, vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate this shows light tannins, a slightly chewy texture and some fresh acidity. Sweet/sour cherries and tangy raspberries blend nicely with some cola, roses, toffee and espresso notes. An easy-drinking style but very delicious, and a good value. Aged 10 months in 60% new French oak. (88 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Lenne Pinot Noir LeNez - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $30
Pale ruby. Aromas of sour cherries, tart blueberries and black cherries, along with sage and pepper and mushroom/earth. Medium-bodied, moderate acidity. Bright red fruit gushes across the palate (strawberries, wild raspberries) with notes of herbal tea, rose hips, spiced cranberry sauce, tilled soil and eucalyptus. Tart, vibrant, refreshing finish, yet this has a lot of concentration for the cellar. So pretty, and great value. Aged in about 1/4 new oak, 13% alcohol, this is a blend of each clone planted on Lenne’s estate vineyard. (90 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $45
Pale ruby. Elegant, vibrant red fruit aromas with lots of rose hips, white pepper and such gorgeous floral complexity. Medium-bodied, so juicy and bright with some moderately grippy tannic structure and lip-smacking acidity. Tart cherries, raspberries, wild strawberry, the fruit is so damned vibrant and delicious, and laced with lots of roses, violets and white mushrooms. Velvety and sporting serious grip, this is also silky and elegant. An exciting Pinot Noir. More tar and cedar on this one (1/3 new oak) but it’s woven in expertly. Gorgeous stuff that will improve for four or five years easily. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Yamhill-Carlton
SRP: $38
Bright ruby color. Juicy black cherries mix with red currant, topped with lots of violets, soil, hints of leather and cocoa. Medium/full-bodied with structured but accessible tannin and moderate but refreshing acidity. Very cool mix of black and sour red cherries, along with notes of roses, violets, chestnut and savory spice. Some cedar and cocoa from the oak, but it’s balanced nicely. A dusty mineral and soil element comes out with time. Delicious now but built for a solid life in the cellar. (92 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Nielson by Byron Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $45
Deep ruby color. Aromas of chilled but juicy red berries (strawberry, cherry, raspberry) along with a complexity of herbal and spice elements (mint, white pepper, rhubarb). Full-bodied but smooth and velvety, the chewy tannins and medium acidity make this pleasant and approachable. Juicy cherries, raspberries and jammy strawberries, the fruit is juicy and ripe but not heavy. I get sage, violets, rhubarb and white pepper notes. Touched with cedar and vanilla, but those elements are woven in nicely. Rich, velvety but also bright and leaves the palate feeling refreshed. Aged 15 months in 40% new oak. (89 points IJB)