Forget Everything You Know About California Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir: California’s secret weapon wine that will surprise you with a grand variety of styles from all over the state. This means more than just wines from grapes grown in the famed Russian River Valley or Carneros of Sonoma and Napa counties, though by no means should these be excluded.

Pinot Noir expresses where it’s made more than many wines; it’s a grape growers wine more than a winemaker’s one. As Andre Tchelistcheff once said, “God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the Devil made Pinot Noir.” There is no single Pinot Noir California style, so let’s explore the range of the wines currently available when you buy wine online.

The California sun and warmth ensure that ripening isn’t usually a problem, even in colder and foggier climes.  Most have a pronounced fruitiness, with the tannins, acid, and earthy or even barnyard flavors making the difference.

Let’s start with the Santa Cruz Mountains, an appellation which covers land in three California counties, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Mateo. Established in 1981, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was among the first wine regions defined by its mountain topography. The 2017 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir comes from grapes planted on mostly southwest-facing vineyards. On the nose, there’s lots of spiced red fruits, forest floor, smoked earth, potpourri, and a touch of sassafras and sagebrush. This great choice for online wine delivery is complex, medium-bodied, silky, and beautifully balanced on the palate.

Representing Mendocino County, the 2017 Siduri Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was 35% aged in new French oak. It features tempting aromas of black and red cherry preserves, spiced blueberry pie, forest floor, and dry duff with amaro hints. Medium-bodied, soft and silky tannins highlight the interplay of warm fruits and earth with juicy acidity on the finish.

The 2020 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir origins in one of my favorite regions: Santa Barbara County, far south from Napa. Aromas from the glass give a nose full of ripe cherries, candied red fruit, spice and dried herbs that's very fruit-driven On the palate, the wine is supple, slightly saline, with medium body. Made using whole-cluster fermentation, it then had contact with neutral oak barrels. This Pinot Noir features elegant energy and a crunchy core of fruit. This should drink well for the better part of a decade.

From Yorkville Highlands, the 2018 Maggy Hawk Unforgettable Pinot Noir scored 93 points from Vinous. Made from Pommard and Wadensvil clones of Pinot, its redolent with dried cherry and berry flavors, fine-grained tannins, and fresh acidity. Sandalwood, tea and cooking spice notes come to the fore in the rich finish. The winemaker says, “Unforgettable hits the sweet spot between elegance and power.”

Finally, from the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County, the 2019 Beau Marchais Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir received 96 points from both Jeb Dunnuck and Wine Enthusiast—no small feat! It a wine you can enjoy now or let age 5-7 years more and well worth getting on online wine delivery. With a deep, nuanced but still expressive style it provides black raspberry and red currant fruits to go with an admixture of spice, loamy soil, wildflower, and earthy or duff notes.

There you have it. The incredible diversity of these wines testify to the importance of putting away previous conceptions about this wine and trying some new offerings from the breadth of the state’s great winemaking scene. If you liked this blog, check out a whole range of new information on Bottle Barn’s articles page!

By Charlie Leary

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