Great Value From a Rising Star in Gevrey-Chambertin

Today’s Story: Domaine Duroché

Domaine Duroché is a family owned and operated wine estate located in the Gevrey-Chambertin village in Burgundy. The Duroché family owns roughly 8.25 hectares of vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, producing wines that begin with both Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc before climbing through several village and 1er Cru bottlings to their Grand Cru sites of Charmes, Griottes, Latricieres, and Clos de Beze. Though the family has been bottling their wines since 1933, the quality of the domaine catapulted to new heights under the current leadership of fifth generation Pierre Duroché. Though Pierre is a relatively young winemaker in Gevrey, he refrains from being too heavy handed and seeks to create wines of elegance and finesse as compared to some of his neighbors favoring a bigger, bolder, and oakier style. Pierre and his family farm the vineyards using as few chemicals as possible (relying only on some sulfur or copper for treatments), and all fruit is hand-harvested and sorted before fermentation using only native yeasts. New oak usage varies by level of wine but always remains as minimal as possible, and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. Beginning with the 2017 vintage, Pierre and his wife Marianne purchase fruit from her family to supply their new Vosne-Romanée Village and Echezeaux Grand Cru bottlings.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Le Clos

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Le Clos is pale to medium ruby in color and slightly translucent. I let this slow ox in the bottle for a while before letting it open up in the glass, blossoming into a nose of black cherry, dried strawberry, boysenberry, charred earth, eucalyptus, crushed rock, stony mineral, and light oak. Still fairly tight on the palate, this took some time to open up and showcase notes of cherry, stemmy strawberry, raspberry, red and blue florals, leather, rocky earth, and mineral. The wine is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Gorgeous Gevrey minerality with this one, but it does need probably at least 5 years of cellaring to come into its own.

Price: $65. I think this is a very good value red Burgundy, though I don’t necessarily think it will remain this fairly priced for long. Pierre Duroché is certainly a rising star in Gevrey-Chambertin and I would highly recommend picking some of this up if you come across it.

Legendary Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Kistler Vineyards

Kistler Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated winery established in 1978 by Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler in California’s Sonoma County. Founded on the belief that California could produce Burgundy-style Chardonnay representative of each unique vineyard site, Kistler works with a single Chardonnay clone planted across 15 vineyards to produce 11 single-vineyard bottlings. In addition to Chardonnay, Kistler produces small amounts of Pinot Noir using two heritage selections sourced from a Grand Cru site in Burgundy. Kistler farms their vineyards quite meticulously, with both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones highly limited in yield in order to produce fruit of intense depth, contrentration, and focus. In pursuing wines of character and place, the winemaking team at Kistler ferments using only native yeasts with no machination of the fruit while being as minimally invasive as possible. At bottling, the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cuvée Natalie Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2012 Cuvée Natalie Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and almost opaque. I let the wine slow ox for about 45 minutes before letting it blossom in the glass, opening up to reveal aromas of bing cherry, pomegranate, black raspberry, licorice, red florals, leather, dried earth, savory herbs, and mild cinnamon. Once on the palate, this showcases notes of baked strawberry, cherry, raspberry, plum, rose, sweet tobacco, forest floor, underbrush, white pepper, and mild oaky spice. This silky and elegant Pinot is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 1,065 cases produced.

Price: $150 (though you might be able to find it closer to $130). As much as I hate to say it, I think this bottling is a bit overpriced. While undoubtedly delicious, there are simply too many Pinot Noirs out there that punch well above this in terms of value. $150 is a very, very expensive California Pinot and at that price point I’d be more apt to poke around Burgundy or buy 2-3 bottles of a more value-oriented wine.

Top Notch Pinot From a Historic Cali Vineyard

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

I previously wrote about Chanin back in April and May when I reviewed the 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay. However, the Bien Nacido Pinot has been on my radar for some time and I am excited to taste it today.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered and the labels feature his own artwork.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is translucent pale ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of baked cherry, black raspberry, brambly strawberry, rose, forest floor, dried green herbs, and mint. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of ripe red cherry, crunchy cranberry, boysenberry, sweet tobacco, sous bois, underbrush, and cinnamon. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 17 barrels produced.

Price: $55. I’d call this wine very appropriately priced, with an inclination to say it punches above its price due to the gorgeous purity of fruit, balance, and elegance. While distinctly Californian thanks to the ripe fruit character, the Burgundian flair and more traditional winemaking help this shine versus the competitors.

Sky-High Quality From a Regional Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Paul Hobbs Winery

Paul Hobbs Winery was founded in 1991 by Paul Hobbs with his initial release of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon from purchased fruit. I previously wrote about Paul and his winery’s history in The Steve Jobs of Wine when I reviewed the 2015 Katherine Lindsay Estate Pinot Noir, but I will recycle it here for ease…

Paul grew up in upstate New York on a working family farm and orchard, so one could say agriculture was in his blood from an early age. Though Paul helped plant, harvest, and sell crops at nearby farmers’ markets before school each morning, his first foray into wine was helping his father achieve his dream of replanting some of the apples, peaches, and nuts in their orchards to wine grapes.

When it came time for Paul to go to college, his father encouraged him to study viticulture and enology but instead Paul followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps by studying medicine and graduated with a BS in Chemistry from Notre Dame. His father’s persistence paid off, however, and Paul moved to California after graduation and studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis where he received his Master of Science three years later. Fresh off his new degree, Paul was hired by Robert Mondavi for his advanced knowledge of oak aging and he was quickly promoted to the inaugural Opus One winemaking team. Following his experiences at Robert Mondavi and Opus One, Paul joined Simi Winery as their winemaker before beginning consulting roles for Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, Bodegas Catena, and soon other wineries around the world.

Throughout these experiences with wine, Paul Hobbs crafted a dream of his own to produce vineyard designated wines under his own name. In 1991, Paul spoke with Larry Hyde in Napa and Richard Dinner in Sonoma about purchasing some of their fruit, and the resulting 5 tons of fruit from each vineyard culminated in the first Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc of Paul Hobbs Winery. Paul’s dreams entered their next phase in 1998, however, when he purchased his family’s first estate vineyard and established the Katherine Lindsay Estate (named after his great-grandmother) in Sebastopol, CA. The first vintage of this wine came with the 2003 harvest, and today Paul Hobbs consists of seven estate vineyards in some of the preeminent Californian regions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paul Hobbs practices sustainable farming in caring for his vineyards and a minimalist approach in producing his wines. To sustain the integrity of his fruit and each vineyard block, Paul demands a constant flow of communication and knowledge from the vineyards to the cellar. When it comes time for harvest, all Paul Hobbs fruit is hand-harvested using hand sheers to keep the fruit in pristine condition. During the winemaking process, all wine is fermented using only native yeasts that originate in the vineyards and the cellar and the wine is aged in finely grained French oak barrels. With his finished product, Paul bottles the wine unfined and unfiltered in an effort to display the purity of the fruit and the place of each wine with elegance and transparency.

Fun fact: Paul Hobbs is widely known as “the Steve Jobs of wine” thanks to his “ardent exactitude” and immensely high demands for quality.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is opaque medium ruby in color with purple hues. Given about 45 minutes to open up, the nose showcases aromas of brooding wild blueberry, dark cherry, plum, red licorice, dry charred earth, saturated gravel, hickory smoke, cinnamon, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of tart red cherry, black raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry liquor, scorched earth, slate and clay, dried cooking herbs, and cola. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Overall pretty ripe and somewhat opulent, this will only improve with a few more years of cellaring.

Price: $60. I will say there are better “value” Pinot Noir bottlings out there, but I do think this is a great entry opportunity into the Paul Hobbs portfolio and is remarkable in terms of quality and ripeness of fruit for a regional wine.

Opulent Pinot Noir From One of California’s Most Famous Vineyards

Today’s Story: Bien Nacido Vineyards

Bien Nacido Vineyards traces its history to 1969 when brothers Bob and Steve Miller (whose family had been farming in California since 1871) acquired what they thought was an ideal plot of land to plant vineyards. Bien Nacido, as the vineyard was named, was planted by 1973 (the first vintage) and consisted of about 300 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Though the estate’s vineyards have grown dramatically over the years and now include varieties of Syrah, Merlot, Viognier, and others, it is the initial 300 acres that demonstrated the immense promise of winemaking in the Santa Maria Valley. Situated at high elevations and not far from the Pacific Ocean, Bien Nacido is one of the most famous and revered vineyards in California winemaking for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition to Bien Nacido Vineyards crafting estate wines, there are a number of producers each leasing their own rows or blocks and crafting wines from this historic land.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not discuss the history of the Bien Nacido land before it was planted to vineyards. In 1837, the land was actually part of one of the first Spanish land grants where two square leagues went to Tomas Olivera. Tomas named his land Rancho Tepusquet after a nearby creek, and later sold the property in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros who built a home on it. Alongside his wife, Don Juan raised horses and some livestock, planted grains, and produced small amounts of wine from grapes they planted. Though the vineyards of Bien Nacido today surround Don Juan’s home, the initial estate planted by the Miller brothers in 1969 sprung from grazing lands.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Estate Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2016 Estate Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color and mostly opaque. Given 30 minutes or so to open up in the glass, the wine showcases a nose of black cherry, black raspberry, red and purple florals, dried tobacco, forest floor, underbrush, baking spice, and pepper. Moving onto the palate, I get notes of cranberry, pomegranate, wild strawberry, leather, loamy earth, game, crushed rock, green herbs, and iron. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 415 cases produced.

Price: $50. I think this is right around fairly priced, but on a value perspective it doesn’t blow me away. The wine offers everything I love in California Pinot Noir (lower ABV, solid depth, and Burgundian feel), but there are some less expensive options that achieve the same. Pair with herb-roasted chicken, duck breast, or turkey sausage and mild blue cheese.

Burgundian Pinot Noir From Willamette Valley

Today’s Story: Cristom Vineyards

Cristom Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Paul and Eileen Gerrie in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. I previously wrote about them when I reviewed their 2016 Estate Viognier in Textbook New World Viognier and I am excited to explore one of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs today. Cristom consists of eight estate vineyards totaling just over 100 acres, four of which are planted to Pinot Noir (Eileen, Jessie, Louise, and Marjorie) and four that are planted to Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Using sustainably farmed estate fruit, winemaker Steve Doerner practices minimal intervention in the cellar to produce wines that transparently showcase the terroir of each site.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir is slightly translucent pale ruby in color with hints of garnet. Given 45 minutes or so to open up, the wine blossoms with a nose of cherry, black raspberry, stemmy strawberry, cola, bacon fat, dried tobacco, forest floor, dried green herbs, and cinnamon. On the palate, I get notes of sweet plum, black cherry, licorice, worn leather, tobacco, sous bois, nutmeg, rocky mineral, and light oaky spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) and slightly chewy tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40. I got this for an incredible deal, which makes it a fantastic value proposition for my tasting. With an average price closer to $60 or more in the marketplace, however, this falls into the category of “worth it” but not classified as a great value. Pair with herb roasted chicken, rack of lamb, or charcuterie and cheese.

One of California’s Most Famous Cult Pinot Noirs

Today’s Story: Marcassin Vineyards

Marcassin Vineyards is an incredibly small “cult” winery established by Helen Turley and her husband John Wetlaufer in 1990. Focusing entirely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Marcassin produces around 2,500 to 3,000 cases of wine annually and a large majority goes to mailing list customers (with the waiting list said to be thousands of names long). The estate Marcassin Vineyard consists of 20 acres on the Sonoma Coast and, thanks to its growth from 10 acres over time, is now the main source of Marcassin’s fruit. With her vineyards planted very densely, Turley intentionally limits yields to produce healthier and more concentrated fruit which she then harvests on the riper side. Turley ferments her wines using only native yeasts, keeps them on the lees for 6-8 months, and ages them in 100% new oak barrels. When it is time for bottling, the wines are unfined, unfiltered, and do not see cold stabilization. The wines typically hit the market (or rather their collectors’ cellars) five years after the vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2007 Blue-Slide Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.9% ABV

The 2007 Blue-Slide Ridge Pinot is opaque pale to medium ruby in color with purple hues. This took some time to open up in the glass, but once it did the incredibly complex nose changed overtime to showcase black cherry, blueberry, black raspberry, black licorice, dried tobacco leaf, forest floor, black pepper, black olive, cinnamon, charred green herbs, and crushed rock. On the equally complex palate, the wine changed with each sip to display notes of sweet raspberry, red cherry, wild blueberry, strawberry jam, red licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, underbrush, mushroom, mild baking spice, and charred oak. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Still a lot of life left in this wine, though it is pretty well balanced already given the high ABV.

Price: $275. While this is certainly one of the best California Pinot Noirs I’ve had, I can’t say it is a good value at the price I paid. I understand the incredible rarity of this wine, but it is simply a treat that has been on my bucket list that I don’t see myself spending the money on again. If you are on the mailing list, however, that is a completely different story. Pair this with seared duck breast, roasted chicken, or rack of lamb.

Rockstar Single Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot

Today’s Story: Rivers-Marie

Rivers-Marie is a family-owned winery established in 2002 by husband and wife duo Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh. Thomas is well-known throughout California winemaking thanks to his consulting practices and winemaking stints with names like Schrader, Maybach, and Outpost, however Rivers-Marie is a personal project born in Pinot Noir. Working with vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast (especially in Occidental-Freestone), Thomas crafts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (Calistoga, St. Helena, and Oakville) in a more restrained, terroir-driven style than can be expected from his other ventures. The Pinot Noir bottlings consist of appellation wines and a number of single vineyard offerings, all produced with native yeasts and partial whole cluster fermentation. Thomas’ Chardonnays are made in similar minimalistic fashion with whole cluster barrel fermentation, no stirring, limited sulfur additions, aging in 0-25% new French oak, and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Cabernets are made to walk the fine line between power and elegance, showcasing classic Napa Valley fruit but not overpowering the terroir expressions.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.1% ABV

The 2015 Silver Eagle Pinot Noir is opaque medium purple/ruby in color. This takes some time to open up in the glass, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of cherry, black raspberry, dried strawberry, forest floor, game, cola, mint, baking spice, and crushed rock. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, black cherry, licorice, blue florals, tobacco, charred earth, dried green herbs, and iron. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $75. Not cheap for California Pinot Noir and getting up there with some of the bigger “cult” brands, but this is very elegant and definitely worth the price. This seems to be made in a slightly more refined style than many of the opulent, “in your face” Pinots that command similar or higher prices. Pair with herb-roasted chicken, mushroom risotto, or assorted charcuterie.

Clean, Honest, and Burgundian Cali Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Ceritas Wines

Ceritas Wines is a small, family-owned winery spearheaded by husband and wife duo John and Phoebe Raytek. John and Phoebe source their fruit from trusted vintners mainly in the West Sonoma Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains, with all sites practicing sustainable or organic viticulture. John is highly involved in the vineyards they source from, and in many cases the vintners only sell fruit to Ceritas and are labeled “Monopoles.” Considering himself a winemaker of the Old World style, John believes that fruit should lead the way throughout the winemaking process and he is merely there to watch over, listen, and learn about each unique site. In the cellar, John practices minimal intervention but “flexible” winemaking, with the wines meant to showcase with honesty and transparency the terroir of each specific vineyard site.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Porter-Bass Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.3% ABV

The 2017 Porter-Bass Vineyard Pinot Noir is mostly opaque pale ruby in color with hints of purple. This took a good hour to open up in the glass, with the nose showcasing aromas of red cherry, strawberry, blueberry, rose petal, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, crushed rock, flint, and mineral. On the palate, I get notes of dusty raspberry, dried cherry, crunchy pomegranate, plum, slightly stale licorice, violet, garden herbs, and stony mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Gorgeous wine and very Burgundian in style, though 3 more years in the bottle will do it wonders.

Price: $75. Though not an inexpensive Pinot Noir, this still offers strong QPR when compared to the “big boys” of California Pinot Noir and the quality is impeccable. Pair this with roasted chicken, duck breast, or charcuterie.

Beautifully Honest Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

Whitcraft is a small, family-owned and operated winery in Santa Barbara, CA known for their traditionally made and “unadulterated” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Established in 1985 by Chris and Kathleen (Barnato) Whitcraft, the winery started as a passion for both the craft of winemaking and the lifestyle. Chris learned from California greats including Joe Heitz, Dick Graff, and Burt Williams while simultaneously hosting a radio show about wine from 1978 to 1989. Chris and Kathleen’s son Drake joined the family winery and took over in 2007, maintaining the traditional practices of hand-harvesting, foot-pressing, no added enzymes, and native yeast fermentation. Whitcraft’s wines are pure, well-balanced, and honest representations of the fruit and terroir, often remaining low in alcohol and not seeing much added SO2. Drake hand fills and corks his wines, with production incredibly limited and often reserved for mailing list clients or restaurants. Though Chris passed away in 2014, his vision and passion live on through Drake to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.49% ABV

The 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir is translucent pale ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of ripe red cherry, wild raspberry, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, mint, dusty dried rock, and light baking spice. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases notes of strawberry, black cherry, cranberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, and green herbs and vegetation. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Would love to revisit this wine with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $68. Whitcraft Pinot Noirs are some of my favorites out of California, and while they don’t have that opulence found in a lot of cult Cali Pinots I think they strike up right with some of the big dogs and therefore make a good value play. Pair with grilled duck breast, herb-roasted chicken, or goat cheese and salami.