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.

Tasty Bordeaux Blend for Everyday Drinking

Today’s Story: The Paring

The Paring is like a “little sister” to Jonata and The Hilt, both wineries I wrote about previously, and is produced from blocks that are either too young or not stylistically aligned with its big sisters. As I mentioned in previous posts, Jonata and The Hilt are sister wineries of Screaming Eagle through a shared owner in Stan Kroenke who also owns the LA Rams and other sporting teams. Jonata excels with Rhône and Bordeaux varieties while The Hilt commands Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, providing the basis for the Paring portfolio which includes a Bordeaux Blend, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. Fruit for The Paring is sourced primarily from the Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley regions of Santa Barbara, and the winery also shares its skilled winemaker Matt Dees with Jonata and The Hilt.

If you care to further your reading today and perhaps get a glimpse into the “big dogs,” you can check out my prior reviews on Jonata and The Hilt below today’s tasting notes.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Red Blend

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Paring Red is opaque deep ruby/purple in color and near black at its core. I suggest giving this a good hour+ decant, which helps the wine blossom to showcase a nose of blackberry compote, crème de cassis, spiced plum, anise, tobacco, crushed rock, cinnamon, and a hint of oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black plum, blackcurrant, blueberry, redcurrant, sweet tobacco, charred earth, green herbs, espresso, and light toasted oak. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25. This is a very fairly priced everyday drinker that I think can both appeal to a broad range of consumers (thanks to its fruit-forward qualities) and to the more particular “connoisseur” (thanks to it NOT being oak-bombed and offering some nice depth). Pair this with ribeye steak, veal, or charcuterie and mild cheese.

Prior Jonata and The Hilt Posts:

2005 Jonata El Corazón de Jonata (click here)
2010 Jonata Tierra (click here)
2006 Jonata El Alma de Jonata (click here)

2016 The Hilt Cuvée Fleur Chardonnay (click here)

Stunning California Chardonnay – for Half the Price it Should Be

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

I recently wrote about Chanin when I reviewed the 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir in Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County, though if you missed it I recreated the winery’s background below.

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.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Bien Nacido Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was beautiful out of the bottle, but really opened up after an hour in the glass and continued to change with the nose showcasing aromas of lemon zest, white peach, golden pear, stone fruit, white florals and honeysuckle, dry/dusty gravel, brioche, faint dried vanilla bean, spice, and stone minerality. On the palate, I get notes of golden apple skins, baked pear, peach, lemon and lime citrus, white lily, crushed rock, hazelnut, exotic spice, saline minerality, and very light toasted oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful medium (+) acidity and a remarkably well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, lingering finish that makes you yearn for another sip. 23 barrels produced.

Price: $39. This wine is a ridiculous value. Not only are the complexity, precision, and depth something to write home about, this stands up to a significant amount of high-quality white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years. I truly must applaud Gavin Chanin for this exceptional bottling. Pair with hazelnut-crusted roast chicken, smoked whitefish, or lobster.

The Caymus of Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Belle Glos

Belle Glos was established in 2001 by Joe Wagner, a fifth generation Napa Valley winemaker who grew up in the vineyards and worked alongside his father at Caymus Vineyards. With great admiration for Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, his grandmother and co-founder of Caymus Vineyards, Joe named his new endeavor in her honor. Though his family previously produced Pinot Noir from Napa Valley fruit between 1972 and 1990, the wines did not display what they thought possible out of the variety and began searching for cooler coastal appellations suited for Pinot Noir. Joe soon thereafter produced his first vintage at Belle Glos from the Taylor Lane and Clark & Telephone Vineyards, the first of several vineyard-designated wines Belle Glos would create. By 2004, Belle Glos added the Las Alturas vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to their portfolio and 2011 marked the first vintage from the Dairyman Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County. Each year, Belle Glos releases the Clark & Telephone, Las Alturas, and Dairyman bottlings in accordance with their initial goal of producing single-vineyard Pinot Noir, however occasionally they offer limited release wines when vintage conditions allow.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV

The 2017 Clark & Telephone is opaque and rather deep ruby in color, actually almost purple. Given 30 minutes or so to open up, the nose showcases aromas of black raspberry, cranberry, licorice, red and blue florals, leather, cedar, baking spice, and mild chocolate. There is also some heat thanks to the ABV that is unfortunately a bit off-putting. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of cherry, strawberry jam, blackberry, sweet tobacco, damp earth, white pepper, cinnamon, coconut, and vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. No doubt this needs a few more years of aging.

Price: $55. This is high for what it is, in my opinion, and seems too heavy-handed by the winemaker. While I’m sure this boozy fruit-bomb would have wide appeal (I nicknamed this the Caymus of Pinot Noir, which is funny because it’s also in the Wagner family), I would skip it for quality options in the $30-40 range. Pair this with grilled chicken, pork, or pasta.