Grapelive Special Report: Five New Pinot Noir Offerings to Explore!

By Kerry Winslow,

2016 Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Estate, Russian River Valley.
This Estate is a blend of their many different vineyard sites, seventeen percent Little Hill, thirty-three percent Sweetwater, twenty percent West Block, twelve percent Big Hill, twelve percent East Block and six percent River Block. This full bodied wine possesses the typical Rochioli character and the Classic Russian River Valley charm. Aged in French oak for 15 months this 2016 isn’t as sweet/oak as the 2014 and 2015 wines were, in fact this beautifully detailed 2016 shows a beautiful balance and a certain level of restraint that is very appealing, though pure Rochioli through and through, it gives a sexy performance in the glass and should just get better still with more bottle age. The Estate Grown 2016 Pinot Noir starts with a sleek sweet smoky entry and flowery nose before popping on the palate with energy and bright detail, it’s mouth filling, but not heavy with pretty texture and lovely length showing pure Russian River fruit with black cherry, plum and spicy raspberry along with vanilla, blood orange, minty herb, tea notes and cola bean. It is vivid and vibrantly expressive Pinot Noir that lives up to it’s reputation and is wildly and riotously hedonistic, while still be well focused, after a day of being open it reveals a denser sensibility and rich, impressive still as the acidity holds and keeps things racy, it does not disappoint, best to hold for 3 or 5 years.
($62 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The single vineyard Morgan Pinots are incredibly textured and wonderfully expressive wines, these 2016’s especially, made by Sam Smith are gorgeous with lovely depth of character and generous on the palate, easy to love young, but with the stuffing and structure to age well for a decade with this Tondre Grapefield being my favorite at this stage, it’s gifted with racy flavors and a spicy intensity. Smith’s arrival has really given Morgan a kick up in quality and an added dimension to the complexity, the wines seem more finessed, less overt and with a great balance between open expressiveness and a drier feel on the palate, his whites are just as charming too, it’s great time to re-discover Dan Lee’s Morgan Winery, a Monterey classic, their latest set are maybe the best set I’ve tried from this label since Joe Davis’ days at Morgan. First of all, over the years I’ve been not enthusiastic about Tondre, so it is really saying something for me to like this one, I have been humbled and will have to eat a bit of crow here, as Morgan’s Tondre is the real deal, and this 2016 made from mix of clones including Pommard is damn good and very pretty with layers of dark fruit, chalky stoniness, herbs de provence and subtle oak shadings as well as an inner bouquet of liquid roses. The 2016 Tondre Grapefield starts with a sexy mix of smoky sweet oak, dark flowers, black cherry, brambly spices, minty herbs, mineral and a hint of forest floor earthiness, it’s a forward and opulent expression of Highlands that feels full and rounded, but with a lift of life with a fine cut of acidity and a touch of briar laced tension to keeps things interesting, it will be exciting to see how this one ages, it’s got a youthful fruitiness covering it’s natural tannin at this early stage of it’s journey, it will be one to watch/follow. As with all the limited or single vineyard wines, the grapes start with native yeast ferments and care sorting and de-stemming with cool macerations and gentile handling with a good dose of new French oak up to 50%, they usually see about 10 months to a year in barrel, all of which add up to a fine example of the region’s best qualities and character, right up there with Roar and Lucia!
($64 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Cellars 33, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The Cellars 33 Pinot Sonoma Coast is a pretty example of California Pinot Noir with nice ripe flavors and smooth textures, only 175 cases were made, making it a small production value, it was crafted from two sites one off Westside Road in the Russian River Valley and Hummingbird Hill off Taylor Mountain, a cooler site that gets the Petaluma Gap breezes. Fresh, and medium bodied, John Fones make a treat in this 2016 vintage, this edition has blended from a barrel selection and only saw neutral French oak with modest alcohol, at 13.9%, it’s got a sweet cherry and plum palate with layers of spice, subtle floral tones and satiny textures. Opening up to round red fruits, this is one of the best editions of Cellars 33 to date and I really like the restraint and lovely softness to be found, it gathers some structure and depth with air, but it’s strength is it’s feeling of lightness. Cellars 33, based in San Francisco is a micro winery that turns out quality stuff, you’ll also want to check out their new Pinot Noir Rose, it’s a unique pink that gives full Pinot fruit expression and bright tangy detail, crafted from one of California’s most prized Santa Lucia Highlands Cru sites along with some Sonoma Coast fruit, this is the best yet for Fones Rose and will be a fun Spring bottle.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The incredibly perfumed Oppenlander Pinot Noir from Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, crafted by winemaker Scott Shapely (Of Roar) is a true cool climate wine of delicacy and length, coming off the clay rich soils of the ultra west Mendocino County, this hillside vineyard is dry farmed and own rooted with clone 115 plus a bit of Pommard, it’s a gorgeous and youthful expression that will certainly gain with time in bottle. Brilliant ruby/garnet with vivid magenta edges the 2016 Oppenlander shows fresh details and a touch of sweet/smoky oak with an intense floral range throughout along with a light/medium palate of earthy dark fruits, spice and mineral tones, it’s has lots of vitality and inner brightness filling the mouth with black cherry, plum, blueberry, rosewater, cinnamon stick and snappy herbs plus a hint of mocha. This has a bit of Morey-St.-Denis about it, it’s almost crazy pretty, but with a racy/edginess from the 35% whole cluster, it’s also a wine of silken class with a low natural alcohol refinement, this stuff gets much better with air, filling out with a lovely textural personality and even more layering as well as gaining a savory side to compliment it’s beautiful fruit and flowers opening. Halcon Vineyards really is rocking right now, all these new releases offer immense quality and drinking pleasures, with this native ferment Pinot Noir being one of the best, it saw just 20% new French oak and needed no adjustments for acids or PH, allowing this 120 case production, unfined and unfiltered wine to show it’s more pure form, best to give it about a year more in bottle to develop, best from 2020-2026.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2015 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Theopolis Vineyards Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir, which was over seen by the talented Ed Kurzman, who has made Freeman, August West and Roar wines, has plenty of stuffing and richness to impress with the vintage’s ripe concentration on display, but with smooth textures, soft tannins and a dense mouth feel, it’s easy to love and will be a wonderful early drinking Pinot. This cool climate wine has a poised feel, in fact it’s quite opulent and decedent with juicy red fruits and polished French oak on point with sweet raspberry, plum and black cherry fruits, wild flowers, vanilla, a hint of lavender and a touch of briar spiciness. While most known for their wildly good Petite Sirah, these Pinots are showing extremely well and should not be overlooked, Theodora Lee has really created a distinct set of wines and her winery is one to follow, each of this latest set of wines has a sense of grace and are full of California warm and up front flavors, immediately approachable and with a joyous hedonistic appeal. Only 110 cases were made of this ripe, 14.4% alcohol, native yeast ferment Pinot Noir, it is starting to hit it’s sweet spot, but should provide nice drinking pleasure for the next five plus years with ease.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

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