2018 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Knott Family Vineyard, Monterey County.
One of the breakthrough labels of last year, the Sling | Stone wines by Francisco “Junior” Banuelos continues to impress with a fabulous set of Pinots, Chards and Syrah from the 2018 vintage, with his beautiful Knott Family Vineyard Monterey County Pinot being one of my favorites, with this bottle, opened this weekend, showing outstandingly well with everything coming together nicely and with the fruit stealing the spotlight. The 2018 Sling | Stone Monterey County Pinot starts with fruit forward and floral presence in the glass, its pretty ruby/garnet color making it even more inviting, with layers of black cherry, plum, raspberry and sweet fig fruits along with stylish spice, mineral and well judged use of new oak, about 20% of the toasty French oak barrels being new, while the rest was seasoned used barriques that allow for the transparent flavors to lead the way and helping to promote the wines silken texture with just the right amount of vanilla, smoke and fig accents. This 2018 is vibrant and has lots of energy, but delivers a deep sense of richness and is finely tuned, making it wonderfully appealing and rewarding with matching food pairings, those that love the Santa Lucia Highlands will find joyous similarity in style with this one, even if not coming from the region itself. After a few hours of being open, things get even better here, with hints of blueberry, rose petals, a touch of pomegranate, a fine savory/earthy element and tea spice come through, all adding to the feeling of opulence and refinement and shows Junior has very good understanding of this grape and a gentle touch in the winemaking.
Banuelos, who is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road under Dennis Hoey, who has obviously been a huge influence and mentor for this label, has received well deserved critical acclaim for his small lot wines, especially his Syrah and even in these difficult times has shown he has the talent and work ethic to be a success. The Sling | Stone Wines, named as a reference to David v Goliath, which I believe highlights the struggle for the underdogs in the wine business and especially for those that don’t come from a privileged background and or how hard it is for people of color to make it in this business. I am excited for Junior and his upcoming set of Sling | Stone 2019s as well, which looks like a stellar vintage that just might eclipse the gorgeous 2018s, which was a killer years for the Monterey region with a long cool growing season that perfectly ripened the area’s Pinot Noir with complex depth and fresh natural acidity, which clearly shows in this Knott Family Vineyard Pinot. The Sling | Stone wines are very limited bottlings, but well worth chasing down and I highly recommend Junior’s other work with Hoey at Odonata, which has cemented its place in recent years as a must visit small family winery with an excellent collection of unique wines from their exciting and fun Sangiovese(s) to their serious efforts with Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Odonata’s own Pinot and Syrah, which are all tasty treats. The Sling | Stone wines are made with artisan flair and Junior is working with native yeasts and employs some whole cluster, which is more present in his latest Tondre Grapefield Pinot than this one, so the savvy enthusiasts will probably opt for both versions, which I would encourage, no question. Being a native of the Monterey wine country, it is a great to see so many exciting new wines come out from a new generation of local winemakers that have really raised the game here, including Junior Banuelos’ Sling | Stone’s tidy and tasty lineup.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive