Interesting what Kristine Hansen posted today at:
You’ve probably seen Sideways
(because what wine-loving person hasn’t?). In the 2004 film, based on the novel of the same name by Rex Pickett, its characters travel through California’s Central Coast in search of the best Pinot Noir. They come across quite a few memorable bottles, and so did we in a recent tasting of this grape varietal from this region which, for the purposes of this post, includes Santa Barbara County and Monterey County.
Pinot Noir is a red-wine grape grown in many climates, including New Zealand, Oregon, France’s Burgundy region, and even New York State. What makes the Pinot Noir from this region (California’s Central Coast) so yummy? The simple answer is that the cooling temperatures (translating to a coastal fog in some areas) from the nearby Pacific Ocean allow the grapes to relax, a contrast to scorching hot temperatures in summer that stress the vines.
In addition to the producers below, Central Coast wineries that bottle consistently high-quality Pinot Noir are Alma Rosa Winery (Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County), Melville Vineyards & Winery (Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County), Foxen Winery (Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley; sourcing from famed vineyards like Bien Nacido and Seasmoke) and Calera Wine Company (including Monterey County, Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County).
Here are eight of our favorite Central Coast Pinot Noirs.
Fog Head 2009 Private Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County ($15)
Notes of bright red fruit (cherries and raspberries) are preceded by aromas of earthy forest floor. Some traces of vanilla enter mid-palate, leaving a luscious mouth feel.
Mandolin 2009 Pinot Noir, Monterey County ($12)
The cherry finish on this Pinot has bite, yet it evens out into a luscious, soft ending. Throughout, the palate is clean, bright-red fruit (raspberries, cherries) and hints of leather.
Talbott Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($40)
Robert Parker gave this Pinot 90 points. (We like it, too!) Crafted from 35-year-old Martini-clone Pinot Noir grapes, the result is a velvety-style Pinot Noir with medium body. Fuller in body than the other Talbott Pinot Noir, this one has bright red fruit (cherries); and a smoky, intense aroma that’s accentuated by cedar notes.
Talbott Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Kali Hart, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($21)
Lighter in color than the other Pinot Noir from Talbott, this one expresses a garnet or burgundy hue in the glass. Earthiness dominates the palate, which is clean and balanced: Beginning with forest floor on the nose, and then cinnamon and nutmeg notes wrapped into juicy flavors of raspberries and black cherries.
Sea Smoke Cellars 2008 “Southing” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County ($52)
Compared to “Ten,” another Sea Smoke Cellars Pinot Noir, this one is lighter in body. Confident and elegant, its baking spices evolve on the finish yet up until then you get a detection of fruit (plums and black cherries) that is very present and not at all distracting from the wine’s structure. A very complex and intriguing nose of blueberries and cola is a fitting gateway to this wine.
Sea Smoke Cellars 2008 “Ten” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County ($80)
Jammy and intense, this Pinot has a fuller body — and more expressed fruit — than the “Southing” Pinot Noir from this same producer. Plums and black cherries dominate the palate yet there is also cocoa powder and lavender. (Wonder why it’s named “Ten?” It’s because 10 Pinot Noir clones were used to make the wine.)
Wild Horse Winery 2007 “Unbridled” Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($35)
Aromas of dried cherries and mint ease into a soft, almost velvety, palate packed with cocoa-powder notes, subtle spices and rich, baked berries.
Estancia 2009 Pinot Noir Pinnacles Ranch, Monterey County ($16)
This is an amazing Pinot for the value (it’s tough to find a good one for under-$20). Raspberries and dark cherries contribute to a fruit-forward profile, but this Pinot also offers cigar-box aromas (from the nose to the lingering finish).