Pinot Noir

Aberrant Cellars, 2012 Pinot Noir Amplus, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Aberrant Cellars, 2012 Pinot Noir Amplus from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is a medium-bodied Pinot Noir that’s as easy to enjoy as a large-print David Sedaris paperback. The nose oscillates between dried cherry, flowers, truffles and dusty mineral scents. The palate is smooth and slightly plumper than the Cristom with ripe, juicy cherry flavors surrounded by a touch of stony mineral. As the name implies, the ample finish sticks around for a while. $44 Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Aberrant Cellars, 2012 Pinot Noir Carpe Noctem, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Every competition must have a winner, a contender who will rise above the rest and seize the day. As it was getting late, our winner did not carpe diem but it did carpe noctem! The highest rated wine of in the group was the Aberrant Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir Carpe Noctem from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The aromas were deeper and darker than the others and were redolent of concentrated cherry and subtle cocoa. This is a medium to full-bodied red that’s soft, rich and silky but maintains a bright core of acidity that kept me coming back for more. Like so many of the wines we tasted in this event, cherry was the dominant fruit characteristic – there’s an earthy edge to the cherry but it’s cherry nonetheless. $56 Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Ampelos Cellars, 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills

 I reviewed Ampelos Cellars Grenache last year, but proprietor Peter Work didn’t recognize me in my hat and sunglasses so I was able to sample his wines again this year. I recommend the Ampelos Cellars, 2012 Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills appellation, a region that produces many of the Central Coast’s best Pinot Noirs. This wine is everything you’ve come to expect from the region except expensive. The spicy nose draws you in while the plump mouthfeel and earthy flavors of strawberry and cranberry cling to your palate like Saran Wrap in a room full of Pyrex. $29 Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Ampelos Cellars, 2007 Pinot Noir “Rho” Santa Rita Hills

I often find that five to seven years is the optimum time to age California Pinot Noir although I don’t know how I came to that conclusion since most of what I bring home lasts five to seven days. That’s why I find it very nice of Ampelos to do the cellaring for us with the release of this 2007. It’s even nicer that they didn’t jack up the price for the service because many in the wine trade subscribe to a unique business plan. If they can’t sell a wine in 7 years they raise the price. The nose is surprisingly bright and concentrated with sweet strawberry and spice aromas. This is a light, delicately nuanced red with earthy strawberry circulating through sweet saddle leather notes that pair beautifully with the foot I usually have in my mouth. $40 Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Cristom, 2013 Pinot Noir Louise Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon

The Cristom 2013 Pinot Noir Louise Vineyard from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA fared much better in the judge’s eyes (and mouths) and landed in the “very good to outstanding” category. The nose features smoky scents of ripe cherry compote followed by a smooth, medium-bodied palate that’s like a bowl full of ripe cherries with a few tart ones thrown in by a disgruntled cherry picker. There are also hints of strawberry jam and some baking spice – not much – but enough to tingle a taste bud or two. $59 Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Inman Family, 2013 “Whole Buncha Love” Pinot Noir, OGV Estate, Russian River, CA

It may be hard to find a bottle of “Whole Buncha Love” because it’s a small production Pinot Noir created through whole cluster carbonic maceration. This unique experiment resulted in a wine with the kind of bright, upfront fruit flavors needed for piquant food pairing. The aromas lead you to believe the taste will be sweet, but this wine exemplifies the expression “fruity but dry”. Aromas of cherries, wild berries and strawberry have a hard candy-like quality to them. It’s light, bright and a little spicy with a silky, elegant, slightly fleshy texture playing host to candied cherry and subtle grape flavors. There’s an interesting finish that reminds me of pudding and bergamot – the fruit that gives Earl Grey tea its unique flavor. Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

La Crema, 2013 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

I must confess that when a guest brought La Crema to the contest I felt like a California interloper had crashed our Oregon hippie party. After all, La Crema is part of the Sonoma-based Kendall-Jackson conglomerate, and aren’t Oregon wines all made by Nirvana-listening, tie-dye wearing, tree-hugging stoners? Oh wait, that’s Mendocino. It was like that uneasy feeling you get when you bring your bumptious brother-in-law to a party but rather than embarrass you he turns out to be the life of the party. The 2013 La Crema 2013 Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley is definitely worth seeking out and bringing to the party. The nose displays complex aromas of earth and truffle, bordering on barnyard, but not enough to take away from the notes of ripe strawberry. This is a fuller style of Pinot Noir with a smooth core of ripe cherry kirsch and cranberry followed by earthy nuances of cedar. One taster commented, “I need a calendar to measure the finish.” $30

Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

La Fenêtre, 2010 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast, CA

Another desirable address for Pinot Noir is the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. This neighborhood is home to such notable producers as Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Sine Qua Non, Landmark, Foxen, Ojai, Hitching Post, Gary Farrell, and many more. One of the “many more” is the La Fenêtre, 2010 Pinot Noir. It displays rich aromas of dark cherries and berries offset by little smoky accents. It’s light in body but very concentrated. Black cherry fruit is followed by a finish of smoked meat flavors that hang around longer than a meatloaf at a vegan picnic. $49 Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Our next Pinot Noir featured a brilliant red robe reminiscent of the Sherwin Williams Gypsy Red SW 6865 paint chip. The Willamette Valley Vineyards 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, which we rated “outstanding”, wasn’t as fat as the Aberrant Cellars, leaning instead towards a lighter style. Its lack of weight didn’t seem to matter to the tasters. In fact the physics teacher at the table went so far as to say it anti-matters. This aromatic red presents a perfumed floral nose and flavors of strawberry and cherry pit followed by a faint glimpse of leather.  The finish shows a little sweet oak spice that reminded my ever so slightly of chocolate. $30 Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)