Pinot Noir SoCal Style

The longer growing season of 2010 produced some of the best Pinot noirs to date in the typically warmer climate regions, like Santa Rita Hills and Arroyo Grande. Unlike 2009 which produced riper, fleshier wines, 2010 produced more elegance and finesse with finer tannins. Only 60 miles separate these two great estates; Talley in Arroyo Grande, Melville in Santa Rita Hills, and these top-notch Pinots really express the characteristics of the land and climate. Both are 100% estate grown and produced. 90% of Talley’s comes from the highly regarded Rincon vineyards, from the winery’s first plantings in 1982. Wine critic Stephen Tanzer claims it to be “the best version of this bottling I’ve yet tasted from Talley.” Melville uses multiple varietal clones with 40% fermented as whole-clusters and 60% gently de-stemmed. This labor intensive task gives the wine true grip and harmonious flavors. 2 great Pinots; 2 great Pinot regions, both tremendous values. How can you go wrong?


2010 Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir

Vivid red. Heady, exotic bouquet evokes candied red fruits, potpourri and spicecake, with a mineral topnote. Fresh, penetrating raspberry and bitter cherry flavors show impressive clarity and put on weight…


2010 Melville Pinot Noir

Tight and fresh, with vivid wild berry and raspberry character that’s pure and spicy, with a stemmy edge, yet it works well, as the fruit density and tannins fold together in a pleasing way….


Oregon Pinots Burghound Loves: 92-pt St. Innocent!

“Terrific,” is how the old dog purred it, and he is not alone. Lots of pinot partisans love the terroir-driven wines of St. Innocent: Wine Spectator, Wine and Spirits, Tanzer, Parker… and me. Mark Vlossak really cares about vineyard character, that’s why he makes six site specific pinot noirs, each with its own blend of chalk, mineral and ripeness, all farmed with organic and biodynamic principles. Years back i remember seeing his wine barreled at Ken Wright’s place so it’s no wonder they are special. My favorite right now is the Temperance Hill (93RAS), because of the edge of herbs and spices behind the plums and berries and cherries, very elegant and like every Innocent, silky smooth and sexy. For proof that Mark’s heart is truly in France, try his Pinot Gris (90RAS). You’ll think you were in Alsace, bright ripe green and yellow fruit, with extra spice. Another thing making Vlossak’s Innocent special: His commitment to modest pricing. Add your ESAVE for special B-21 customers (or subtract it!) and you have an unbelievable selection of great pinots for $25 to $37. And Innocent’s delicious chard and PN “Villages” blend are under $20. Run-n-tell that!2010 St. Innocent Pinot Gris

2010 St. Innocent Pinot Gris

“Pear, apple, and floral notes inform the nose of a concentrated, dry, savory wine in which a note of tangerine zest adds a touch of complexity. Drink this vibrant effort over the next 3-4 years. All of these whites wines are outstanding values…”  90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2009 St. Innocent Temperance Hill Pinot Noir

2009 St. Innocent Temperance Hill Pinot Noir

“There is just enough reduction present to take the edge off the otherwise pretty, pure and elegant nose of plum, red berries and cassis aromas. The restrained and equally refined medium-bodied flavors possess beautifully rendered tannins that contribute to the sophisticated mouth feel of the seductive, long and strikingly complex finish. This is well worth your attention…”  92 Points, Allen Meadows,


On the Road: Caves Along the Kermit Trail

Day 3

Wine CaveYou see “Caves” on signs across France, meaning the cellar or place where wines are stored and sold, regardless of whether it’s down or up a few steps from ground level.  However, this morning we meet Anne-Charlotte by a door in the shoulder of a country road. Beyond is a cave that would stun Indiana Jones, chambers of white limestone 60 feet tall, cool and endless. The locals have quarried building blocks here for millennia, some scratches on the wall.

Want to understand terroir? Just look around, this is the rock that gives up minerals and flavor to the roots of the vine and eventually to the grapes. It infuses every wine we taste from the sprightly rose and creamy chenins to monstrous, teeth staining cab Vouv n cheesefranc from a single vineyard of 70 to 80 year old vines. The 2010 vintage is ripe and sunny, not as big as 2009, but quite enjoyable. The 2011 is what the French call “challenging”, a challenge they met albeit with smaller crops.

Farther east the limestone and its cave are much easier to see. For miles along the river through Vouvray, 200-foot chalky cliffs on the north side are perforated with caves. Caves for homes, caves for auto repair, caves for hotels, caves for restaurants and caves and cave and caves for wine. Solid rock walls are punctured with wooden doors and glass windows with lace curtains. To call the occupants troglodytes seems unfair as it seems quite resourceful.

The same holds true for Vouvray’s chenin blanc, which achieves marvelous diversity in this clay and limestone and warmer weather.  We taste Vouvray a half dozen ways, crisply dry, sweet with noble rot and petillant with small Andre-Michel Bregeon bouncing bubbles lightly. Pure fun.  While here makers bring in still more tastes from the Loire including a peppery sauvignon blanc and spicy pinot noir from Cheverny and a second chance at muscadet. Andre-Michel Bregeon has brought his prize examples of his aging experiments.

Now somewhat stooped and walking with a cane, his mind and mien are still quite active. His mustache and ponytail shake with excitement.  One distinction of making muscadet is that the juice is allowed to sit on the skins or lees for months, which is how it acquires its intensity.  Bregeon is a pioneer of extreme aging, he always keeps one tank of wine and lees maturing for four or five years. The results we taste from a 1999 vintage not bottled until 2003 are a lovely gold, soft and almost sherried with hints of licorice and honey. And he points out even normal Oystersbottlings can be kept long past the current oyster season so he pours a 1995 muscadet, now delicate and floral with a hint of orange blossom.

We head up the river 90 minutes to Pouilly sur Loire, for our last stop in the Loire, and our tasting is at Regis and Nathalie Minet’s log cabin and sporting lodge on the river. Regis has a golf tee and bucket of balls on the porch to drive into the river, a wetsuit for swimming the Loire, a brace of shotguns for hunting and I am sure here must a jet-ski in storage.

Regis and three childhood friends have assembled the quintessential tastes of this end of the Loire. The white is now the world class sauvignon blanc that made Pouilly Fume and Sancerre famous, a touch of pinot gris. The red has switched to pinot noir but we are still on limestone and Accordionancient calcareous river bed with rocks of Kimmeridgian clay and flint.

When we arrive Denis Jamais of Domaine Reuilly is shucking oysters on the porch which will prove perfect with the sauv blancs and a plump Sancerre rose from Michel Reverdy, filled with bananas and strawberries. The pinots are surprisingly close to Burgundy. They are all very sophisticated wines that somehow pair happily with a picnic dinner of oysters, cold meats, goat cheese and savory cabbage salad. Turns out Daniel Chotard knows more than Sancerre grapes, which he picks late and very carefully.  He also ages on the lees, keeps some wine in old Burgundy barrels acquired from th Hospice de Beaune.

And plays a wild accordion that ends the night with jigs, chanteuse numbers, dance tunes, Scotland the Brave and the Marseillaise, that have us all on our feet.  Farewell to the distinctive, inventive wines of the Loire.



Grand Cru Oregon Pinot: The Many-Flavored Vineyards of Ken Wright

Ken WrightWhen I met Ken Wright in 1990 I knew Oregon would be a great home for Pinot Noir. He had spent years at Pinot-obsessed Talbott in Monterey and had just brought his Burgundy dream to his own Panther Creek label in McMinnville. I brought Panther Creek to Florida then and later was the first here to have his wines when he began Ken Wright. I like Ken because he’s a Pinot guy and because he’s my kind of Pinot guy: He gets a kick out of the fact that great Pinot reflects the character of each spot of land where it grows. Minimal manipulation in the cellar and the vineyard wins every time. Twenty years after our meeting, Ken has led Oregon in making terroir specific Pinots and make them from more than a dozen vineyards, sometimes in as little quantity as 200 bottles per. But I’ve got 7 of them (count ‘em seven!) from the sweet, dark, earthy grapes of the siltstone site of Guadalupe to the intense, structured wines from the basalt of the Meredith Mitchell vineyard. No one gives such a delicious tour of Oregon’s top cru, I’m very happy I can take you to them at such a good price. Btw, we have four of the vineyards in 375ml, which would make a great mini-class in Pinot Noirs and an appetizer for more. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya Vineyard

“Crisp in texture, with a thin veil of tight tannins around the dark berry, pepper and sandalwood flavors, lingering on the expressive finish. Drink now through 2019….”  92 Points, Wine Spectator


2009 Ken Wright Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard

“Tangy, with a live-wire backbone of acid and tannins against refined cherry, pepper and nutmeg flavors, gliding easily into the long, graceful finish. Best from 2013 through 2019…”  92 Points, Wine Spectator

2009 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Guadalupe Vineyard

“Focused and tangy, with pretty guava and wild raspberry flavors playing against white pepper and fine tannins. Offers complexity and length, finishing with zip. Drink now through 2017…”   91 Points, Wine Spectator


2009 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Freedom Hill 375ml

“Light on its feet, with a creamy feel to the red berry, tea and orange peel flavors, with mellow tannins…” 91 Points, Wine Spectator

2009 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Nysa Vineyard 375ml

“Intense, spice-accented aromas of blackberry, cherry compote and underbrush, with mocha and vanilla nuances emerging with air…”  91 Points, Stephen Tanzer’s IWC


Oregon’s Best Pinot Just Got Better: World-Beater ’10 Solena

Got very excited when I discovered Solena’s 2008 Grande Cuvée a couple years ago, and it takes a lot to excite a Burgundy freak. Happens most often for me in Oregon, maybe because the vintages there are as dicey? The 2009 Solena was solid but not in the league of the 2008 which WS scored 91. I bought a lot of 2008 and it’s about gone. After tasting the 2010 I asked Solena folks for an early release for you, knowing full well you’re gonna want it. The gorgeous ’10 is the best Grande Cuvée yet. Actually I think the secret ingredient is that this young winery has quite a heritage and a French accent in its proprietors. He’s from 2010 Solena Pinot Noir Grande CuveeBordeaux, she’s from Napa, and the fruit’s from the Willamette Valley. You remember their wine love story? For their wedding in 2000, Laurent Montalieu, who grew up in the Medoc and Guadeloupe, and Danielle Andrus, nee Pine Ridge, bought an 80-acre estate as their wedding gift to each other. They set up their bridal registry at top vineyard nurseries and listed six clones of Pinot Noir vines as wedding gifts. That’s all paying off big now. If you liked the ’08, you’re going to love the serious 2010. You’re gonna want that.


2010 Solena Pinot Noir Grande Cuvée

91 Points, Bob Sprentall


Top 100 of 2011That’s the Wine Spectators of America in 2011, when Marvin Shanken’s crew came to the top five of their annual list…The beautiful 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir of Kosta Brown was WS Wine of the Year, big recognition for a small diligent producer. Stuff is grand but hard to get; I had my first two years ago thanks to the generosity and smart palate of a friend at the Naples Winter Wine Festival.

Our hero Kathryn Hall nailed down number two spot with her 2008 masterpiece of Napa cab, and  another pinot artisan, Dehlinger of Russian River came in at number five.  An impressive showing for the Yanks and a surprising call at a time when much of the rest of the world is knocking out great stuff. 2009 Mosels, out-of-reach Bordeaux, gorgeous Spanish reds, killer Rhones and a bootload (cq) of great Italians.

Plenty of time to argue that later. For now looks like 1) Wine Spectator’s waving the flag, 2) willing to spend $50 and up after a few years of prim belt-tightening, and 3) sweet on Sonoma pinots again.  And why not?

Meet Tony Soter: Precise Oregon Pinot

2008 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir North ValleyTony Soter is the rare American who meets my very high standards for Pinot Noir. His is very seductive stuff, fleshy with a lot of black cherries and berries but there’s more than fruit to it. Soter’s Pinot delivers pepper and minerals and always an exotic whiff of Asia, anise, ginger and cinnamon too. You have to try this, as smart and pure as anything on the West Coast. That’s because Tony cares as deeply about terroir as anyone in Burgundy. I’m not surprised that he found his in Oregon, atop a ridge in a part of Yamhill called Mineral Springs, marine sediment and a prime southern exposure. Just right for Pinot. Helps that Tony has a pedigree that’s even classier. For starters, there are the Cabernets of Etude in Napa (which he still owns) and his consulting with the likes of Araujo, Shafer, and Viader. That wasn’t enough though, he wanted to make world class Pinot Noir (told you he was my kind of guy) and he has. Some of the best in America. Oregon terroir, European precision, and Soter’s palate. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir North Valley

2009 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Ranch“…an enticing bouquet of smoke, rose petal, spice box, and a mix of cherry, and black raspberry. Firm and concentrated on the palate, it is smooth-textured, ripe, and packed with savory red and black fruit flavors…”  90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA

2009 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir Mineral Springs Ranch

“Quite concentrated, with plenty of black cherry and black raspberry fruit, it also gives up notes of dried herbs and floral notes. Impeccably balanced and lengthy for the vintage, it should drink well for up to a decade…”  93 Points, Robert Parker’s WA


November’s buzzing: Turkey wine, true Beaujolais and dry Riesling

B-21 BuzzWhat’s the perfect wine for turkey? Our staff has some out of the ordinary ideas we think you’ll like. We also have a report from Chris Sherman on new waves from Germany’s oldest vintners: Wines are shockingly dry and shining with slate-y terrain. Shannon Sprentall clues you in on one of S’Africa’s classiest Chardonnays, Summer Martin introduces Pedro Ximenez and the next best thing to Jerez. Plus: Rhett Beiletti sets things straight on the real Beaujolais before the nouveau flows into town. Plus, features on Italy’s explosive whites, the good old (and new) days at Freemark Abbey and more than 25 recommendations from our buyers. If you’re not getting The Buzz in your mailbox send me your snail mail. We’ll make sure you get your own centerfold of Cuvee November, a very handsome Oregonian and remember it is 12 on 21 every day in November. You’re gonna want that.

On the Road: Home Cooking Bourguignon

Pairing food and wine in Burgundy is easy.  The wines are pinot noir and chardonnay of course. And the classic dishes of Burgundy are distinctive too. You’re familiar with boeuf bourguignon, (duh), coq au vin, the best snails in France and some specialties rarely seen elsewhere. There’s andouillette, a sausage of loose pork choppings and offal, dry cured country ham, a ham/parsley  loaf called jamon persillade  and the wonderful eggs known as oeufs meurette. In meurette, eggs are  poached in Red burgundy and a brown stock served on toast. Benedict never tasted so good. You could make at home; but  good eggs are harder to find than pinot. Better to have them in Burgundy.  Plus you get the joys of duck, pate, great bread, exquisite chocolate and great cheeses like eposse that melt before they get to your mouth.

Chefs do serve up the seasonal harvest attentively: In October, pumpkin is served every where as puree or soup, happily in its natural sweetness without pie spices.  Don’t be ashamed to toast it with kir royale, local sparkling wine with cassis . It’s better here too. Best place for the classic in Beaune is Le Gourmandin, a friendly jewel of a place entertaining the wine trade and the locals for decades. Bob’s been coming here for years, the women at the counter smile  and a broker entertaining British wine buyers give us a wave. Seems tiny at first glance, but more dining rooms are in the back up and down. Cooking is just as extensive, Traditional persillade,  scallops, local Charolais beef, simple cabbage stuffed with chicken liver and foie gras all elevated to sophistication without fussiness.  For heartier, beefier version of Burgundian cuisine, join the crowd at the Grenier a Sel grille, in a medieval salt depot. Today the treasured condiment inside the ancient walls is mustard (Dijon does not have a lock on it). At Grenier, every table gets four mustard pots, smooth, grainy, red pepper and the best, whole grain mustard and currents, blacker than any tapenade and sweet-hot excitement on the simplest  foods. And especially on andouillettes.

In little Gevrey-Chambertin, the traditional favorite is Chez Guy, now smartly redone in deep crimson and blonde woods, the curtains and glass are suntly emblazoned with the names of the villages famous cru. Oeufs meurettes remain the same as does the beef cocotte, slowly braised for 12 hours and presented istraight from the oven in a Staub casserole, too hot to touch and very easy to eat. Wherever you  go, don’t hold back. When ordering a fixed menu, you are offered the choices of cheese or dessert or cheese AND dessert. The French go for both. You should too. You’ll be back home all too soon.

92-pt Priorat for everyone: Black Slate richness Under $20!

2008 Black Slate PorreraJust because Priorat is rich, you don’t have to be. You can drink the licorice-slick rarity of Spain’s most expensive D.O. at one tenth of the big guns, even lower than B-21’s usual good prices. Priorat every night! This is rich deep, pure almost Burgundian Pinot-like fruit, with what I look for in Priorat: that stone/slate nose and palate they call licorella. This is what Priorat is about and leave it to my pal Eric Solomon to source some serious material in the sleepy hill-top village of Porrera. The best value Priorat. Period. Garnacha and Cariñena at their silkiest. You’re gonna want that.

2008 Black Slate, Porrera

“A perfectly ripe wine with silken flesh and a hedonistically lush palate feel, and a long, fresh finish. Grenache flavors and Pinot Noir texture..”  92 Points, Rhett Beiletti, B-21


Climb the volcano: 2009 Passopisciaro hits 92, 93, 94! Get yours now.

Andrea Franchetti
Andrea Franchetti

Couldn’t miss Mt. Etna when I was in Sicily last summer. Amazing mountain, so big and yet it seems close enough to touch. Not so. Driver said it would take a cab at least an hour and half. Probably why Andrea Franchetti took the old slow fisherman’s path, the passopisciaro, to the vineyards and winery he started in 2001. He touched off the explosion in great Sicilian wines and Passopisciaro has been a sellout favorite of yours as long as we’ve had it. Mine too: I can’t ask for more than high altitude, 80-year-old vines, volcanic soils, from lava to gravel, and the amazing Nerello Mascalero. A little Pinot Noir, a little Nebbiola but very much its own indigenous grape, the kind of unique old flavors Italy’s famous for. Good news is that the 2009’s are coming, an exquisite vintage especially in the single vineyards, and great Rosso and Chardonnay too. Order now for my best prices and to be sure you get your share of the 2009 Passopisciaros. You’re gonna want that.

2009 Passopisciaro Rosso, Etna

“The 2009 Passopisciaro is impressive. Sweet red cherries, flowers and spices are some of the notes that are woven into a fabric of incomparable grace and elegance. Deceptively medium in body, the wine shows surprising density over time, with layers of fruit that build towards the harmonious, enveloping finish.”  92 Points, WA

2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Chiappemacine, Etna

“Attractive density and expressive fruit, all supported by firm yet well-balanced tannins. A bright, articulate finish adds proportion and balance.”  93 Points, WA

2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Porcaria, Etna

“An exquisite wine layered with dark, sensual fruit. It is at once muscular yet weightless…”  94 Points, WA

2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Rampante, Etna

“Sweet dried fruit, herbs and spices are some of the nuances that emerge from the glass.”  93+ Points, WA

2009 Passopisciaro Contrada Sciaranuova, Etna

“Bright red fruit, flowers, anise and minerals wrap around the palate…Sweet scents of cedar, dried herbs and tobacco.”  94 Points, WA

2009 Passopisciaro Chardonnay Guardiola, Etna

“Juicy, concentrated flavors of thyme, lime, banana, honey and stone coat the palate. Finishes long and very clean, with mouthwatering freshness.”  90 Points, IWC

I found 93-pt, $24 Burgundy in South Africa, Oregon. Honest!

All the world wants to be Burgundy and you’ll be surprised who comes close. You won’t believe it but Hamilton Russell is the most southern of white Bugundies, so southern it’s below Cape Town. But trust me on this, South Africa’s Hamilton Russell is the rare Chard specialist anywhere that matches Chablis and the Cote d’Or for crisp, minerally terroir-driven wine. I was surprised too when I first visited HR (2003) and quickly won over; so too Wine Spectator, Decanter, the Robb Report and most other critics since. The key is that vineyards are almost in the sea, with strong maritime influence, on soils of clay and shale. The 2010 is long on pear and lime, with a stony, dry finish. You’ve got to try it. For a pinot noir, follow me to Oregon and Rex Hill, where they came up with a beauty in 2009. It’s not France but the best of Oregon, is superb. Intense flavors in that vintage filled a basket of every berry in the patch, black, blue, strawberries and raspberries with scent of roses, violets and garden leaves. The biggest link to Burgundy is the texture. As a Burgundy lover, I’m hard to please and you are too. Bet you thank me for turning you onto these alternatives. I’m gonna want that.

2010 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir2010 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (Walker Bay)

“The palate has a very attractive hazelnut and lanolin-tinged entry. It has wonderful definition and a taut, citrus finish that is long in the mouth. Try to resist temptation and cellar this for several years. Drink 2012-2020.”  93 Points, Wine Spectator2009 Rex Hill Pinot Noir

2009 Rex Hill Pinot Noir (Willamette)

“Focused, satiny and elegant, with a powerful thrust behind the pure currant and boysenberry flavors, shaded with touches of talcum and cream as the finish expands. Drink now through 2019…”  93 Points, Wine Spectator

Pinot blanc: I want more!

2008 Becker Pinot BlancPinot is a very big family. Pinot noir is of course the favored child, talented but willful. Pinot grigio is the wild one without a bit of discipline, brilliant one minute and a wastrel the next.  But pinot blanc is the quiet one, late blooming but profound, growing up into a charming dinner companion.  My latest find is Becker Estate from Rheinpfalz, like a fine white Burgundy with a peachy accent, creamy with acidic zing. Good with shrimp . Better with pork or roast chicken.

2008 Friedrich Becker Pinot Blanc

This pinot blanc is clean, crisp and refeshing.  Delicate flavors of citrus, green apple and floral aromas are nicely accented by a refreshing acidity and chalky minerality. – Winemaker’s notes

Swearing off pinot noir…a few suggestions for Lettie.

Miles from Sideways Pinot Noir
Earth to Miles...there are other reds out there!

Wall Street Journal wine maven Lettie Teague announced last week that she was bored with over pinot noir, bored. Done. The ultimate slap on Miles and Sideways. I won’t got a long with her full rant on pinot– not after tasting through a world of pinots at our grand tasting. Yet I will agree that many buyers don’t look far enough in wide world of reds.

The main attraction of pinot noir to many wine drinkers was seeking an alternative to cabernet sauvignon. They weren’t just bored with cab, they plain didn’t like it, too heavy and too dry and tannic. So Merlot and Pinot Noir were the first steps into lighter reds. Teague’s own new alternatives were German Blaufrankisch, Barbaresco and Rioja Crianza.  I’d vote for a giant step beyond to Spanish monastrells, Italian dolcettos, a whole raft of Beaujolais and Chinon from France. And how about some light-hearted zins, Barbara  or a grand old charbono.