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Updated: Vertical Tasting: 2008 - 2011 Don and Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

Update: In the original version of this article, I mentioned that I suspect the bottle of 2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir that I had reviewed was not a sound bottle. It was much more restrained than I expected and than some other tasters with their own bottles had noted. Don & Sons sent me a new bottle last week and it's much more in line with my expectations. I can happily recommend the wine now and have adjusted the review below.

Don and Sons recently held a vertical tasting, live via Twitter, of their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The interplay on Twitter was interesting and, no doubt, helped get the brand “out there.” However, the wines are good in their own right and deserve a look in article form.

All made by Greg Kitchens, the four wines are nevertheless very distinct from each other. As regional blends, there’s no specific vineyard character. (And since the Sonoma Coast AVA is approximately the size of Brazil1, there’s enough flexibility in vineyard sourcing to make even a specific regional signature difficult to read.) That said, the wines clearly show the influence of vintage. This particular four-year snapshot is especially interesting in that regard since it goes from one extreme to another with respect to growing-season weather.


2008 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2008 was a dry year with heat that persisted well into September. That forced some wineries to pick early, sometimes resulting in unripe flavors or tannins. In cool places like the Petaluma Gap2, which provided most of this wine’s grapes, the temperatures were moderate though. That allowed for longer hang times and phenolic ripeness in step with the sugars. This is evident in the silky mouthfeel and ripe flavors of the Don & Sons Pinot Noir.

Now, nearly five years from harvest, the wine is also starting to show tertiary flavors from aging. The combination of fresh-faced fruit with the voice of experience are appealing. Still fully ruby in the glass, there’s a heady mix of aromas that includes cranberry, earthy red cherry, brown spice, dry cedar, fresh herb and caramel. It’s medium-bodied in the mouth with fine, powdery tannins and flavors of spice, baked red cherry, toasted oak, brown sugar and tangerine pith. The 2008 Don & Sons Pinot Noir is an easy-to-drink wine—with or without food— and has enough complexity to merit some focused sips. 100% Pinot Noir, 14.6% alcohol. At or near peak, drink now through 2015. Recommended

2009 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2009 challenged growers in a different way. Heavy rains came earlier than “usual,” right in the middle of harvest for some. Fortunately, Pinot Noir is early-ripening and—despite a very cool year in the Petaluma Gap—much of it was in tank before the skies opened. The result here is a fresher wine than the 2008 with brighter fruit and lower alcohol.

Aromas of pomegranate, fresh red cherries, fresh herb and spice dance gracefully, rather than rush, out of the glass. Acidity frames the flavors of red cherry, caramel, brown spice and oak. This 2009 Don & Sons Pinot Noir is feminine and nuanced with its greatest complexity a couple of years ahead, whereas the 2008 is masculine, easier to know and fully ready. 100% Pinot Noir, 13.9% alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Recommended+

2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
The weather doubled-down on trickiness in 2010. A super-cool spring meant a late start to the growing season. Unusually cool weather continued for much of the summer, leading many growers to pluck leaves from vines to give bunches more direct sun exposure. This backfired toward the end of August when an unexpected week of blistering heat burned unshielded grapes. Sorting is always important to making good wine and that was truer than ever in 2010. Unlike the two proceeding wines, this one consists mostly of fruit from Carneros where ripeness was easier to achieve without leaf-pulling.

The Don & Sons’ 2010 Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color with a medium+ intensity nose of earthy cherry, brown spice, sandalwood, black raspberry and sweet herb. In the mouth it's medium to medium+ bodied with moderate acidity and tannins. Flavors include dark cherries, raspberry, brown spice, dried tangerine peel, sandalwood and dry herb. 100% Pinot Noir, 13.9% alcohol. Recommended+.

2011 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
Growers who hoped to catch a break after somewhat tough vintages in 2009 and 2010 were sorely disappointed. 2011 was very cool again but also damp. Grape varieties that rarely rot did. Those that often do were devastated. Yields were generally somewhat low as well. But, once again, the relatively easy to ripen Pinot Noir made out okay in many instances.

The 2011 Don & Sons, again a blend of Petaluma Gap and Carneros Pinot Noir, wears cool-climate on its sleeve. It’s blend of flavors and aromas remind me of wines from the Suacci Vineyard in a somewhat cool year (it’s one of the chilliest growing sites in the Sonoma Coast). That’s good to my personal taste and yielded alcohol of just 13.5%. It also means there may be less effusive, ripe fruit than many drinkers of California Pinot Noir are accustomed to. The nose shows a melange of fresh herb, including dill, plus tart red berries. The palate is especially fresh and juicy with flavors of earthy red berries and brown spice. A fun and lovely wine if you like the style. Try a glass before you buy a bottle. Alcohol 13.5%. Drink now through 2018. Recommended

It’s hard to find good California Pinot Noir for less than $30 these days. At $25 full retail, these Don & Sons Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir offer good value. And I’ve just noticed that the 2011 is currently on sale in the winery’s online store for $18.75. That makes it even easier to see what uber-cool climate Sonoma Coast Pinot is like.

About Don and Sons
Don and Sons is one of several labels owned by Don Sebastiani and his sons, Donny and August. The brands included Smoking Loon, The Crusher and Pepperwood Grove. The Sebastianis are one of the oldest wine-producing families in Sonoma. Their eponymous winery was the only one in Sonoma County to produce wine continually throughout Prohibition. The business grew massively and spawned various sub-brands and side projects. Ultimately the family sold the main Sebastiani Cellars brand to Bill Foley. Don’s father, August Sebastiani, was inducted into the Vintners’ Hall of Fame in 2011.

1 The Sonoma Coast AVA comprises 750 square miles and is the largest AVA in Sonoma County. It stretches from the northernmost extent of the county's coastline to the top of San Pablo Bay.

2 The Petaluma Gap is an area affected by notch in the coastal mountains that allows cold breezes to rush in off the ocean beginning in late afternoon. It also promotes cooling fog.

Interpreting my wine ratings

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This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.