Wine of the Day

2008 Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate Santa Lucia Highlands

Pinot Noir
Written by Fred Swan
Monday, 14 February 2011 21:55

For many years now, the Pisoni Vineyard has been the standard-bearer of Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir. Is it because of the vineyard’s unique location, the highest in the AVA and second farthest south? Is it the vines grown from cuttings “borrowed" from Burgundy? Is it the careful and highly-skilled viticulture directed by Mark Pisoni? All of the above.

Of course, Pisoni Pinot Noir is hardly the only high-quality Pinot Noir coming from Santa Lucia Highlands. Some people prefer the specific flavor profile of Garys’ Vineyard or Rosella’s. There are also very good wines made from the Doctor’s, Tondré, Fairview Road Ranch, Paraiso and Sleepy Hollow vineyards, among others. But the Pisoni Vineyard has been a very consistent performer from year to year, seemingly less sensitive to vintage variation than some vineyards in the area. And the fruit usually has its volume knob turned to eleven.

Grapes from the vineyard are sold to a very small group of wineries. As Gary Pisoni likes to say, to get access to the fruit “you need to do three things: be my friend, make great wine and you’ve got to pay me.” Jokingly he adds, “and the last one is the hard part.” Wineries who have bottled Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir include Miura, Patz and Hall, Roar, Siduri, Tantara, Testarossa and, starting with the 2008 vintage, Paul Lato. The Roar and Paul Lato wines are particularly excellent.

For about a decade now, Pisoni has also been making wine from the estate vineyard under its own label. These “Pisoni Pisoni” Pinot Noir have been very good from the outset. From the 2003 vintage they have been consistently excellent. The last three vintages, 2006 - 2008, have been the best ever, with each new bottling better than the last. The wine is improving in a way that conventional wisdom would not predict for a wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands and that is also receiving higher Parker scores every year. The Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate is getting prettier, more elegant, more complex and more balanced.

Why is this happening? There are probably many reasons, but some things strike me as being particularly significant. First, the vines are still young and just now beginning to hit their stride. Each year, the fruit has a little bit less youthful exuberance and a touch more complexity. Second, until recently, the wines were made in other people’s facilities, including those of Peter Michael and Copain. There’s clearly nothing wrong with those wineries but, now that Pisoni has its own winery, winemaker Jeff Pisoni is able to have the equipment and layout he wants, do things exactly as he thinks he ought, and dedicate his time and that of his support staff as needed. Finally, with each vintage, he’s gaining experience, honing his processes and dialing things in.

The latest and greatest of the wines is the 2008 Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate. I’ve tasted it three times from bottle now with consistent notes. It’s one of the best California Pinot Noir I’ve ever tasted. Of it, Robert Parker wrote, “an absolutely stunning fireworks display of aromatics” and “extremely layered.” He also gave it 98 points which is bad news for you, because the 600 case production disappeared immediately upon release. I’ve been buying Pisoni wines for a few years so I was able to get an allocation of six bottles (at the full $65 release price). You can get the wine from various resellers now, but online prices start at $125 per bottle. [If you want to get ahead of the curve for future releases, you might start with the 2009 Lucia Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands which will be released before the 2009 estate wine. I tasted this blend of appellation fruit made by Jeff Pisoni for the family’s non-estate label in January. Though it’s not yet released and tasting conditions weren’t scientific, I can very highly recommend the wine with confidence. It should be about $40 at release.]

My most recent tasting of the 2008 Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate Santa Lucia Highlands was on Super Bowl Sunday. I did not decant the wine. It was ruby-colored in the glass with medium to medium-plus intensity and colorless legs. Aromatically, the wine had medium-plus intensity and was complex from the outset. Black cherry, raspberry, dry forest floor, clove, allspice, dry green herb and caramel were easily discerned. In previous tastings, I’ve also gotten floral notes.

The palate was lighter than one might expect for Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, on the elegant side of medium-plus. There was generous, food-friendly acidity and the alcohol was very reasonable for the Santa Lucia Highlands at 14.2%. Both were balanced by moderate, slightly grippy tannins. The flavors resembled the nose but offered less complexity right now. I found dark cherry, raspberry, dark spice and caramel, all of which lasted nearly a minute.

The 2008 Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate raises the bar for Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and changes perceptions of the potential of that AVA for finesse. It is an excellent food wine, but take care not to overwhelm it by pairing foods suited for denser Pinot Noir. Seared duck breast with wild mushrooms and Israeli couscous would be marvelous. The wine is easily drinkable now but won’t approach its peak for another two to three years. It will drink well for a decade or more. Highest Recommendation.


2008 Pisoni Pinot Noir Pisoni Estate Santa Lucia Highlands
Rating: Highest Recommendation
Drink: Now through 2021 Release Date: 4th quarter, 2010
Retail Price: $65.00 at release
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir Origin: Pisoni estate vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands

Aging: 11 months in French oak barrels, 65% new. No racking until the pre-bottling blending.

Alcohol: 14.2%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was purchased for review. It was not tasted blind.

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