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2007 Wente Pinot Noir Reliz Creek Arroyo Seco

Wente Vineyards is known primarily for its Livermore Valley winery and vineyards. However, they have held vineyards in Monterey County for decades. The vast majority of the grapes used in the 2007 Wente Pinot Noir Reliz Creek come from vineyards that Wente started cultivating in the early 1960’s. Some of the vines used for this wine date back to 1963.

Monterey County is big and not all of it is well-suited to viticulture. Most of Wente’s holdings, though, are in the excellent Arroyo Seco AVA. It’s a small appellation in the southeast portion of county, just below the southernmost border of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well there. It’s very cool climate due to the nearby Pacific Ocean and the breezes that sweep in from it. The soil is gravelly and drains efficiently. Yet, the area doesn’t get too much rain and the top of the soil is covered by big rocks a bit reminiscent of the “pudding stones” in Chateauneuf du Pape. The stones absorb heat during the day and then release it over the night which prevents the grapes from getting excessively cold. If you’d like to read more about Arroyo Seco, Steve Heimoff wrote an interesting article about it.

In the glass, the 2007 Wente Pinot Noir Reliz Creek Arroyo Seco is dark ruby with a very generous nose that I thought scrumptious. It smells like dessert: cherry, vanilla, caramel, warm spice and sweet oak. The palate is silky and on the rich side of Pinot Noir. Flavors include black cherry, tobacco, caramel and spice. The wine went very well with Wente Vineyards Restaurant’s signature smoked pork chop with gorgonzola polenta and also with a medium rare filet mignon. You could sit this wine down for a little while, but I think it will be at its best while young. Drink now through 2013. Highly Recommended.

2007-Wente-Pinot-Noir-Reliz-Creek-Arroyo-Seco

2007 Wente Pinot Noir Reliz Creek Arroyo Seco
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2013
Retail Price: $21.95
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir (93% Arroyo Seco, 7% Livermore Valley)

Aging: 19 months in French, American, Eastern European and neutral oak barrels

Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

This wine was purchased for review. It was not tasted blind.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2006 Alpen Cellars Pinot Noir Trinity County

Heidi

If Heidi moved to the U.S. to work in a tasting room, she’d probably apply for work at Alpen Cellars. Founded in 1984, the winery and tasting room are nestled in a high mountain valley deep in California’s Shasta National Forest. It’s located close to... well, nothing but trees and mountain lakes. It should be a beautiful place to taste some wine. (I’ve not been there, but know the area.) Alpen Cellars encourages visitors and is open seven days a week Memorial Day through Labor day and by appointment off-season. Be forewarned though, it’s a 2-hour drive from Redding and some of the roads are virtually impassable during the winter.

Fortunately, the wine can also come to you directly from the winery or from some stores. I bought a bottle of their 2006 Pinot Noir at KL Wines quite some time ago and opened it just the other day. Alpen is now on offering their 2008 vintage, $10.99.

Alpen Cellars’ Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1986. The three acres of vines lie at an elevation of 2,600 feet. To give you a frame of reference with regard to altitude, the Veeder Summit Vineyard of The Hess Collection, which is at the top of Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, and Pride’s vineyards at the top of Spring Mountain both top out at around 2000 feet. It’s also higher than most of the vineyards in the El Dorado AVA, though a few of those vineyards are as high as 3,500 feet. Altitude aside, the Alpen Cellars Pinot Noir is less likely to get you high than most of its fellow California Pinots, the stated alcohol percentage is just 13%. [Note to the curious: According to Jancis Robinson, the highest vineyards in mainland Europe are probably those of the Aosta region in northwest Italy at nearly 5,000 feet. But, the vines most likely to cause vertigo and nosebleeds belong to Donald Hess, owner of the The Hess Collection. His Bodega Colomé in Argentina includes a small vineyard he planted at 9,982 feet.]

In my glass, the wine was bright ruby with medium plus intensity, a rosy rim and colorless legs. The nose and flavors may strike you as being more typical of red Burgundy than your favorite wines from California or even Oregon. The first thing I got on the nose was tobacco, then stewed cherry, mild brown spice, dry twigs and slightly sweaty leather. The body is just north of medium with silky medium-plus tannins that become powdery in the mid-palate. Flavors include cocoa, slightly sweet spice and delicate oak all framing the raspberry and strawberry fruit which are in balance with the acidity and alcohol.

This is the first Alpen Cellars wine I’ve tried. I’m looking forward to trying the new vintage to see how it compares and how the wines show at release. Their best-selling wine is Chardonnay and I’ll be trying one of those shortly too. As for the 2006 Pinot Noir, I found it to be a good food wine and an interesting contrast to the lush California Pinot Noir with which we are more accustomed. Try it with quail or duck breast. Drink now through 2012. Recommended (and an excellent bargain if you like the style).

2006 Alpen Cellars Pinot Noir Trinity County
Rating: Recommended

Drink: Now through 2012
Retail Price: $10.99
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir

Aging: ~ 18 months in oak, 70% French, ~ 50% new

Alcohol: 13%

Closure: Cork

This wine was purchased for review. It was not tasted blind.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The illustration of Heidi and a Goat appeared on the cover of a 1922 publication of the book and is in the public domain.

2007 Sequana Pinot Noir Sundawg Ridge Vineyard, Green Valley of Russian River Valley

Wine can be fickle. You never really know exactly what you’re going to get when you open a bottle, even if you’ve tried the wine before. Wine changes over time. It tastes and smells different depending on the temperature, humidity and the glass you pour it in. Even if all of that were equal, there’s bottle variation to take into account — subtle variations coming from the bottling process and/or storage.

As consumers, we try to taste a wine before we buy it in quantity. And, if we do buy a case or so to age, we taste the wine at regular intervals to see how it is changing. This gives us a reasonable chance, or at least the belief that we have a reasonable chance, of knowing what the wine will be like if we taste it again in the near future.

Because we can’t taste every wine we might want before we actually buy it, we also rely on advice from others. Recommendations from friends, sommeliers, wine shop staff, well-known magazines and critics, and online reviewers play a role in our decision-making. Using these various sources can usually give us an expectation of what we’re going to smell and taste, and what level of quality to expect. Some wines refuse to be pigeon-holed though. The 2007 Sequana Pinot Noir Sundawg Ridge Vineyard is one of those. It is two wines in one bottle.

I purchased this wine to taste and review late last year. The winery indicated the wine was unlike most Russian River, Green Valley Pinot Noir saying, “brawny, almost brooding... drinks more like a wine from the Santa Rita Hills... dark cherries and bacon fat.” Chuck Hayward of J.J. Buckley said, “the nose is a touch hot at first, but there’s also some spice and deep dark fruit there. This is a great example of a bigger styled Pinot.” Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast gave it 97 points, “eruptive in cherries, sweet smoky bacon, raspberry granola and oaky sandalwood. Gorgeous, seductive and brilliant.” How could I not buy that wine?

I’d never had a Sequana wine before, so I bought a pair to try, at a slight discount from the retail price of $50. I just got around to opening one of them last week. One benefit of waiting to taste the wine is that I had completely forgotten all of those reviews and comments by the time I tried it myself. I tasted the wine blind alongside the 2008 Paraiso Pinot Noir I reviewed last week.

I knew the prices of the two wines, their origin and theoretical quality levels, but not which wine was in which glass. The pairing was accidentally apropos; I was tasting a Santa Rita Hills Pinot next to a wine from Russian River Valley purported to taste like a Santa Rita Hills Pinot, though I had forgotten those comments and was expecting one wine to taste like Russian River Valley. As I swirled, sniffed and tasted the wines, I suspected that I knew which wine was which.

One wine was darkly extracted with bold cherry aromas. It had richness of body that I associate with high points in some publications though not necessarily, in all fairness, those of Steve Heimoff at Wine Enthusiast. It showed balance between acidity, tannins and fruit. There was no alcohol heat, despite the weight of the wine. It was an easy “Highly Recommended” for me, 90+ points on a 100-point scale. It didn’t have the complexity that I’d hope for from a $50 Pinot Noir, but everything else was there. Surely, this wine was the Sequana Sundawg Ridge!

The second wine had a good, but definitely lighter, ruby color and also a less bold nose with aromas very much in character for Pinot Noir: raspberry, cherry, spice and leather. The flavors matched the nose. But. it was hot on the nose and palate, not obnoxiously so, but very noticeably and enough to be considered unbalanced. It was a solid “Recommended” due to the aromas and flavor, but clearly a step below the other wine in drinkability. For me, it was around 88 points on a 100-points scale. A very good representation of California Pinot Noir, but without the balance needed to get into the next tier of quality on my scale. I figured this was the Paraiso and, for around $25 it was a good deal.

Of course, I was wrong about which wine was which. To me, that meant the Paraiso was a rockin’ deal and the Sequana was... not. My wife and I enjoyed more of the Paraiso with dinner. I capped the Sequana and set it aside.

I always taste wine’s I review here at least twice to make sure that my palate or environmental conditions weren’t been off during the first tasting. And, sometimes, a big wine will open up to show something new. On the second day for these Pinots, the temperature of the wines was slightly cooler. At the first tasting, they had been at room temperature, about 68 degrees. Now, having been stored in the fridge overnight but allowed to come up in temperature, they were at about 64 degrees. The Paraiso smelled and tasted exactly the same as it had before. The 2007 Sequana Sundawg Ridge tasted like someone had put different wine in the bottle.

The basic aromas and flavors were the same, but they were more confident and charming. They were effusive and lovely. Perhaps more importantly, the wine was in perfect balance. There was no trace of alcohol heat. The wine didn’t have the complexity of a truly exceptional wine such as the 2008 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast [reviewed here recently]. However, it was a very solid 93+ point wine and reflected the level of quality I would expect for the price. This was apparently the wine that Steve Heimoff had tasted.

This presented a quandary. Which is the real Sequana Sundawg Ridge and how do I rate it? I let the wine sit in my glass while I considered the issue. As the wine sat, and warmed, the alcohol heat came back. So, here’s the deal: If you have some of this wine already, or can find some available at retail [good luck with that, "97 point wines" sell out in a hurry], and you have the ability and patience to serve it within a small temperature window (about 62 - 65 degrees), then I Highly Recommend it. I won’t go higher on the rating because it isn’t sufficient;y complex in my view, and because it’s so finicky. If you serve the wine warmer, then it’s an 88-point wine [which turns to be what Wine Spectator gave it]. That’s “Recommended” on the NorCal Wine scale but, frankly, not a good value nor showing the wine at it’s best. Drink now through 2014.

2007-Sequana-Sundawg-Ridge

2007 Sequana Pinot Noir Sundawg Ridge Vineyard, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Rating: “it’s complicated," see above
Drink: Now through 2014
Retail Price: $50
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir

Aging: 11 months in 100% French oak, 40% new
Alcohol: 15.1%

Closure: Cork [This wine also has one of the most robust capsules I’ve ever seen. Very thick and "premium," but hard to cut through.]

This wine was purchased for review.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2008 Paraiso Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands

I first tried this wine during a tasting room survey of the Santa Lucia Highlands. I tasted several very good wines that day. However, the 2008 Paraiso Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands struck me as a particularly good value, so I bought a bottle to review more formally later. Happily, the day for that has come.

I revisited the Paraiso, an estate-grown Pinot Noir, blind in a flight of two California Pinots and found it a rich wine from start to finish, on the dark and luxurious side of Pinot Noir. The color is medium plus ruby with lightly pigmented legs. Aromas are of black cherry, rich smoke with overtones of charred meat, and brown spices lightened with hints of vanilla.

Nearly full-bodied the wine is quite viscous for Pinot Noir. The tannins are silky and fully integrated. Given the rich mouthfeel, I was surprised that the listed alcohol is just 14.2%, but it certainly isn’t hot on the palate. There is reasonable acidity which is masked to a large degree by the fruit, tannins and alcohol. Dense black cherry is foremost on the palate, but complemented by brown spice and just a hint of oak. The flavors and texture persist into a lengthy finish.

The 2008 Paraiso is a masculine yet charming Pinot Noir that will appeal especially to those people who pay attention to texture and like it velvety. It is also a Pinot Noir that won’t be intimidated by robustly flavored food. While writing this note, I was sipping on a 2001 Moss Brothers Shiraz from Australia’s Margaret River region. Having finished that, I poured some of the 08 Paraiso Pinot Noir into my glass. The Paraiso Pinot picked up the baton without a hitch and instantly made the Shiraz flavors disappear. If you love both Pinot Noir and steak, this is your wine. The smoke and fruit in the wine would also pair very well with grilled chicken thighs with slightly charred skin. I drank some with pan-seared salmon and that too was a nice match.

If you’re not offended by burly Pinot Noir, you’ll likely find this wine very appealing. The price makes it even more attractive. It retails for $25 and I’ve seen it online for $20. Even with today’s economy, or perhaps especially with today’s economy, this is a wine one might consider for full-case purchase. That said I think it is a wine best consumed in its youth. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended and a Special Value.

2008-Paraiso-Pinot-Noir

2008 Paraiso Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands
Rating: Highly Recommended, Special Value

Drink: Now through 2014
Retail Price: $25
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir
Aging: 11 months in French oak
Alcohol: 14.2%
Closure: Cork

This wine was purchased for review.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2007 Pinot Noir Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard Russian River Valley

Woodenhead is a Russian River Valley winery that mostly makes Pinot Noir, though they also release a few Zinfandel wines. Woodenhead says that their winemaking is “Burgundian done California style.” It might be more accurate to say that they try to work toward a Burgundian style with California fruit. That’s the impression I get from the wine anyway.

I’m not saying that the wine tastes like Burgundy. And of course there’s dramatic variation among Burgundian wines. However, if one can generalize to say that Burgundian Pinot Noir does not favor ripeness of fruit over complexity, richness over delicacy or power more than prettiness, then the wine under review here is a kindred spirit.

Woodenhead’s 2007 Buena Tierra Vineyard Pinot Noir is a less saturated ruby color than the majority of Pinot Noir wines I've seen recently. It’s nose is nuanced with raspberry and dried cherry fruit but also aromas of dry leaves, dried herb, and gentle spice. Medium plus acidity, body just over medium and alcohol under 14% also suggest that the grapes were not left too long on the vines. Flavors of cherry, vanilla and raspberry lead into a long finish with balanced fruit and acidity.

The wine has sufficient intensity to hold up to stuffed, seared quail, but is also light enough to go well with sea bass. Drink now through 2016. Highly Recommended.

2007 Pinot Noir Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard. Russian River Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2016
Retail Price: $60
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir
Aging: 19 months in French oak, 1/3 new, 1/3 second use, 1/3 third use
Alcohol: 13.9%
Closure: Cork

This wine was provided by the winery for review.

This wine was tasted at KL Wines. I paid for the samples.

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