January 11, 2014 was a memorable day. Ken Knox of The Henry Wine Group was pouring seventeen pinot noirs at Artisan Wine Depot in Mountain View. While chatting with him, we discovered that Pence Ranch had just signed up with the Henry Group for distribution. (Pence Ranch was our newcomer of the year in 2013.)
The pinots ran the gamut from lighter Willamette Valley style to the desert flavors and aromas we associate with the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills. Quite a tour.
The Two Best
Our overall favorites were the Sinor-LaVallee 2012 San Luis Obispo County and the Pellegrini 2011 Russian River Valley. We actually had met Mike and Cheri Sinor at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival in November. (Cheri is actually LaVallee- Sinor and is the president of the winery.)
The Sinor-LaVallee SLO blend ($28) has pleasant aromas of cherries with a hint of rose petals. On the palate it is juicy and flavorful, with elements of minerality and huckleberries. We brought home two bottles.
If you’re interested in Sinor-LaVallee wines, you’ll be better off buying them from Artisan. The winery has shut down their online ordering, but they will accept e-mail orders. Artisan’s online ordering system is great, but make sure they can legally ship to your state.
The Pellegrini RRV blend ($30) opens with aromas of cherries, roses, and spice, followed by more cherries, spice and peat moss on the palate. A delightful hint of caramel on the finish is an unexpected treat. We brought home two bottles of this one, too.
Respectable, Still Very Good, One Notch Lower
Benton Lane (2011 Willamette Valley, $22) opens with intense bing cherry aromas and elements of leather. Somewhat acid on the palate, the flavor evolves into a complex of smoke followed by a burst of pure grape juiciness.
Annabella is made by a winemaker we had almost forgotten, Michael Pozzan Wines. His 2012 Carneros ($14) starts with lovely aromas of cherry and spice. The flavor has mushroom overtones, but not unpleasantly so. The predominant palate, however, is sweet and concentrated. A hint of vanilla on the finish rounds out a very nice experience.
Michael Pozzan is famous in our household for producing wines that are excellent values. This one is no exception. Annabella is actually one of six labels under his brand. The name belonged to his grandmother.
Stemmler had a 2011 from Sonoma ($27). Aromas of wet earth complement raspberries and spice are followed by wonderful juice flavors.
Elizabeth Rose (2012 Yountville, Napa Valley, $20) is a new vintage of a winery we had tried before and liked quite a bit. Aromas and flavors of red berries are accompanied by just a little smoke.
Selby (2011 Russian River Valley, $30). Winemaker Suzie Selby is famous for her zinfandels and rightfully so. This is a pinot done in zin style. Tight leather aromas, spice, toast, this big, spicy, wine reflects Suzie’s love of … zin. Not to our taste, but may be what you’re looking for.
Dutton Estate (2011 “Karmen Isbela” Sonoma County, $39) is very quaffable. Intense floral aromas, with strong overtones of rose petals, are followed by cherry, honey, and raspberry flavors.
Ken was pouring two pinots from David Bruce. Over the years we’ve avoided Mr. Bruce’s Santa Cruz Mountain pinots because they are like the Santa Cruz Mountains: rugged with jagged edges that need a few years to smooth out. But his 2011 Russian River Valley ($30) was a pleasant surprise. Black berry and nutmeg aromas are followed by the same flavors. Unsurprisingly there were some tannins on the finish, but not enough to need significant aging.
David Bruce’s second offering was a 2009 from the Santa Maria Valley ($25). This one was somewhat less to our taste, with a hint of alum on the finish.
We hereby give you permission to order David Bruce pinot noir in restaurants from now on.
Three Sticks (2011 Sonoma County, $54) opens with great aromas of cola and rose petals. This wine is juicy, big and bold. With a balance of red berries, spice, and forest floor, this one is great, but overpriced for our taste.
Lumen’s 2012 Santa Maria Valley ($22) opens with peat moss aromas, followed by black cherries and earth on the palate. Very good, and quite a bargain, but not quite what we were looking for.
Lafond (2011 Santa Rita Hills, $20) was also one of the more quaffable pinots at this event. “Firm, tight and snappy, with vibrant wild berry, cherry, mineral and anise notes, ending with tannins that give the flavors traction” is how Wine Spectator described this vintage. We can’t improve on that.
Sinor-LaVallee also showed their 2011 “Talley Rincon Vineyard” ($36). Unlike the San Luis Obispo, this wine on the big side, very nice, but too intense for us.
Artisan and Henry Wine Group work well together. We hope to attend future events featuring this distributor.