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West Coast Wine Club with Steve Heimoff


I’ve begun holding winetasting seminars at Franklin Square Wine Bar, a hip new wine bar that recently opened on Broadway in my Upper Lake Merritt neighborhood, near downtown Oakland. Upper Broadway was wrecked by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but it’s roaring back, with new condos and commercial buildings, restaurants, art galleries and cafés, as well as Franklin Square Wine Bar. Here are some images of my May 4 tasting of various Pinot Noirs from the Pisoni Vineyard, in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, with my special guest, Gary Pisoni. (

Gary Pisoni, wife and Steve
Mr. and Mrs. Gary Pisoni with Steve. That’s proprietor Rick Mitchell in the background on the left.

Gary first planted the vineyard back in 1982, mainly to Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. “We didn’t know what to grow!” he told me. Today, of course, the vineyard is mainly known for its Pinot Noirs; wineries line up “from here to Napa, and from here to Santa Barbara, both ways,” to procure the grapes, Gary laughs. Only about a dozen wineries are lucky enough to actually be able to buy fruit from the 55-acre vineyard. In 1998, Gary launched his own Pisoni brand.

We tasted through 6 wines. Here are my notes:

2006 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir: Exceptionally fine, a polished Pinot Noir that effortlessly combines impressive power with the most sensual elegance. The flavors of currants, cherries, cola, balsam and clovespice are ravishing. Such are the tannins, acids and overall balance that the wine should improve for many years. Score: 94 (NOTE: At the tasting, Gary brought a magnum of 1999 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, and it was my favorite wine of the evening, having aged to silky, sweet perfection.)

2006 ROAR Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir: ROAR is a brand owned by Gary’s friend and partner (in Garys’ Vineyard), Gary Franscioni. The ‘06 is made in a lighter, more immediate style. Crisp in cool-climate acidity, it offers pleasant flavors of currants, mocha and pepper. Best now-2010. Score: 91

2006 Tantara Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir: For me, a bit too oaky, opening with a burst of caramelized wood, nougant, and cinnamon toast. The sweet oak brought a smoky vanilla note to the raspberry and cherry fruit, giving the wine a pastry taste. Score: 88

2006 Siduri Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir: Although I had previously tasted through 11 other Siduri 2006 single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, the Pisoni had eluded me (possibly because it wasn’t released by the time of the tasting). I found the wine irresistably luscious, pure Siduri in style, with the disarming deliciousness that Adam and Dianna Lee bring to their Pinots on release. Flavors of raspberry mocha, pepper spice, smoke applewood, bacon. Yet for all the immediacy, the wine is complex and layered, with firm, fine tannins. Score: 95

2006 Capiaux Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir: It was a pity to open this wine at so young an age. I don’t know when it will be released, but it was really too immature for our May 4 tasting. Nonetheless, the quality showed through. Full-bodied and powerful, it exploded in cherry, currant and chocolate fruit, overlaid with smoky oak. Really best to hold it until sometime in 2009, and should hold and improve for several years after that. Score: 94

2004 Arcadian Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir: For some reason, Joe Davis submitted an ‘04. Despite Arcadian’s penchant for picking earlier than most (going for a so-called “Burgundian” style), the 2004 tasted overripe and pruny, no doubt because of the vintage’s wilting heat, even in Monterey. It also seemed to have some brett. This was not a successful wine.

Regarding the 2006 vintage of California Pinot Noir in general, I have not found it to be of the caliber of the fabulous 2005, the greatest in the state’s history. The weather in ’06 was cool and damp, causing some rot, especially in the North Coast. But then, many of the top wines have not yet been released. My Pisoni tasting at Franklin Square Wine Bar suggests that the best wineries, using the best grapes, will succeed despite the vintage’s unevenness.

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