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Wine Reviews: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

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We had another of our periodic tastings yesterday, this time of Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs, and I want to focus on a couple of them, to show that stylistic differences in their production—mainly alcohol level—are really irrelevant when it comes to quality.

Consider these four wines, with price, alcohol level and my rating. All the wines were tasted blind.

WALT 2012 The Corners, $75, 15.2%, 91 points.

Kendall-Jackson 2013 Jackson Estate, $30, 14.7%, 94 points.

Anthill 2012 Demuth Vineyard, $46, 12.9%, 96 points.

Littorai 2013 Savoy Vineyard, $70, 12.7%, 95 points.

You can see right off the bat that, for me anyway, the alcohol levels didn’t matter, in the sense that I did not automatically reject the K-J or the WALT as being “unbalanced.”

The WALT was actually a delight. Yes, it didn’t score quite as high as the others—because the alcohol did give it some heaviness—but the flavors were fantastic: cherry pie filling, orange zest, cocoa powder and an exotic teriyaki savoriness. An easy, lush, fat wine that, frankly, expresses a certain California style, and would be fabulous to drink with steak. It’s a shame some people reject that approach: it’s simply one extreme of a spectrum of Cailfornia Pinot Noir.

The other end? How about that Littorai! Sometimes these low alcohol wines can flirt with greenness, but not the Littorai. It had a clear, translucent ruby color, suggesting its delicacy, and what an eruption of flavor and spice. Raspberries, cola, orange zest, a gorgeous, dramatic, silky wine. I’m sure this is the kind of wine the IPOB crowd loves, as well they should: but I wish the cool kids were more open to other styles.

And yet, good as it was, there was the Anthill, which was my wine of the flight (of 14 wines). I remember meeting the Anthill guys years ago and being so impressed by them, so it was nice to see another triumph. The mountain vineyard (Demuth) has been source to many famous Pinot Noirs. This one, with its low alcohol, was a triumph of silk and delicacy, and enormously complex and racy. Just a beautiful wine, and an ager too.

It was, I have to say, a particular delight that the Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate scored so well, especially since we were tasting at K-J’s chateau and gardens, up in Fulton. Having been a small part of the launch of Jackson Estate, I know how excited K-J and the Jackson Family have been about the launch of Jackson Estate, which they meant to express the finest terroir of their vineyards. Really, the Jackson Estate knocked it out of the park. At 14.7%, it’s not low in alcohol, and yet the wine showed.—well, here are my notes. “A very pretty wine, easy to like. Lots of sweet, upfront raspberries and cherries. Some sweet heirloom tomato and prosciutto. Good acidity, smooth tannins. A bracing, wholesome wine, balanced and charming, with a long, rich finish.”

I might add that the Jackson Estate, at $30 retail, was by far the least expensive wine in the flight, further proof, as I blogged yesterday: “The new normal: just because it’s more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better.”

Did the flight show any particular Anderson Valley character? Not really. The wines were just too different to all be lumped together. Certainly, the uniform high quality testifies to Anderson Valley’s suitability at being included among California’s great coastal, cool-climate wine valleys. There was perhaps a certain mushroomy earthiness in many of the wines that was more prevalent in the Anderson Valley flight than in, say, Santa Rita Hills. One could say, poetically, that Anderson Valley Pinot Noir represents a middle ground between the fruit of Russian River Valley and the earthiness of Willamette Valley. But, as with any great growing area, there were wines that were not particularly successful; two or three were too heavy (despite being expensive), and lacked the vibrancy you want in any wine, especially Pinot Noir. I do not think that’s an Anderson Valley characteristic, though, as much as one of young vines, perhaps, or of the grapes being grown in a warmer spot, or something odd in the fermentation. As for alcohol level, I have to say that my lowest score, 86 points, went, sadly, to the Drew 2013 Morning Dew Ranch, a wine I’d had high expectations for, as the vineyard (not the winery) is Burt Williams post Williams-Selyem project. Its alcohol was a mere 13.3%; I found some vegetal notes. Oddly, the Williams Selyem Morning Dew, made from the same vineyard, I scored at 93 points. But then, its alcohol was 14.1%.

Have a wonderful weekend. Back on Monday.

  1. Bill Stephenson says:

    I’m curious about the remaining 8 wines you tasted as I have been a fan of Anderson Valley PN for years now. Did you taste Black Kite, Goldeneye, Navarro, Knez?

    Regarding your high expectations for the Morning Dew, I have one bottle of Burt’s 2008 left in my cellar. This was the first wine he released once the non-comp clause with Williams-Selyem expired. Sadly it is not a good wine due to the smoke taint from the fires that year.

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