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A tasting of current vintage, top Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs


There are very few common Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley. Certainly, given the number of producers (in the hundreds), the level of quality is extraordinarily high, especially when we have two vintages in a row—2012 and 2013—that both were very fine, although it looks like ’13 has the edge in terms of consistency.

This was brought home to me following the tasting of RRV Pinot Noirs I arranged last week. In general, I found two different types of wines: darker, more robust and fuller-bodied ones that also tend to be higher in alcohol, and paler, more delicate ones. And yet, some higher alcohol wines can be delicate, while some lower alcohol wines can be dark and heavy. In wine, as in life, beware of generalizations; and don’t go drawing conclusions based merely on alcohol level!

All the wines were tasted blind; identities weren’t revealed until the very end. (Note: I am currently paid by Jackson Family Wines, which owns Hartford Court and Siduri.) We had six or seven people, and the conversation was lively. Not everyone agreed on everything, but I think there was plenty of unanimity in the room, especially concerning the overall quality of these dozen fine wines.

Here are my notes, with scores:

Peirson Meyer 2012 Miller Vineyard. $40, 14.9%, 150 cases. Loved this wine. Complex nose of red cherries, cocoa, sandalwood, cola, persimmons, orange zest, cinnamon and clove. A little heat from alcohol, but not too much. Very high quality. The vineyard is south of Graton, at an elevation of 500 feet. The winemaker/co-owner, Robbie Meyer, has worked at Peter Michael, Lewis and Jericho Canyon. Good for a newish winery to score this well against far more famous veterans. Score: 93.

Paul Hobbs 2013 Ulises Valdez Vineyard. $70, 14.1%. Darker in color, richer and denser than A, despite lower alcohol. Go figure. A bit soft and over-extracted, with cherry pie, cocoa and pruney flavors. Ripe and voluptuous, but a bit too thick for my tastes, and some hard, bitter tannins in the finish. The vineyard is in the Green Valley, near Sebastopol. Score: 88.

Merry Edwards 2012 Meredith Estate. $57, 14.5%. Rich garnet-ruby color. Very aromatic, lots of crushed cherries, rose petal, tea, dried herbs, baking spices. Quite tannic at this time. Complex, layered, but very young. Give it at least six more years. The vineyard is in the Sebastopol Hills area. Score: 92.

Joseph Swan 2012 Trenton Estate. $59, 14.3%, 447 cases. Pale, translucent ruby color leading to delicate, complex aromas of golden tobacco, cranberries, persimmons, cola, cinnamon and clove, sandalwood. Feels delicate and silky, but quite intense in fruits and spices. Nice toast. Good finish. Gentle and lovely now. I thought it will age well, but others disagreed. Score: 93.

Siduri 2013 Keefer Ranch. $46, 14.2%. Pretty ruby color. Fine quality wine. Tasting a bit one-dimensional now, but it’s a pretty dimension. Classic Russian River Pinot: dry, silky, good acidity, nice cherry-cranberry fruit. Lovely to drink now. If I were teaching a class in Pinot Noir 101, I’d use this. Score: 91.

Rochioli 2013 Estate. $60, 14.5%. Good color. Jammy pie flavors (raspberries, cherries). Nice dusty tannins, good acidity, smooth finish. Somewhat oaky and a little rustic. A bit on the light side. This is Rochioli’s basic estate Pinot Noir, not the block bottlings which tend to be superior. Score: 89.

Hartford Court 2012 Fog Dance. $65, 14.7%. Big aromatics: baking spices, smoke, masses of cherries, raspberries, blackberries, plums, sweet vanilla, balsam, wild mushrooms. Ripe, flashy tannins, good acidity. A flamboyant, showy wine that drinks well now and will improve. Also, ironically, an intellectual wine: I kept coming back and finding more. Score: 94.

Failla 2013 Keefer Ranch. $45, 13.7%. A pretty wine, polished and supple. A little disconnected now in the mouth: the oak, raspberries, tannins, acidity and spices haven’t knit together yet. I suspect most people will drink it now, but you really should age it unti 2020. A few tasters found it a bit hollow, but not me. Score: 92.

Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard. $58, 13.5%, 613 cases. Pretty dark. Feels big and full-bodied despite the lowish alcohol. Dense, glyceriney. Could be more delicate, but it could be an ager. Oodles of black cherries and blackberries, orange rind, cinnamon, smoke. Considerable oak is evident. Hold until 2020, when it could easily be a 93-94 point wine.

Gary Farrell 2012 Hallberg Vineyard. $39, 14.2%. Nice to see this venerable winery doing well despite all the ups and downs of ownership. Combines delicacy with power. Intense flavors, firm tannins, some minerality underneath the bitter cherry candy and mushroom flavors. Very complex and layered, but needs time. Best after 2020. The vineyard is in Green Valley, near Sebastopol. Score: 93.

Dehlinger 2012 Altamont. $70, 14.8%. Oak wood and spice notes dominate, along with strong tannins. Buried underneath is raspberry compote, sour cherry Lifesaver candy and exotic baking spices. Supple mouthfeel, very high class wine, noble, but young. Altamont is from a hilly section of the estate vineyard, which is south of River Road, in the cool, foggy Laguna Ridge section of the valley. Wait until 2020. Score: 94.

Hartford Court 2012 Hailey’s Vineyard. $65, 14.6%. A wonderful wine. At first I was suspicious of the tremendous extract (raspberries, black cherries, kirsch liqueur) and considerable oak (44% new French) but then the innate strength and elegance hit me. A flashy, sexy wine that grew complex as it breathed, giving off notes of balsam and tamari. There is a core of iron-driven firmness I associate with Gold Ridge soils. Very impressive for drinking now and will age. Score: 94.

  1. Bob Henry says:


    “. . . we have two vintages in a row — 2012 and 2013 — that both were very fine, although it looks like ’13 has the edge in terms of consistency.”

    Do you wish to elaborate on the term “consistency”?


  2. Hey Steve, is it coincidence that your recent (and ongoing?) employer makes 2 of the 3 highest-rated wines?

  3. Gary Millnan says:

    We recently discovered Boheme pinots — they are in Occidental in RRv. Terrific wines. Also recommend PapaPietro Perry — dry creek valley but I believe they source their Pinot noir from RRV; The Pommard clone PN is fantastic

  4. Linda Murphy says:

    Steve, will you answer the questions from Bob and Blake? I share their curiosity.

  5. Adam Lee/Adam Lee says:

    I’m obviously not Steve, but on July 16 Steve posted a tasting of Carneros Pinot Noirs where two of his lowest scoring wines were from his ongoing employer (and my employer). No one then happened to ask if it were a coincidence.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  6. Bob Henry says:

    As someone who has a “hand” in selling wines at retail, I have a lot of tasting experience with the 2012 California Pinots.

    I have no experience tasting the 2013s — as I advise my clients to buy, Buy, BUY as many 2012s as they (I) can still find for them in distributors’ books.

    (Likewise as many 2012 Oregon Pinots.)

    So Steve, your experience tasting 2013s is instructive to me.

    Are the 2013s more consistently aromatic?

    More consistently lower in showing its alcohol (bouquet and flavor/mouth feel)?

    More consistently silky in their tannins?

    More consistently persistent in their finish?

    Deemed more consistently age-worthy?

    This past fortnight I have been drinking up 2009 California Pinots to reacquaint myself with the vintage — and see how well they are aging. Of the ones I have sampled so far, on average I find them more appealing than the 2012s. The 2009 alcohol levels seem to be lower and better masked by the fruit.

    (Aside: I was an early mailing list patron of Williams Selyem — the result of my wine group hosting Burt and Ed for lunch here in La-La-Land, during which we tasted through nearly every wine they had made up to that point in their career.

    Their late 1980s through 1990s bottlings continue to define for me the elegance and charm of California Pinot Noir.

    Today, I find that Ted Lemon joins them in the pantheon of peerless producers.

    “The best is always the enemy of the good.”)

  7. Bill Stephenson says:

    Bob, Interesting that you mention Williams-Selyem.

    Their latest allocation has two wines (Estate and Precious Mountain) that are priced in the Kistler range and not far from Kosta Browne

    After drinking all 4 of the large allocation 2012’3 – the Sonoma Coast, Central Coast, Russian River and the very average Sonoma County, I’m starting to see a drop-off in quality.

    The 2013’s are the last wines from the Bob Cabral era before he relocated to Bill Price’s Three Sticks. Bob has long been one of my favorite winemakers but WS may have priced their wine a bit too high when I can find wines of similar quality (Ancillary is one) at more reasonable prices.

  8. KCPhillips says:


    I’d suggest you try the Hartford Court wines in question. They’re superior, though I admit I’m only a consumer. Whether these wines are 94 points or 93 or 92 in this tasting is finally beside the point.

  9. Bob Henry says:


    I dropped off of the mailing list of W & S when the the discrete bottlings became too numerous, the allocations for each bottling became too numerous, and the prices became “too dear.”

    (As I recall, the first or second “Summa” bottling was released at . . . $110? That’s red Burgundy’s pricing stratum . . .)


  10. Just speaking as a Burgundy specialist here but you can find lots of red Burgundy at way below that price Bob.

  11. Bob Henry, I think the 2013s are simply more balanced overall than the 2012s. 2013 was a consistent vintage up and down the state. It reminds me in a way of 2007 where the wines were gorgeous across all varieties and regions, right out of the bottle, although the best were agers.

  12. Bill Stephenson says:

    Samantha & Bob,

    I’m not qualified to weigh in on the Burgundy v. Cali Pinot debate in terms of quality.

    Where I’m baffled is a Domaine de la Vougeraie has to be trucked across France, shipped across the Atlantic, railed across the North American Continent, and trucked to my local.
    All for a price similar to a bottle of Williams Selyem, an establishment whose front gate is a mere three hours from mine.

    Are some California Pinot producers getting too pricey for their own good?

  13. Hey All,

    I will just chime in with a few thoughts on the differences between 2012 and 2013 (specifically in the RRV). Both 2012 and 2013 brought larger than normal yields. In fact, yields were almost the same in 2013 and they were in 2012 (if you take the Sonoma County Pinot yield from the Grape Crush report and divide it by the Sonoma County Pinot acreage from the Grape Acreage report you get an average yield of 4.407152992tpo in 2012 and 4.407299035 in 2013). However, the way you got to those higher yields was different. In 2012 we had large berries. In 2013 we had more berries. At Siduri, we average 153 gallons per ton juice yield in 2012. In 2013 we averaged 138 gallons per ton.

    In 2012 we did extensive bleed offs to compensate for these higher juice yields (and still ended up with that higher yield). In 2013 that was far less necessary. Balance in 2012 was achieved largely through some degree of manipulation in the winery, where it occurred more naturally in 2013.

    That’s my take, at least when it comes to the RRV….The Central Coast was somewhat different.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  14. Bob Henry says:

    Samantha is self-evidently correct that there are (compelling) Burgs below the triple digit retail selling price.

    But for rabid collectors who have the deep pockets in play in that sandbox, the producers and bottlings they consistently buy and cellar cross that $100 divide.

    And if a Williams Selyem Pinot costs as much as a Burg . . . I’m buying the Burg (all other things being equal).

    (I am also a partisan for Oregon Pinot Noirs from great vintages — such as 2012 and 2009 and 2002.)

    Adam, you have touched on the differences between 2012s and 2013s harvests. And Steve praises the 2007s. From the perspective of a producer, give us similar insights into the 2009 and 2007 Pinots.

    And if Brian Loring is reading this blog on the sidelines, “ring in” as the Brits would say.

  15. Bob Henry says:


    “Are some California Pinot producers getting too pricey for their own good?”

    Yes, if they price themselves like Veblen or Giffen goods.

    Since high-priced California Pinot Noirs are small production bottlings, you rarely see an inventory build-up of unsold bottles in the marketplace. The small allocations that leading wine stores and restaurants receive disappear with sufficient time.

    Unlike high-priced California Cabernets. Many of those larger production wines have backed up in the channels of distribution.

    From the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
    (February 4, 2010):

    “Dark days for Cult Cabs;
    Makers of high-end Napa Valley Cabernets are feeling the pain
    of the economy as demand for their wine plummets.”


    By Patrick Comiskey
    Special to The Times

    “Is the Cult Cab dead?”

    . . .

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