California Pinot Noir 2017

California Pinot Noir

The Fifty Best California Pinot Noir Tasting of 2017


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 14 recent release California Pinot Noirs with 16 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh wine glasses from new sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and white peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax.


2015 Pinot Noir - Santa Lucia Highlands

(Monterey) $16

Grapes for this wine hailed from vineyards noted for morning fog and cool afternoon maritime breezes, providing a long, gentle ripening of the fruit. Following harvest and fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine was aged for 10 months in 100% French oak.

Aroma: Dark cherry, cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, plum, figs, dried cherry, dried pineapple, mixed spice, pink peppercorn, wood, oak, smoke.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, red berries, berry, teaberry, strawberry, raspberry, plum, prune, raisin, herbs, basil, peppermint, baking spices, white pepper, tobacco, earthy, oak, well-balanced between tannin acidity and sweetness, fleshy, rich, classic.
Finish: Eucalyptus, mint, anise, barnyard, woody, smooth, silky, satisfying, fantastic.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Austerity 2015 Pinot Noir

Ron Rubin
2015 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

(Sonoma) $25

Following harvest, the hand-picked Pinot Noir Grapes for this wine were sorted, destemmed and fermented in open-top tanks, after which the wine was transferred to French oak barrels (15% new) for aging for 8 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, deep blackberry, currant, sweet plum, raisin, lots of fruit, oregano, spice, cinnamon, black pepper, ash, leather, oak, earthy, bright.
Palate: Cherry, light cherry, tart cherry, bold strawberry raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, currant, cranberry, juicy, violet, pepper spice, earthy, strong tannins, very balanced, balanced oak and fruit integrate on palate.
Finish: Black cherry, tart cranberry, hint of goji berry, a touch woody, velvet, rich, vibrant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Ron Rubin 2015 Pinot Noir


Au Contraire
2014 Pinot Noir - Lawler Vineyard

(Carneros, Napa Valley) $25

Grapes (100% Pinot Noir) for this wine were hand sorted and fully destemmed to open-top fermenters (without crushing). Following fermentation (over 18 days), the wine was aged in French oak barrels (50% new) for 12 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, pretty red fruit, overripe plum, dried raspberries, cranberry juice, juicy, meaty, herbs, oak, smoke.
Palate: Sweet cherry, dark ripened strawberry, jammy raspberry, cranberry, currants, plum, juicy, dried cherry, dried fruit, cocoa, leather, spicy, robust, balanced, classic.
Finish: Tart cherry, plum, red fruits, cinnamon, leather, delicate, great.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Au Contraire Pinot Noir Lawler Vineyard

Sean Minor
Four Bears 2015 Pinot Noir

(Central Coast) $16

To produce this wine, Pinot Noir grapes were harvested, de-stemmed, cold-soaked, fermented and aged as separate lots. Blending was conducted just before bottling.

Aroma: Café au lait, chocolate, earthy, classic.
Palate: Bright cherry, red cherry, dark berry, berry, strawberry, raspberry, rich spiced orange, orange, stewed fruit, cherry jam, jammy, lots of fruit, juicy, tobacco, concentrated, balanced, refreshing, delicate, great.
Finish: Sweet cherry, cherry, sweet berries, cinnamon, spicy, flavorful, balanced, nice, pleasant, enjoyable.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Sean Minor Four Bears Pinot Noir

Sean Minor
2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

(Sonoma) $22

For this wine, Pinot Noir grapes from carefully selected vineyards were hand picked at night and early mornings, de-stemmed into bins and then open-top fermenters. Following fermentation to dryness, the wine was aged for 10 months in 100% French oak (20% new).

Aroma: Red cherry, black cherry, sweet cherry, bright cherry, unripe berries, tart strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, grapefruit, crisp red apple, cherry jam, strawberry jam, cotton candy, vanilla, floral, earthy, super-lean.
Palate: Sweet cherry, sour cherry, black cherry, bright cherry, strawberry, tart raspberry, berry, pomegranate, slightly tart plum, orange, juicy, candy, crushed petals, rose petal, grassy, peppermint, spices, black pepper, licorice, oak, balanced acid.
Finish: Creamy, spicy, tart, tannic, delicate, easy, soft, smooth, big, robust, food friendly, a picnic in the sun.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Sean Minor Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Cakebread Cellars
2015 Pinot Noir - Two Creeks Vineyards

(Anderson Valley) $49

This 100% Pinot Noir is a blend of grapes from Annahalu and Apple Barn Estate vineyards in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. Following hand harvesting at night, the grapes were fermented as individual lots in small open-top tanks, with free run juices aged for 3 months in French oak barrels. Lots were then blended and the wine was barrel-aged for an additional 7 months.

Aroma: Raspberry, black raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, cherry, currants, red plum, white peach, violet, dark cocoa, vanilla, pungent shallot, black olive, mushrooms, musty, earthy, woodsy, smoky.
Palate: Briar fruit, cherry, black cherry, cranberry, currants, black currants, cranberry juice, very grapey, herbaceous, peppermint, spice, cinnamon, pepper, good flavors, beautiful ripe fruit, big, yummy.
Finish: Boysenberry, dark berry, cranberry, grassy, spicy, earthy, wood note, tannins, layered, smooth, big, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir Two Creeks Vineyards

2014 Pinot Noir

(Santa Rita Hills) $27

Grapes for this wine were from the Lafond Vineyards, noted for warm days and cool nights. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in a combination of French and Hungarian oak barrels prior to bottling.

Aroma: Dark cherry, cherry, berry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, currant, white plum, juicy, cherry cola, floral, menthol, light spice, wet leather, cigar box, light oak.
Palate: Dark cherry, black cherry, ripe cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, currants, red plum, blueberry ice pop, rhubarb pie, herbs, leather.
Finish: Cherry, super-bright raspberry, cranberry, currant, plum, black pepper, tannin, earthy, cedar box, smooth, clean mouthfeel.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lafond Pinot Noir

Folie à Deux
2014 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast

(Sonoma) $20

Grapes for this 100% Pinot Noir wine were sourced from 3 vineyards noted for cool climate and high rainfall. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 10 months in primarily French oak barrels.

Aroma: Bright cherry, ripe strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, peach, tangerine, strawberry jam, butterscotch, brown sugar, violet, floral, herbs, vegetal, peppers, funk.
Palate: Ripe dark cherry, blackberry, strawberry, plum, red plum, cranberry, cherry jam, citrus, cinnamon, pepper, tobacco, oak, cigar ash, meaty, tannin, acidic, well-structured, refreshing.
Finish: Soft berry, cranberry, tart plum skin, spice, black pepper, tannic, clean, rich, silky, velvety, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Folie à Deux Pinot Noir

2014 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

(Carneros, Napa Valley) $42

Made from grapes grown in Santa Barbara and Monterey, this wine was aged in 75% new Burgundy oak barrels and 25% in 1 and 2 year-old Chardonnay barrels for a total of 10 months.

Aroma: Cherry, tart cherry, black cherry, berries, raspberry, cranberry, plum, big bold dried cherry, herbs, black olive, cocoa powder, leather, musty, mineral, cigar box, wood, fire and oak, smoke.
Palate: Dark cherry, cherry, tart cherry, light berry, very sweet strawberry, plum, plummy, jammy, juicy, coconut, vanilla, milk chocolate, café-au-lait, hazelnut, clove, spice, violet, light tobacco, smoky, cigar box, soft wood, oak, well-balanced, rich.
Finish: Strawberry, raspberry, very sweet cherry, juicy, dry, big, satisfying.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Cuvaison Estate Grown Pinot Noir


Camelot Vineyards & Winery
Pinot Noir

(Parlier) $8

Vineyards in the Lodi and Clarksburg regions provided grapes for this wine, with fermentation in stainless steel tanks and aging in a combination of French and American oak.

Aroma: Cherry, sour cherry, Bing cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, red berry, blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, green pepper, black pepper, smoky.
Palate: Black cherry, bright cherry, strawberry, raspberry, currants, plum, raspberry jam, Linzer torte, peppermint, mineral, tobacco, oak, smoky, tart, tannins, tannic dominates dry, great astringency, good acidity, easy-drinking.
Finish: Sweet cherry, prune, delicate, refreshing, smooth, big finish—very dry and lean.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Camelot Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir

Napa Cellars
2014 Pinot Noir

(St. Helena, Napa Valley) $12

Grapes for this wine (100% Pinot Noir) were from northern Napa Valley vineyards noted for morning fog and cool afternoon breezes. Oce harvested, the grapes were sorted, de-stemmed, crushed, macerated and fermented, after which the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 10 months before bottling.

Aroma: Bright cherry, black cherry, sour cherry, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, pomegranate, plum, black plum, dried cherry, dried apricots, coffee grounds, cannabis funk, musty, wood, smoky.
Palate: Black cherry, cherry, plum, black plum, raspberry, blackberry, mixed berries, tart berries, pomegranate, cranberry, slight citrus, lavender, violet, vegetal, mushroom, earth, black pepper, black tea, tannic, soft, good balance.
Finish: Cherry, black cherry, mushroom, earthy, oak, tannic, balanced, clean, soft, silky, smooth, big.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Napa Cellars Pinot Noir

2015 Pinot Noir - Sangiacomo Vineyards, Sonoma Coast

(Sonoma) $35

To produce this wine, 100% hand-harvested Pinot Noir grapes were fermented in tanks (using Brugundian yeast) and aged for 11 months in barrels.

Aroma: Red cherry, cherry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, plum, orange, floral, violet, mint, herbal, spicy, cilantro, fresh tobacco leaf, Baker’s chocolate, leather, musty, earthy, smoky.
Palate: Red berries, berry, strawberry, sour cherry, red currant, dried fruit, cherry cola, chocolate, rose petal, roasted peppers, spicy, cinnamon, tobacco, smoke, oak, earthy, zippy, good acidity.
Finish: Cherry, berries, cinnamon, tobacco, tannic, smoky, soft, balanced, engaging.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Bonneau Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyards

2015 Pinot Noir

(Parlier) $8

This wine was produced by stainless steel fermentation followed by aging in French oak barrels.

Aroma: Cherry, wild cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, mulberry, plum, golden apple, strawberry candy, vanilla, cocoa, leather, earthy.
Palate: Dark cherry, cherry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry juice mixed with cranberry juice, plum, apple, rose petal, violet, licorice, smoky, wood, well-balanced, good integration of fruit and oak, delicate body, easy-drinking.
Finish: Tart cherry, juice box, smoky, tannic, clean, soft, smooth, flavorful.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Backhouse Pinot Noir

Leese - Fitch
2015 Pinot Noir

(Various California) $12

This wine was made from a blend of Pinot Noir (86%), Barbera (10%) and Grenache (4%) sourced from vineyards in Clarksburg, Lodi, Paso Robles, Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast.

Aroma: Dark cherry, sweet cherry, cherry, berries, herbs, mint, menthol, wet grass, leather, aged ham, meat, bacon, salami, cigar smoke, tobacco smoke, peat, earthy, musty, oak.
Palate: Sweet cherry, dark cherry, black cherry, tart cherry, plum, black plum, berries, juicy, saturated stewed, spiced orange, herbs, spicy, leather, graphite, ash, smoky, oak, cedar, nice structure and complexity.
Finish: Black cherry, sweet berries, cola, funky forest floor, salami smokiness, smoke, oak, nice, clean, crisp.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Leese - Fitch Pinot Noir




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