I’m very aware that many of our recent wines of the week have been difficult to find in the US so, to compensate, here is a delightful wine specifically chosen for American wine lovers.
I tasted many exciting wines – notably but by no means exclusively Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – during a visit to the Central Coast earlier this year. Most of these were grown in Santa Barbara County, either in Santa Maria Valley or in the relatively recent Sta Rita Hills AVA, the coolest wine district in the county because it’s closest to the Pacific. (The Santa Rita Hills AVA was approved in 2001 but had to change its name to Sta Rita Hills in 2006 because of objections from the Chilean wine producer Santa Rita.)
Melville, Estate Pinot Noir 2013 Sta Rita Hills was one of my favourite Pinot Noirs among more than 120 wines reviewed in Santa Barbara’s grapes that didn’t get away. The Melville family were relatively early to see the potential of this chilly, breezy enclave just inland from the Vandenberg airbase and planted their first vines there in 1996. Unusually for this part of the world, Melville are able to draw 100% on their own fruit.
They now own 120 acres of vines, priding themselves on their 16 different clones of Pinot Noir. Greg Brewer, whose Brewer Clifton label was responsible for several of my other favourite wines, is the winemaker and used only very old (10-year-old!) French oak for this particular wine. About 40% of the fruit that went into their small (1.5 ton) open-topped fermentation vats was whole bunch (not destemmed), but there is no aggressive greenness. Instead, the fruit is fresh but delightfully fluid with a hint of that violet scent that pure Pinot can have. I think this wine has many years’ evolution ahead of it and although it says 14% on the label, there is no heat or heaviness about it. After a total of 30 days in contact with the skins, the wine was aged, burgundy-style, on the lees without sulphur, until being racked in June and bottled in August. Just pure Pinot.
I also tasted Melville, Terraces Pinot Noir 2013 Sta Rita Hills grown on the Terraces vineyard shown in this image from the Melville Vineyards website. This terrain has more clay and, because it’s particularly exposed to the Pacific, yields are extremely low. This resulted in a wine with 15% alcohol in 2013 and, although it’s much more expensive, I found the wine uncomfortably concentrated, chewy and sweet – not nearly ready and rather exaggerated. They also produce Pinots from specific blocks which I have not tasted.
Other producers of especially fine Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir encountered on that trip included the relatively new, small-lot, very burgundian Dragonette (definitely one to watch, and producers of fine Sauvignon Blanc too), pioneer vineyard (now owned by the Terlatos of Chicago) Sanford, Richard Sanford’s own current label Alma Rosa, Brewer Clifton, old timer Ken Brown, sustainability-conscious Hilliard Bruce, and the family label Margerum – although there were many other fine examples.
When using the Wine-searcher link below to find this wine, be aware that there is also a rosé version which I have not tasted.