As reported by Wine Spectator «the 2012 growing season saw ideal weather from start to finish, not too hot and not too cold». The only drawback could be the high yields. If producers limited the vine’s output, the resulting wines can be outstanding. The 2012 California Pinots are lighter than 2010 and 2009 with slightly lower alcohol and firmer tannins. Top producers have concocted wines with great balance, freshness and surprising elegance.
At Les Conseillers du Vin, we decided to taste a selection of wines from reputed producers to verify the aging potential, richness and balance of this excellent but atypical California Pinot vintage. Should we drink up or leave some of these fine Pinots in our cellar for future enjoyment? A group of 15 experienced tasters analysed 7 California Pinots plus a mystery wine in the usual blind tasting format.
Results: Overall the wines faired surprisingly well! To establish the order of preference of the tasting panel, 3 points were awarded to a first place vote, 2 pts for a 2nd place vote and 1pt for a 3rd place vote.
There was a clear cut winner, the Patz & Hall Hyde vineyard from Carneros dominated with 25 pts, ten (10) more than the second place finisher. The Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch Russian River Valley with 15 pts and the Kistler Sonoma Coast with 13 pts finished second and third.
Overall 2012 California Pinots display bright fruit flavours in a more elegant style with great balance and aging potential that should surprise. As a group, the wines served in this tasting offered lighter bodies than in previous vintages with some slightly firmer tannins. Fresher than usual, most of the wines, thanks to the intense California sun, still exude that expected warm finish from (still) fairly high alcohol contents (14% +). Most of the participants agreed that wine # 2, the mystery wine, Burrowing Owl, Okanagan valley (British Columbia, Canada), was much weaker (only 4 pts) and did not fit in this high quality group. Surprisingly only two tasters identified it as the odd man out.
My top three wines were: 1-Patz & Hall, 2-Kistler 3-Martinelli . See my tasting notes below.
The wines : Order of blind tasting:
1- Dumol Ryan, Russian River Valley (Group score: 7 pts)
Lovely scents of red berries. Lots of ripe flavours, almost sweet. Great balance and length. Good extract, medium bodied. Some heat from the alcohol. Tannins a bit firm. Hint of volatile acidity. Good structure and potential (3 to 5 years). My rating: 91
2- Burrowing Owl, Okanagan Valley, Canada (Group score: 4 pts)
Only two participants identified it as the mystery wine. Very disappointing for this reputed BC winery. Four (4) tasters put it down as a disappointing wine. Rather pale, faint nose of pinot. Bitter austere finish. My rating: 85?
3- Kistler Sonoma Coast (Group Score: 13 pts)
My second preferred wine of the tasting. Lots of ripe red berries, remains fresh and elegant. Good balance, a refined pinot with some aging potential (3 to 5 years). A bit of heat from the alcohol on the finish. Superb California Pinot! My rating: 93
4- Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard, Carneros (Group score: 25 pts)
By far the favourite wine of the tasting. Also my preferred wine. Brimming with ripe red berry scents with balanced oak. Lots of charming ripe fruit flavours. Very good extract, warmth from the alcohol but remains balanced. Very good length and aging potential (4 to 6 years) My rating: 93+
5- Cakebread Cellars Two Creek Vineyard, Anderson Valley (Group score: 10 pts)
Spicy red fruit scents. Ripe and flavourful, with firm tannins and a hint of bitterness. A charming Pinot with good extract and a lingering oaky finish. Should be enjoyed over the next 2 to 5 years. My rating: 91+
6- Papapietro Perry Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley (Group score : 4 pts)
Slightly lighter colour. Lovely ripe nose offering some candied red fruit scents. Perfectly extracted Pinot flavours. Very good length and aging potential (3 to 6 years). Slight bitter finish. My rating: 92
7- Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley (Group score: 15 pts)
This well made Pinot delivers the goods. Very fruity nose with just enough oak. Very ripe flavours, quite flavourful, good balance, extract and length. Should be drinking well in the next 3 to 5 years. My rating: 92+
8-Mondavi Reserve Carneros (Group score: 9 pts)
The deepest coloured wine of the tasting. Some ripe cherry and oak scents. Lots of fruit with some firm tannins. Slight austere/bitter finish. Maybe slightly over extracted colour and tannins for this vinatge? My rating: 88+?
Photo: Nick Hamilton