Just when I think I am jumping off the California pinot noir bandwagon in favor of Oregon's, I get a sample from the awesome folks at Seghesio to taste, and it turns out to be one of the best pinots I've tasted so far in 2011. Their Wine Spectator 93 point rated "Costiera" pinot noir was sent down in June and rested in my wine fridge for a while. I don't want to say I was saving it, but I was. The occasion: a group of wine loving friends I work with came by to explore wine and food pairings with me.
Having spent about a decade in the wine business now (geez, time flies!), I remain a big, big fan of Seghesio and in particular their zinfandels. Those zinfandels are consistently some of the best examples you can buy, period. Plus they're relatively inexpensive to boot. I confess to not knowing that Seghesio made pinot noir though, and after seeing some tweets about the 93 point score from Wine Spectator, I was intrigued.
Like most bloggers, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with wine scores. I realize their utility, serving as a quick point of reference to that weekend wine drinker seeking something they trust to be tasty. Yet I still lament the inherent sterility of a point score, how it reduces the magic of a great wine down to a number on a scale. Granted, I do use my own scale based on letter grades, but I feel that allows for a less firm actual score, hopefully allowing my tasting notes to convey how I feel, or more importantly, how the wine makes me feel.
Seghesio's website gives a good account of their family story and history, going back to 1895. It's safe to say that they are one of the true old guard of Sonoma. Equally important, I have it on good authority that Pete Seghesio is one of the nicest guys around. Next time I am up in Sonoma County, I'm going to stop in and hang out for a while. If they're pouring their zinfandels, it might be impossible for me to leave!
My good friend Grace aka cellarmistress has tried this wine and suggested I give it lots of time to breathe, so I ended up opening the '09 Costiera two hours before I tasted it. Right before all my friends arrived, I was able to go through this Seghesio, the 2007 Elizabeth Spencer The Guardian cabernet, and the 2008 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain. The other two red wines will be featured in upcoming blog posts, and they're knockouts so stay tuned!
The first thing I noticed about the Seghesio pinot was the color, a dark burgundy. Had I not known the vintage, this would have helped to tell me what a young wine I was about to drink. Pinot noir's color changes as it ages, getting progressively lighter and more burnt-brick or dark-salmon as the years pass.
To the bouquet, and the 2009 Costiera pinot has quite the impressive array of scents at work. Rushing up out of the glass was a lot of baking spice and sour cherry at first, followed by wild strawberry and dark soil. Falling under the "barely perceptible yet still there" category, whiffs of Crimini mushroom and a green, stemmy quality seemed to weave in and out among the larger, riper primary flavors. While this 2009 Seghesio pinot is definitely high in alcohol at 14.7%, there's not much heat at all, just a little tickle right at the end. Take that alcohol down to about 14.2% and I think we'd have a stunner of a wine. Still, don't let that small issue detract from an impressively balanced, fascinating bouquet.
Woohoo! Now I get to taste the wine.
True to the Russian River Valley style, this pinot has a light acidity that melts into a ripe, rich red cherry note as it progresses through the mid-palate. Before the red fruits can get too ripe and sweet though, flavors of earth and herbs provide exceptional balance. I also liked how there was some very silky tannin, whenever I taste that I realize the wine does have some life in it and can perhaps age for as long as ten years. What impressed me most about this Seghesio pinot noir was the balance between the ripe cherries and the acidity, supported by the beautifully expressive earth and herbal notes. It was like drinking something silky smooth but light and airy at the same time. There wasn't much in the way of oak influence here either, despite the wine spending 12 months in 100% French Oak barrels. For those of you who don't like the oak monster, this is a big win.
As of now this 2009 Seghesio Costiera pinot noir is the best California pinot I've tasted this year, and it might be the best pinot noir I've tasted this year, period.
Seghesio's offering from the Russian River Valley one of my highest grades for a pinot noir this year, an A- and STRONG BUY recommendation. At the Seghesio website it's listed for $43 but you can also find it on wine-searcher for as low as $38. Well worth the investment and if you're looking for a pinot to sit down for a few years, one that will reward your patience, this 2009 Seghesio Costiera will do that in spades. I know I need to buy a few more bottles before it's all gone.
This wine was provided as a media sample by the winery.