It's no secret that Angelenos live less than two hours from a world-class region for pinot noir. In our April issue, winemaker Wes Hagen sheds light on the serendipitous geography of the Santa Rita Hills and how it's a perfect microclimate for the varietal. Naturally, it made sense to form a tasting panel so we could sample some of the best pinots of the region. The panel included me; senior editor Jod Kaftan; Dana Farner, who is beverage director of Cut; and master sommelier Keith Goldston.
The panel blind-tasted over 30 wines in a variety of flights. As in most tastings, we were divided on style: Some preferred whole cluster wines for their complexity; some preferred the softness and elegance of single berry style. But everyone agreed that the wines produced in Santa Barbara County are really distinctive—elegant and expressive, with bold, darker fruit and more stewy, herbaceous notes. Often we found a "chewy" texture. The 2007 vintage was showing well and looks to be great in several wines, indicating tremendous aging potential. Here is a selection of our favorites (not listed in any particular order).
2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills
Bright, lively with velvety fruit and a note of smoked cherry with nice layers to it. When you think Santa Rita pinot, this is a great choice. Both Dana and Keith said this would be a crowd pleaser when served by the glass. $36.
2007 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills
Cool spice on the nose, a little oak on the front with bold dark fruits and a crisp acid finish. Made from certified organic fruits and for the price, one of the best values. $32.
2007 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection
This was the naughtiest of the bunch. A vivid, lush, rich wine with wonderful complexity in the finish. Smoky, meaty, spicy notes with hints of cinnamon. $35.
2006 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills
We all got a little "Brett" on this wine, but, hey, I'm with Team Brett—Château de Beaucastel is one of my favorite wines. Red strawberries, good round palate, smoky with some cinnamon. $56.
2008 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, Fiddlestix Vineyard
A great example of a handcrafted pinot. Still tasting very young, it took some time to open but was well balanced. The wine showed bright cherry and raspberry fruits with a spicy finish and some herbaceous notes. The texture was wonderful. $45.
2008 Tyler Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, Presidio Vineyard
A great, plump, elegant pinot with a note of cream soda and a touch of mint—smoky and meaty with deep floral notes. An alluring wine. $35.
2007 Samsara Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, Melville Vineyard
Wonderful pinot, with rich, complex fruit and interesting spicy notes along with hints of rosemary and lavender. An absolute pleasure in the glass. $46.
2007 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, Julia's Vineyard
A great vintage from Julia's vineyard. If you love a jammy, rich pinot noir, this one is for you. Expressions of dark fruits, nice, round and supple, with a slightly smoky finish. $55.
2007 Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, Dierberg Vineyard
Lush and deep in color, this wine is bursting with red berry fruit. One of our tasters got pot on the nose but not on the mouth. There were raspberry, cherry and exotic-spice notes—a well-structured wine that's complex and deeply pleasurable. $42.