2009 California Pinot Noir Inside the Numbers: 8 Producers to Seek Out

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Just how good is the 2009 California Pinot Noir Vintage? More than 55% of the wines rated by Wine Spectator have clocked in at 90 points or better. To put that into context, just 42% of the 2007 California Pinot Noirs rated by Spectator rated 90 or better - and they called 2007 the best vintage of California Pinot Noir ever.

Below is a chart showing 2009 ratings vs. 2007. Notice how in 2009 the mode (most frequently occurring rating) is 92 points whereas in 2007 it was 88 points:

Point being: There are a ton of terrific wines to track down from this vintage. But how many of the highly rated wines are attainable? How many of the values are actionable?

First, I want to understand which of the wines are the best values according to Spectator. I could easily sort on wines rated 90 or better costing less than $30 but I want to discover value at all price points. To do this I sift through the data and apply the WWP QPR Calculator (what's that?) to the wines rated so far for 2009.
The WWP QPR attempts to quantify the way deal hounds react to ratings within a category considering price. A WWP QPR rating of "1.0" is fair value and from there bigger numbers are better, numbers less than 1.0 are worse.

I then sorted the wines according to the WWP QPR to discover the top values according to the way I react to ratings and price. According to these metrics here are the best values in 2009 California Pinot Noir according to Wine Spectator ratings:

Price Rating WWP QPR
 Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldridge Vineyard $45 95 2.12
 Failla Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Keefer Ranch $45 95 2.12
 Loring Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $29 93 2.07
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands $29 93 2.07
 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard $48 95 1.98
 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $52 95 1.83
 Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard $54 95 1.76
 Freeman Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $44 94 1.72
 Loring Pinot Noir Paso Robles Russell Family Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Loring Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Durell Vineyard $45 94 1.68
 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir California 4-Barrel $72 96 1.67
 Rochioli Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Little Hill $72 96 1.67

First off, notice that the highest WWP QPR is 2.12 which equates to "Very Good" value. It's nowhere near the 6.05 "Oustanding" the 97 point/$25 2009 Carlisle Sonoma County Sarah achieved. Keep that in mind as you're considering various offers. Although 2009 California Pinot Noir is a great vintage it's still difficult to get behind this category as being a value play.

Unless you compare it to Napa Cab. Whereas quality Napa Cab seems to start around $60 and goes up from there, most of these wines can be had in the $40 to $60 range. I love the flavor profile of California Pinot Noir so for me this is the most exciting region in wine right now.

Let's dive into some of these producers and specific wines for a moment. Is there an opportunity to buy these wines now? If not, is there an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a mailing list that's going to be hard to get on in the future?

Let's start at the top - with Dehlinger. Their 2009 Goldridge Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of three wines on the cover of the October 15th issue. I hadn't heard of them until a friend in the neighborhood brought over a bottle of their Syrah to share. I was impressed with it and he graciously shared a couple bottles from his 2008 allocation. I thought their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir was outstanding, rating it 93 points. Spectator dropped a 95 point rating on it. They might not have been on everyone's radar screen until these 2009s though. Their website says they're 75% mailing list and you'll occasionally see them available at retail.

I wrote about the 2009 Failla (pronounced FAY-la) Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir last month. I'd go 93 points on it (to Spectator's 95) and encourage you to check them out if they're not on your radar screen yet. Again, mostly mailing list but some availability at retail if you look around.

I don't think any single producer is happier about Spectator's report than Brian Loring. His appellation wines priced at $29 provide real QPR-benders, and their $45 single vineyard bottlings snared slightly higher numbers which make their 2009s values across the board. Their mailing list has long been one of the most consumer-friendly around with compelling sample packs for new customers and until just recently free shipping. Their 2010 mailer arrived recently and if this batch of ratings for the 2009 confirms the quality they believed was present in those wines expect the 2010s to be spectacular. Get on their mailing list now before its too late.

In addition to A.P. Vin's 95 point bottling from Rosella's Vineyard (what high end CA Pinot producer doesn't produce wine from Rosella's?) they've got at least 8 single vineyard Pinots from the usual suspects (Keefer, Gary's, Ridgetop, Clos Pepe etc) rated between 91 and 95. Some decent availability at retail so keep an eye out for them and give 'em a try.

Kosta Browne continues to be one of the consistent producers of 95+ rated California Pinot Noir. They're very difficult to find at retail and if you do the prices are typically inflated. Considering their appellation wines are "only" $48 theirs is a mailing list to get on for sure. I just got an allocation this year after about a three year wait. It was worth it. Their 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast bottlings are both unbelievable wines. They seem to have found a way to reign in the alcohol levels some criticized them for while maintaining this velvety mouthfeel I find utterly amazing. Theirs are benchmark California Pinot Noirs.

Perhaps a more familiar brand given their production levels and the amount of time they've been around, Siduri once again did very well with this vintage. Although they don't own their own vineyards they do produce wines from all over California and even Oregon. I thought their 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands (an appellation to keep an eye on) was perhaps the most widely available, reasonably priced window into what this vintage is about. More on that here.

Freeman is a producer I'm sure I've tried but don't know much about. Not to be confused with Joseph Phelps' Freestone Pinot Noir label (add them to the list of frequently confused wine brands) they had 4 2009 Pinot Noirs which all received 90 points or better ranging from $44 to $54.

There's a fantastic article in the magazine about the history of Pinot Noir in California and Rochioli's vineyards are credited with being where it all began. Although their appellation bottlings can be found at retail their single vineyard wines are sold almost entirely by mailing list. Along with Dehlinger and Kosta Browne, their 2009 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir graces the cover of the magazine. To taste their wines feels like it would be a taste into the history of the grape in the region. For that and other reasons (many speak highly of their wines) it's one to seek out.


Spectator's viewpoint is just one of many out there (some say Laube favors the high alcohol fruit bombs) but it's the one I have the most trust and experience with. Antonio Galloni has taken over tasting the wines of California from Robert Parker - which is actually a good thing in my view since the grape never seemed to be Parker's favorite. Some look to Allan Meadows (http://www.burghound.com) but his coverage of California Pinot Noir will always be a sideshow.

If you love domestic Pinot Noir like I do you'd enjoy The Pinot Report which focuses exclusively on the category. Definitely a resource to check out.

Or if you're looking for help finding wines all the critics agree on - and are values - check out The Wine Blue Book.

Soon I'll be writing about some of the best wines 2009 California Pinot Noir under $30. And writing up a tasting report of the wines I've tasted from the vintage. I'd love it if you subscribed to the Wellesley Wine Press so we can keep in touch.

Question of the Day: What do you think of the 2009 California Pinot Noir vintage? Which producers would you recommend checking out?


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