Canonizing or castigating an entire vintage feels like a fool’s errand in California. The weather is much more cooperative than the Old World, and the landscape is peppered with microclimates, making exceptions to the rule.
And yet, here I am ready to declare 2016 as a banner year for Central Coast Pinot Noir. Following the drought-addled and minimal harvest of 2015, the 2016 vintage welcomed the return of rains to the Golden State, flushing the soils a bit and breathing new life into the wines. The growing season started early due to warm spring weather but mellowed out later into summer, allowing for proper maturation.
The 2016 vintage welcomed the return of rains to the Golden State, flushing the soils a bit and breathing new life into wines.
Whatever the climatic equation, the results are remarkable. I’ve reviewed nearly 200 Central Coast Pinot Noirs from the 2016 vintage, with more than 140 scoring 90 points or above.
At the top of the range are the Roar Soberanes Vineyard from the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Melville Block M from the Sta. Rita Hills. These bottlings showcase all that Central Coast Pinot Noir can be: bright, fruity and undeniably delicious, yet intriguingly layered in a wild herb tone, lifted by fresh acidity and framed by lithe tannins.
This is very much the style that’s lauded in the recently released documentary Somm 3, in which sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr’s Domaine de la Côte Pinot from the Sta. Rita Hills is repeatedly mistaken for Burgundy by a renowned panels of experts.
This seemingly Old World style is the commonality in many of the top-scoring wines from the 2016 vintage.
Roar 2016 Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands); $54, 97 points. The Franscioni family is making some of the best wines on the Central Coast, as evidenced in this bottling, which shows tremendous concentration without being overripe or overextracted. Aromas of purple and red flowers meet with minty tarragon and pine needle on the nose, while the palate’s black cherry and boysenberry flavors are lifted by touches of eucalyptus and pine needle. —Matt Kettmann
Melville 2016 Block M Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $60, 97 points. Extremely fresh and pungent aromas of smashed strawberries are enhanced by white pepper dust, whole green peppercorns, wet tobacco leaf and the smell of a dewy morning amidst pine trees and chaparral scrub on this wine by Chad Melville. The palate is simply stunning with juniper and pine-needle elements that slip into rich yet tart cherry and baked raspberry, proving extremely dynamic and lovely all around. Editors’ Choice. —M.K.
Ryan Cochrane 2016 Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley); $46, 96 points. Always one of the more compelling bottlings from the region each year, this single-vineyard expression shows smoked thyme, roasting game, light raspberry, tea leaves and dried purple flowers on the nose. Rose petal, Chinese five spice and cardamom pod flavors make for an exotic palate, set against a tart red-fruit backdrop. —M.K.
Tantara 2016 Lindsay’s Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $65, 95 points. The winery has been working with this same block since 2005, and its experience shows, starting with aromas of rugged thyme, bay leaf, peppercorn and wild cherry. There’s an earthy core to the palate, with forest floor, moss, wild mint and thyme flavors, but quite a lot of raspberry fruit as well. Extremely energetic throughout. —M.K.
Gary Farrell 2016 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley); $70, 95 points. Subtle and elegant aromas of pomegranate, dried rose petals and a touch of game show on the beautiful nose of this bottling. There’s a wide array of flavors on the palate, from dried lilac, violet and rose petals to black plum, tarragon, Earl Grey tea and more game. —M.K.
Lynmar 2016 Monastery Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $70, 95 points. This wine brims in sizzling Asian spice and vanilla. Tangy acidity supports the bright, fresh core of cherry, pomegranate, leather and soy, finishing on tones of black tea and white pepper. —Virginie Boone
Black Kite 2016 Kite’s Rest Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $50, 94 points. Good balance and a plethora of juicy, ripe fruit flavors highlight this full-bodied wine. It has generous black cherry and light baking-spice aromas, plenty of cherry and sour cherry in the flavors and a moderately tannic texture livened by good acidity. —Jim Gordon
Boekenoogen 2016 Garrett’s Vineyard Dry Land Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands); $65, 93 points. This wine comes from a remote patch of earth that Garrett Boekenoogen farms without irrigation, which concentrates aromas of Bing cherry, herbs, turned earth and barbecued meats. The palate combines rounded red fruit with wild thyme, crushed slate and balanced acidity. Editors’ Choice. —M.K.
Davies 2016 Piedra Libre Vineyards Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast); $70, 93 points. Succulent in brambly cherry and berry with an effusive, taut and persistent thread of acidity, this is a lovely, memorable vineyard-designated wine, coastal in its bright embrace of freshness and delicate layering. Additional elements of forest floor and black tea provide a nice contrast to the fruit. —V.B.
Sanford 2013 Founders’ Vines Single Block Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $155, 93 points. This is a rare look at the original vines planted by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict in the 1970s. Aromas of candied strawberry and red currant lead into a dry palate, where cranberry, rose petal, thyme and dried sagebrush arise. The integrated acidity and tannic structure are most compelling, along with the lingering hint of dried flowers. Editors’ Choice. —M.K.