13 Great 2011 Pinot Noirs
The 2011 vintage was a tough one for wineries in Northern California. It was unseasonably cold and wet at inopportune times in the vines’ growing cycle, leading to fears about grapes not getting ripe enough or falling prey to rot.
Thankfully, declarations of inferior wines were premature, and now that a good number of wines has been released, I’ve been tasting great things from the 2011 vintage, especially the Pinot Noirs.
Never has it seemed truer that knowing one’s site trumps all. The wines that have really stood out confirm this again and again, coming from producers who farm their own longstanding estates, or wineries that have long-term relationships with vineyard owners or managers and will drop fruit when necessary.
There’s a vibrancy to the 2011 Pinots and a laser-like sharpness to their fruit, bright red cherry, sprinkled with complex layers of exotic spice and herb. What I love most is the acidity and accompanying texture to these wines; they are incredibly alive and delicious to drink. That acidity is accompanied by slightly lower than average alcohol levels too, making them a pleasure to enjoy either with or without food.
The vintage really contrasts with the 2012s I’ve tasted, which generally are riper, more robust and structured wines. They largely still need time to integrate, while the 2011s, as a whole, are more readily accessible now.
(Santa Lucia Highlands). Blending distinction with sheer pleasure, the bouquet opens with scents of green, black, and Kalamata olives, sage, forest floor and slate. Those aromas translate remarkably to the palate, which is a potpourri of dried herbs and wet earth. There are barely any overt fruit characteristics, and the savory, sophisticated result is simply delicious. Editors’ Choice. —Matt Kettmann
abv: 14.4% Price: $55
(Russian River Valley). Light in color, this delicate wine is herbal and yet bright in Bing cherry, quite nuanced and slight at first, unveiling its concentration and complexity slowly and seductively over time. Made by longtime grape growers, the acidity is lively and the weight slim, traces of restrained oak and garden herb dancing in the background. Only 54 cases made. —V.B.
abv: 13% Price: $44
(Anderson Valley). Another lovely Monument Tree Pinot from Couloir, this vintage is stemmy and earthy, yet soft, silky and voluptuous in all the right ways. It’s pleasantly refined and ethereal, with whispers of cherry and raspberry fruitiness alongside equal parts gravitas and substance. —V.B.
abv: 14.2% Price: $46
(Santa Maria Valley). Stewed tomatoes, black pepper and pencil shavings kick off this intriguing wine. It then hits the palate with remarkable suavity and ends with a long strawberry finish. In between, the spice rack rules, making this a suitable pairing for Indian curries or other adventurously seasoned cuisine. Editors’ Choice. —M.K.
abv: 14.7% Price: $22
(Russian River Valley). This tight, classic Russian River Valley Pinot Noir needs coaxing to bring out the lovely, lilting aromatics, splendid in savory dark fruit, cinnamon and tobacco. Restrained use of new oak brings a balance of richness and acidity, softened tannins and velvety texture that works in every way. —V.B.
abv: 13.5% Price: $42
(Santa Barbara County). Distinctive aromatic qualities mark this affordable bottling, an exclusive for Hawaiian supermarket chain Foodland from the team at Terravant Wine Company in Buellton. The aromas recall chaparral scrub, mint tea and black sage. The herbaceousness continues on the palate, with a sticky tannic structure. Not exactly the wine for those seeking a red fruit experience, but good for those seeking the savory side of the grape. —M.K.
abv: 13.8% Price: $23
(Sonoma Coast). Within a statement-sized bottle, this heavy, lush and aromatic Pinot Noir from a great vineyard could ignite debates about California Pinot styles. Aged about a year in all French oak, 65% of it new, it reveals an expanse of dark cherry fruit, velvety texture and plenty of structure amidst a leathery core and lengthy finish. —V.B.
abv: 14.7% Price: $75
(Santa Maria Valley). Charred plums, roasted meat and a tinge of truffle oil lead the nose on this powerful yet balanced wine. It hits the palate with a sanguine iron flavor and a pleasant tension thanks to appropriate bitterness. This Pinot Noir can tackle the heartiest beef dish you can make. —M.K.
abv: 13.5% Price: $48
(Edna Valley). From a vineyard just 4.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean comes this inky wine, heady in aromas of freshly turned black dirt, sagebrush, menthol and boysenberry. On the palate, there is black pepper spice, dark chocolate and Earl Grey tea. Since it’s so multi-layered and powerful, it needs some time to breathe before diving in. Decant for sure. —M.K.
abv: 14.4% Price: $45
(Carneros). Brick-red in color this fragrant, soft Pinot Noir is rich in rose petals and a lift of earthy red cherry. With a lilting texture and smooth edges around a well-managed core of acidity, the finish hits with a burst of cola spice. —V.B.
abv: 14.5% Price: $27
(Sonoma Coast). With a small percentage of whole-cluster fermentation, this tight, cranberry-infused Pinot offers bright layers of cherry and citrus that are savory and well-adjusted in acidity. Softly textured it’s a good one to enjoy with pork tenderloin adorned in dried cherries. —V.B.
abv: 13.9% Price: $34
(Anderson Valley). Burgundian in its earthy, feral aromas, yet simultaneously jammy in flavor, this boasts gamy undertones and a soft texture. The producer recommends decanting an hour minimum before serving, and this will most likely help to blow off the wine’s rustically wild side. —V.B.
abv: 14.1% Price: $35
(Central Coast). The bouquet is like sticking your nose in a bag of pencil shavings and shiitake mushrooms. The palate gets more expansive, offering cranberry as well as a hint of softer fruit like strawberry, with some crushed rock as well. This is a very affordable expression of Pinot Noir in what was a tough vintage, showing that the new energy BV is placing on this series of wines may just pay off. Best Buy. —M.K.
abv: 14% Price: $11
- 294 Boekenoogen 2011 Estate Pinot Noir
- 394 St. Rose 2011 Nunes Vineyard 777 Pinot Noir
- 493 Couloir 2012 Monument Tree Pinot Noir
- 592 Bianchi 2011 Signature Selection Garey Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 692 Joseph Jewell 2011 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 791 Ternion 2011 Pinot Noir
- 890 Guarachi Family 2012 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir
- 991 Riverbench 2011 Mesa Pinot Noir
- 1089 Center of Effort 2011 Estate Pinot Noir
- 1189 Starmont 2012 Pinot Noir
- 1288 Anaba 2011 Pinot Noir
- 1387 Carpe Diem 2012 Pinot Noir
- 1487 Beaulieu Vineyard 2011 Coastal Estates Pinot Noir