WHAT: Belle Glos makes three beautiful Pinot Noirs from three areas of California. Each one reflects where its grapes are grown, and each is beautiful.
I’m picky about Pinot Noir because it is such a difficult wine to make well. All three of these wines from cool-climate vineyards rank among the best. There might not be a better American Pinot Noir.
All three wines have rich, powerful fruit mixed with supple tannins that never intrude. They are well-rounded, smooth wines with plenty of backbone.
I invited my friends Clint and Trish to help me test the Pinots, and we agreed on all three. Our favorite was the Los Alturas Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterrey County. A rich, full-bodied wine, the aromas of cocoa and vanilla nearly jump out of the glass. There are dense, complex flavors of plum and root beer with a long, silky finish.
Close behind, and possibly equal, is the Taylor Lane Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. Luscious aromas of fresh berries mixed with a hint of cedar lead to intense flavors of cherry, berry and cola. There also was a pleasant trace of minerality. The longer we kept this wine in the glass, the better it got.
Finally, we had the Clark and Telephone Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Aromas of cranberry and cinnamon led to berries and pie spices, with some blueberry and strawberry notes. A very fruit-forward wine, it’s more in-your-face than the other two. It would be better with spicy food than the others.
It’s almost unfair to compare these wines to each other because they are so different. Each one is a great expression of Pinot Noir, reflecting soils and the climates where the fruit grown. All the wines spent nine months in French oak barrels.
You will be able to cellar these wines for several years. Make sure you open the bottle at least 30 minutes before drinking, or longer for maximum flavor.
WINERY: Winemaker Joseph Wagner chose the name Belle Glos (pronounced BELL GLOSS) to honor his grandmother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, a co-founder of Caymus Vineyards. A fifth generation winemaker, Wagner comes from a family that knows and makes great wine. Besides Belle Glos and Caymus, the Wagner family owns Meiomi Pinot Noir, Mer Soleil, Silver Chardonnay and Conundrum White.
Belle Glos produces only these three distinctive Pinot Noirs from premiere growing regions of California. Its vineyards are all coastal, but there are significant differences among them, resulting in very different wines. Wagner lets the vineyard dictate the wine he makes, adjusting his techniques for each one.
Las Alturas: Located in one of the highest plantable sites (up to 1,200 feet) in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the vineyard experiences consistently sunny days with cool nights. A long, moderate growing season lets the winery keep the grapes ripening for a long time, with harvest lasting until Oct. 19.
Taylor Lane: At less than six miles from the Pacific Ocean and at risk for heavy winds and dense fog, the vineyard poses many challenges for getting ripe grapes. The Wagners planted early ripening clones and ran them along an Italian trellis system that sets up a horizontal canopy, much like a row of solar panels. The height of the trellises allows the winery to let sheep graze there for weed control without damaging the vines.
Clark and Telephone: Named for the intersection of Clark Avenue and Telephone Road, the vineyard is cooled by wind and fog that sweeps up the Santa Maria River from the ocean. An heirloom clone Pinot was planted there in 1972, one of the first Pinots on the California coast.
GOES WITH: We drank these with grilled chicken breasts basted in my favorite barbecue sauce, Mumbo Sauce, which I brought back from a trip to Chicago. The full-bodied wines were the perfect match for the spicy sauce. To round out our all-American meal, we had Idaho potatoes deep fried, sweet potato fries baked in the oven with olive oil, and corn on the cob. You could have these wines with all kinds of food, from an elegant rack of lamb with rosemary to duck with a nice cherry sauce or spicy Asian food, though I would save the spicy food for the Clark and Telephone. These are food wines, and only get better when you have them with food you think matches them.