WHAT: Winemaker Joseph Wagner has produced three vineyard-specific Pinot Noirs, each beautiful in its own way with different characteristics. Each is a spectacular example of New World Pinot Noir at its best.
I assembled a team of Pinot lovers and we sampled the three versions of Belle Glos over a spaghetti dinner. Clint, Trish, Tim, Kathie, Teri and I loved all three, but our favorite was Taylor Lane Vineyards. The other two were close behind, but Taylor Lane was the clear choice.
It was a deep ruby color, with a beautiful berry nose highlighted with cedar. The style is fruit-forward, almost jammy, with tastes of cherry, blackberry and cocoa. This Sonoma Coast wine has a silky smooth mouthfeel with balanced acidity.
• Our second favorite was the Clark and Telephone vineyard, named for the corner where it is located in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. This was a more austere, tighter version of Pinot Noir than the first wine. It continued to develop in the glass long after we poured it. It had a nice nose with flavors of spice and pepper. The winemaker calls it a “Christmas in the mouth” experience. This is another balanced, smooth wine, not as in your face as the Taylor Lane.
• Las Alturas from the Santa Lucia Highlands was third in this tasting, but we agreed it was a close third. In the 2009 vintage Las Alturas was my favorite. It was the darkest color of the three with a great nose of berries and spice. It was the most full-bodied wine, and finished strong with some tannin notes. Las Alturas would benefit from aging more than the other two.
While Taylor Lane was the clear choice of the group, we loved all three. And I suspect if I were to taste these wines a year or two from now, my choice might be different. Taylor Lane is very approachable now, but the other two appear to have better aging potential. All three were aged for nine months in 60 percent new French oak barrels.
I would open these wines at least 45 minutes before drinking. They have plenty of body and need to breathe to reach maximum flavor. And I would serve them ever so slightly chilled so you can see how the taste changes as the wine warms in the glass.
WINERY: Belle Glos is one of the big horses in the Caymus stable, though you couldn’t tell that by looking at the label. The name was chosen to honor Joseph’s grandmother, Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, a co-founder of Caymus Vineyards.
Joseph is the fifth generation of the Wagner family to be a winemaker.
The Wagners also own Meiomi Pinot Noir, Mer Soleil, Silver Chardonnay and Conundrum White.
The only wine Belle Glos produces are these three fine Pinot Noirs, each from well-known California growing regions and great examples of how terroir is a major influence on the characteristics of a wine. Wagner says he lets the vineyard dictate the type of wine he makes, adjusting his techniques for each one.
• Taylor Lane is less than six miles from the Pacific Ocean and at risk for heavy winds and dense fog. Because of those conditions, it’s difficult to get ripe grapes. The Wagners didn’t finish picking this vintage until Oct. 25. The label says the average high temperature during the growing season was 71.5 degrees. The vines grow on an Italian trellis system, producing a canopy that looks like a row of solar panels, gaining maximum exposure to the sun.
• The Clark and Telephone vineyard is cooled by wind and fog that sweeps up the Santa Maria River from the ocean. An heirloom clone Pinot was brought from Burgundy and planted there in 1972, one of the first Pinots on the California coast. A long, cool growing season allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and develop rich flavors.
• The Las Alturas vineyard is one of the highest plantable sites (up to 1,200 feet) in the Santa Lucia Highlands. A long, cool growing season with no heat spikes allowed the grapes to reach reasonable sugar levels while maintaining firm acidity.
GOES WITH: We had this with a spaghetti sauce loaded with ground beef and Italian sausage over angel hair pasta. That’s not what I’d normally serve with Pinot Noir, but these big wines stood up well to the hearty meal. You could serve these Pinots with many foods, from a roast chicken to spicy Asian food to roast duck. All were better with food.