Monday, September 15, 2014

Riverbench Mesa Pinot Noir 2011

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, and for decades it supplied great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to Santa Barbara County wineries.  In 2004 the winery was born, as the new owners decided to start their own label.  The vineyard is SIP certified, Sustainable In Practice.

2011 was a difficult growing season in the Santa Maria Valley, cooler than usual.  Crop yields were down about 30%, so the normally small batches produced at Riverbench got even smaller. Only 395 cases of the '11 Mesa Pinot were made.

The wine is all Pinot Noir - the Martini clone, if you're scoring at home.  The vines are among the oldest at Riverbench, from a four-acre block called "The Mesa."  Alcohol is pretty restrained, at only 13.7% abv.  This makes for a more elegant wine than is sometimes found in California Pinot.  The retail price is $48.  It is splurge-worthy, and gift-worthy, too.

Clarissa Nagy (pictured) became the Riverbench winemaker after Chuck Ortman retired in 2011.  She is perfect in this role, as she is quite a fan of Santa Maria Valley grapes.

The Mesa Pinot is a very dark wine, especially for Pinot Noir.  The Santa Maria Pinots I have sampled always seem to come on a little darker and a little heavier than other Pinots, especially those from Burgundy.  Acidity is usually quite good in Santa Maria Valley wines, too.

The nose gets down to business right away, and it stays busy.  What are your favorite Pinot smells?  They are here, in abundance.  Blasts of cola, black tea, black cherry and raspberry arise, all clamoring to be smelled first.  The palate offers a similar bounty, with the aroma package copied and pasted into the flavor profile.  Spices add to the taste bud workout, with nutmeg and cinnamon playing a big role.  A great minty note ties the tastes together with a bow on top, delivering them to a holiday table near you.

Great acidity means it's food-friendly, and the flavors are at least as festive as homemade cranberry sauce.  I would love it with roast or rack of lamb.


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