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Microcosms of Pinot Noir Expression
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 15, 2010
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Cobb Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Emmaline Vineyard 2007 ($68):  I’ve been following with excitement the Pinot Noirs produced from grapes grown on the far Sonoma Coast -- that part of the large Sonoma Coast AVA that is closest to the Pacific Ocean.  Over the past year, I’ve come to know and admire the Pinots of Cobb Wines, a fairly new winery founded in 2001.  Although the brand is relatively new, the Cobb family is well established on the Sonoma Coast viticulturally, because David Cobb planted Coastlands Vineyard in the coastal southern portion of Sonoma County in 1989 and was a pioneer in the area.  (You might have seen the article that W. Blake Gray wrote about Cobb Wines on Wine Review Online in February.)

I tried three Cobb Pinot Noirs blind last night, as part of a tasting that included other California Pinots in the same general price range.  The Cobb wines were indeed impressive.  All three, each made in 2007 but from different vineyards, were renditions of Pinot Noir of the sort that I love to drink -- not heavy, not overripe, not powerful, but balanced wines with unique personalities.

The story of Cobb Wines, in a nutshell, is the combined talents of David Cobb, a marine ecologist and grape grower, and his son Ross, an agronomist turned Pinot Noir-specialist winemaker, whose experience includes most notably stints at Williams Selyem and Flowers.  Together the Cobbs make only single-vineyard Pinots, and only from vineyards on the cool Sonoma Coast.  Their goal is a “more complex and graceful style of California Pinot Noir,” lower-alcohol expressions of the variety picked at lower Brix and not overly influenced by French oak.  They are particularly dedicated to obtaining slow, even ripening within each vineyard, in the interest of flavor development and complexity.

My favorite of the three wines I tasted was ultimately the most extreme: the palest in color, the most delicate, and the leanest.  It is the 2007 Emmaline Vineyard (rhymes with Valentine), from a two-acre site at 800 feet altitude, with southwest exposure and a strong Pacific Ocean influence.  This site is planted with two Dijon clones, 115 and 777, and generally bears only about two tons of grapes per acre.  Of the vineyards featured in Cobb Pinot Noirs, this site gets the most shade and fog.  All these factors result in a wine that’s less ripe than the other Cobb Pinots, only 13 percent alcohol, and very complex and pure in aroma and flavor.

The wine’s aromas suggest tart red berries, herbal character, Christmas spices, and only a hint of oak.  In the mouth, the wine is just shy of full bodied and is driven by its acidity, with flavors of tart berries as well as a bit of riper, black-fruit character.  The flavors are delicate and yet concentrated, which you can particularly notice on the long finish.  This is a Pinot of great focus, clarity, tension and precision.

In comparison, the Joy Road Vineyard Pinot (also $68) is fuller-bodied and a bit softer, with richer red and black cherry aromas and flavors as well as spiciness and a floral note.  It comes from a 2.5 acre, densely planted site owned by Terry Adams (himself a winemaker), that features four different Pinot Noir clones.  This wine has more heft than the Emmaline but is not at all huge by California standards, and in fact is just 13.8 percent alcohol.  Oak tannin is somewhat evident, but the wine’s rich-yet-vibrant fruitiness is equal to the oak; just give this wine a year or two.  I admire this wine so much that it rivaled the Emmaline as my favorite.

Cobb’s Ross-Spivak Vineyard Pinot (also $68) is very different from these other two.  It has fuller body and is sweeter, with darker fruit flavors, apparently high alcohol (actually just 13.3 percent), and, despite some very fine oak tannin, a richer, softer texture.  Although its style is seductive, I felt this wine was in a difficult stage, a bit at odds with itself, and that it will come together with time.  It will ultimately emerge as an important Pinot.

In a world of ever richer, darker, more massive Pinot Noirs, these Sonoma Coast wines are a welcome antidote.

93 Points