Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (California) Rust Rock Terrace Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($40): Once upon a time, California’s sparkling wine producers made only sparkling wine. About 15 years ago, several of the state’s top bubbly wineries began releasing still wines from the grapes they grew for their sparkling wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The first efforts at making varietal Pinot Noir were interesting, but not fine enough to take very seriously. Today’s wines are a different story.
Gloria Ferrer is a wine estate in the Carneros area of Sonoma County. It was founded by Jose and Gloria Ferrer, whose family owns Freixenet and Siguras Viudas -- hugely successful Cavas from Spain. Gloria Ferrer is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. In addition to its critically-acclaimed sparkling wines, the winery now produces seven varietal wines, including four different Pinot Noirs.
Tasting blind recently, I was intrigued by two of the single-vineyard Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noirs, moving back and forth between them to determine my favorite. This 2006 Rust Rock Terrace Pinot Noir emerged on top, followed by the 2006 Gravel Knob Vineyard Pinot Noir (also $40). Other than their equally fine quality, little about the wines suggested to me that they were from the same winery, because their styles are distinctive. My favorite, the Rust Rock Terrace, is firm, youthful and vivid in its fruit expression. My runner-up, the Gravel Knob Vineyard, is soft, evolved and loosely-knit.
The differences in the two wines seem to be due to the grapes themselves more than to winemaking. While the two vineyards differ in their clones of Pinot Noir and in their soils, in both cases the juice undergoes a three-day cold-soak prior to fermentation, for example, and both wines age for nine months in French oak barrels (although the Rust Rock Terrace has more new oak).
Here’s what to expect from the Rust Rock Terrace Pinot Noir 2006: The aroma is tight but suggests black fruits -- black cherry, blackberry and plum -- and toasty oak; the fruit notes are pure and concentrated. In your mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with concentrated fruit flavors and rich, rather velvety texture due to ripe tannins. It’s a round, mouth-filling Pinot framed in oak but not overly oaky. The oak serves to enhance the wine’s vivid fruitiness and is well-integrated. This is a Pinot Noir with focus and precision -- two key Pinot Noir virtues, for my taste.
(And, because I set up a comparison, here’s what to expect from the 2006 Gravel Knob Vineyard Pinot Noir: The aromas and flavors are ethereal and suggest red fruits, such as red cherry and raspberry. The wine is a bit less full-bodied, thanks to its refreshing acidity, which lightens it up. Despite its acidity, the wine has a soft focus in both its texture and flavors. The finish is long, soft and so very lovely.)
The freshness and vibrancy of the 2006 Rust Rock Terrace Pinot Noir suit it to rich foods such as grilled wild salmon, duck, or roasted pork. This wine can take several years of aging, and could very well improve in the process.