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The Many Faces of California Pinot Noir
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 3, 2019
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Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noir, Vineyard-Designated, Various California Appellations 2017 ($62-$72):  It’s easy for a wine drinker to say, “I like Pinot Noir,” but the more that you drink Pinot Noir, the more you realize how simplistic that statement is.  Countless variables factor into the production of Pinot Noir wines, from vineyard issues such as clone(s), soil, climate and weather, to winery issues such as cold soaking, whole bunches in the fermentation, and oak aging — to name just a few.  While the final wines typically boast Pinot Noir’s enticing red berry/black berry aromas and flavors, each wine’s weight, texture, flavor intensity, and concentration vary according to its individual production variables.

What set me thinking about diversity in Pinot Noir was a tasting of 11 Pinots that had so very much in common, and yet were each distinctive.  The wines were all from the same winery, Dutton Goldfield, all from the 2017 vintage, all produced by the same winemaker (Dan Goldfield), mainly from Sonoma County, all produced with a five- to seven-day cold soak before fermentation, and mainly sharing a similar oak aging regiment (16 or 17 months in French oak, 50 to 55 percent new).  The overall quality was excellent.  And yet the wines were different enough that I could devote a playful hour to deciding which of the wines I preferred and why.

Logically, terroir differences — including the clone(s) planted in each of the vineyards — accounted for most of the differences among the wines, particularly as all but one wine represented an individual vineyard site.  Within Sonoma County, three of the wines hailed from Russian River Valley (two of those from the cool Green Valley subzone); two, from Sonoma Coast; one, from Fort Ross-Seaview on the far coast; and one from Sonoma Mountain.  The other Pinots came from vines grown in Marin County, Mendocino County, and Mendocino’s Anderson Valley.

Although my scores were tightly clustered, I named four favorites among the eleven.  At the top of my list was the sole wine from Anderson Valley, the 2017 Dutton Goldfield Angel Camp Vineyard Pinot Noir ($62).  Even if I had tasted blind, I would have recognized Anderson Valley in the wine’s dark-fruit drama and majesty on the palate.  On the nose, red berries, delicate spice and perfume complement the dark fruit notes.  Despite being one of the heftiest Pinots on the table, it shows delicacy as well.  Its weight, richness, and concentration are very well balanced by fresh acidity, and the wine suggests it should have a good life ahead of it.

My fellow taster declared the 2017 Dutton Goldfield Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marin County ($72) as the standout wine of the tasting, and for me it ranked in my top two.  It hails from a steep site in western Marin County, where the weather can be harsh and the crop is a small one, with tiny berries that ripen late.  The wine shows an idealized Pinot Noir aroma of ripe red cherry, black cherry, and raspberry along with a floral note; there’s a concentration and purity to the fruit aromas that suggests candied fruit, but in a totally positive way.  It’s a medium-bodied Pinot with terrific concentration but it has tension and energy within, such that a characterization of “delicacy” is fitting.  Even more so than the others, this wine will go the distance.  It’s brilliant.  

The 2017 Dutton Goldfield “Deviate” Pinot Noir ($72) is the only wine of the eleven that is not from a single vineyard.  The grapes come from Jentoft Vineyard in Green Valley and Putnam Vineyard near Annapolis, on the far coast — hence the appellation is simply Sonoma Coast.  Contrary to the winemaker’s notes, I found the nose relatively quiet; its black cherry and dark berry aromas were reticent.  But the flavors are bold, the wine is full-bodied, rich, and ample, and there’s an interesting savory note, as well as internal energy.  I found the wine’s taste framed in oak tannins at the moment, but the fruit is abundant enough and concentrated enough that the fruit-structure balance works even now.

Finally, the 2017 Dutton Goldfield McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview ($68).  Its aroma shows bright, fully ripe raspberry and red cherry fruit with stony, minerally notes.  What attracts me most about this wine is its texture: creamy, rich, fluid but substantial.  As you hold the wine in your mouth and relish its texture, edges of oak tannin emerge, along with fresh red fruit notes whose vitality directs your attention to the core of the wine.  This core shows clarity and purity of red fruit flavors, an admirable trait in Pinot Noir but especially one whose taste is cloaked in creamy richness.

Honorable mentions go to the other seven 2017 Dutton Goldfield Pinot Noirs, any of which you might personally prefer to my four favorites.  And kudos go to winemaker Dan Goldfield for demonstrating how infinite is the variety of expressions of Pinot Noir, and for his uniformly fine quality.

2017 Angel’s Camp Vineyard, 93 Points
2017 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, 93 Points
2017 “Deviate,” 92 Points
2017 McDougall Vineyard, 92 Points

Read more by Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW:   "On My Table"