In some circles, the idea of California “vintage charts” elicits chuckles and smirks. Even within the various appellations and sub-regions, the multitude of microclimates makes any kind of generalization tricky. In any event, please allow me to generalize: The 2021 pinot noir vintage in California seems to have been a uniform success up and down the Golden State.
Yes, it was a very dry year, without question, and drought conditions mean low yields and small berries. But it was also a warm (but not insanely hot), steady, consistent season, and pinot noir seems to have thrived in this setting. The resulting wines show balance, nuance, and complexity, with fruit that is restrained, but not austere.
Below are three noteworthy examples of 2021 California pinot from three distinct growing regions.
A relatively new endeavor from pinot pioneer Steve Kistler, Occidental focuses on cool, coastal, late-ripening vineyards on the far western edge of Sonoma County. It delivers bright, silky red fruit along with a wide array of spice and mineral notes–laser-focused but still generous in its own way. It might seem like an odd juxtaposition to say that a wine is “loaded with finesse,” but in this case it just feels right–a graceful gymnast with a lithe frame but a powerful core. Delightful in its youth, the Occidental will certainly benefit from a few years of cellaring.
Medium-bodied and boasting a deeper, darker profile with savory and herbaceous elements, Drew’s Fog-Eater has a bit more prominent, upfront fruit than the other two selections on this list. As the cuvee name implies, Jason and Molly Drew draw the fruit from the colder, cloud-shrouded, wind-swept areas of northwest Anderson Valley. These days, however, there is enough daytime heat to allow the grapes to fully express themselves, and the upshot is a lovely, approachable pinot with great versatility at the dinner table.
Certainly a house favorite, Madson’s entry-level pinot offers red-fruit flavors that are subdued and elegant, allowing its floral and earthy components to shine through. At 12.6 percent alcohol, it’s a wine of subtlety and moderation, exemplifying the refinement one expects from the chilly, forested hillsides above Monterey Bay. Fermented whole-cluster and aged on the lees for nine months in old oak barrels, this is an unfined and unfiltered gem that consistently over-delivers on its relatively modest price.
These are just a few of the delights from the 2021 California harvest. To learn more about these wines and other beauties, come visit us at Paul Marcus Wines.