Some would say Pinot Noir is the most noble of all vitis vinifera. Wine writers wax poetically about its virtues in red Burgundy. It is also a diva grape. It is fussy about where it grows, when it ripens, weather, rainfall, temperature, how many grapes are on its vine, the list goes on. If Pinot Noir was a famous musician, its list of dressing room demands would rival Elton John and Mariah Carey. Woe to the viticulturist who grows Pinot Noir. Much like all challenges in life, when the conditions align and the winemaker is gifted, few wines compare to that of a well-made Pinot Noir.
“The fashionable red burgundy grape is capable of producing divinely scented, gorgeously fruity expressions of place but often unwilling or unable to do so.” ~ Jancis Robinson
Pinot Noir is a black grape variety with thin skin. Typical characteristics include bright red or blue fruit; earth notes of tea, mushroom, smoke, game, forest floor, and spice; low to medium tannins and medium to high acidity. It likes cool but not cold climate, morning fog is ideal, if too cold it displays green vegetal notes, if too warm it becomes uncharacteristically jammy and meaty. Because the grape itself provides so many layers of flavors, delicacies, and complexities it is often fermented in neutral French oak. High quality Pinot Noirs will continue to age well in the bottle for many years, though not as long as Cabernet Sauvignon or other higher tannic red wines.
Although the most coveted Pinot Noirs are grown in Burgundy, you can also find quality wines produced in Germany under the name Spätburgunder in Pfalz and Baden, Australia’s Yarra Valley and Morning Peninsula, New Zealand’s Central Otago and Marlborough, Chile’s Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys, South Africa’s Walker Bay, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and California’s Carneros, Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County, and Monterey County.
Monterey is a prime grape growing region due to its climate, geography and methodology. The climate is heavily influenced by the cooling air of Monterey Bay, providing stable temperatures and a longer growing season. The sloping land allows provides good drainage and the soil maintains a lower average temperature, naturally limited quantity and improving quality. Due to its young age, viticulturists of Monterey County benefiting from the successes and failures of those from other regions. They had years of scientific research to understand and put into practice the best traditional methods and modern techniques to make the highest quality wine possible.
The northern part of Monterey County is where the Pinot Noir is planted. This area is flanked by the Gabilan Mountain range to the east and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west. These two ranges funnel the cool coastal air from Monterey Bay through the valley, resulting in a longer, slower, more even growing season where the grapes can reach their fullest concentration without the added alcohol. These conditions are ideal for Pinot Noir. Historically many grape growers would ship their grapes to other parts of California to be made into wine. However this is changing. According to the 2016 Monterey County Office of Agricultural Commissioner Crop Report, the crop value of wine grapes has increased 5.6% over the 2015 numbers. Furthermore, the report claims Monterey County is now California’s top producer by volume of Pinot Noir grapes, and second in production of Chardonnay grapes. Keep this in mind as you purchase Pinot Noir. Monterey County pinots are the wines to buy.
Scheid Family Wines takes full advantage of the northern Monterey County growing conditions in their Pinot Noirs. Scheid Family owns eleven vineyards totally 4,000 acres within 4 AVAs in Monterey County. They have 39 varietals planted, including 20 clones of Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir is focused in the areas where morning fog lingers till mid-day and afternoon winds keep the temperature cool. These two micro-climate regions result in wines with vibrant character, complexity, and balance.
The Scheid Family shared four of their Pinot Noirs with me as media samples. Over the course of a couple of weeks I sampled these wines alone and with meals. Here are my brief reflections on each of the wines.
2016 Scheid Family Pinot Noir Rosé Monterey USA ($19): pale salmon with pink hues; medium+ aromas of cherry, strawberry, orange blossom, raspberry cream, fresh herbs; dry, medium- body, medium+ acidity that coats palate in a mouthwatering wash of tart cherries and citrus zest, with a long zesty finish that leaves a touch of pleasing spice on the palate, refreshing and a great way to lighten up winter for year round enjoyment.
2015 District 7 Pinot Noir Monterey County USA ($20): medium- ruby; delicate but fresh aromas of cranberries, pomegranates, raspberries, forest floor, white mushrooms, violets, and trailing vanilla; tart fruit lightly dances across the palate giving way to forest floor and tea; medium tannins balanced with medium acidity in a medium spicy finish; $20 California Pinot Noirs scare me, this wine is not scary at all, it’s quite lovely, not complex but easy to enjoy
2015 Scheid Family Estate Pinot Noir Monterey USA ($36): pale ruby, medium aromas of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, dried red floral notes, cinnamon, white tea, dried thyme, trailing vanilla; medium balanced tannins and acidity, medium- body and flavor intensity; delicate on the palate, clean and fresh, round and structured, delivered on every level with less complexity than the reserve and SLH; lovely wine.
2014 Scheid Family Reserve Pinot Noir Monterey USA ($50): pale ruby, medium aromas tart cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, black tea, mushroom, forest floor; on the palate the tart red cherries morph into persistent dried black tea; tannins and acidity are medium; body and flavor intensity also medium, this is a deep and earthy wine, contemplative, youthful, still developing and age worthy, long earthy finish; really nice.
2014 Scheid Family Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir Doctor’s Vineyard Monterey USA ($75): medium- ruby; medium- aromas red cherry, cranberry, pomegrantate, white tea, lavender, cloves, vanilla, developing; medium acidity and tannins, medium body, medium+ flavor intensity with red berries, white tea, thyme, fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, medium+ finish, a bit more lush and round on the palate with layers of flavors, juicy yet balanced earthiness, really high quality and delicious, I would like more of this wine.
*It is important to note, each of these wines is sealed with a screw cap. Do not in any way take this to mean the quality is less than a wine with a cork enclosure, because it is not. Furthermore, I have other Pinot Noirs by a highly acclaimed producer sealed with screw caps that are 3-5 years old in my cellar. Each time I open one it is in mint condition.
To learn more about Scheid Family Wines and purchase these wines for yourself visit their web site.