Pinot Noir! Sturino Trotta, Melville, Laetitia

The craze of Central Coast Pinot Noirs has been intense ever since the god-awful movie Sideways came to America's Independent Movie collection.  Sorry, no... it was a great movie relative to the promotion and recognition of Santa Barbara and the surrounding Central Coast as a phenomenal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production AVA (American Viticultural Area).  And having been to several of these wineries, and truly loving each and every one, I am a devoted fan through and through of Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande, Santa Ynez, and the other AVA's of California's Central Coast.  The movie, despite its subtle promotions and weird "somewhat-my-kind-of-humor" humor, was not my cup of tea... but that is not the purpose of this review.  What I really want to share with you are three of my favorite Pinot Noirs, all of the Central Coast.  Having visited two of the three wineries, and having met the owner of the third, I am very confident in their products and am extremely happy to order a bottle when I see them on a wine list.
First, Sturino Trotta Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, 2005: both the nose and the palate are an excellent representation of both the new and the old world.  Having met the owner of the winery and in developing a great relationship with him and our sales representative, I have become a huge fan of the entire portfolio.  In fact, one of my first posts on Juicy Tannins was a review of Sturino Trotta's 2005 Zinfandel, one of my all time favorite wines for the value.  Like I said before, it is a great mix of both California fruit and, through the growing and winemaking processes, Burgundian notes as well.  The nose has great tart cherry, cocoa, cedar, and earth aromas that remind me of a well-made Bourgogne  The palate is red berries on the forward: red berries and cranberry immediately up front; then moving to the middle, the terroir emerges from the fruit, again, replicating a Bourgogne, with mineral and earth flavors, mixed with a spot of cherry and chocolate.  The finish is dry, but smooth, with a cherry pie aftertaste.  Very complimentary of char-grilled steaks or pork with a balsamic reduction sauce.  I highly recommend the Sturino Trotta Pinot, and at $70 retail, it is at a very appropriate spot on the wine list.
Melville Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Rita Hills, 2009: this was one of the wineries that I visited with the Club Managers Association Wine Workshop at the 2010 World Conference (actually, it was almost exactly a year ago today).  It was one of the first, and one of the most memorable.  I remember sitting with the 25 other club managers in the wine cellar tasting room amongst bottles and barrels, tasting the portfolio, and shouting out aroma and tasting notes before my more-experienced counterparts.  Despite being the youngest manager (by at least 10-15 years), I earned a few stripes for "knowing my stuff."  The Estate PN was one of the favorites for the value.  At first pour, the sight is magnificent: for a Pinot, it is very dark and appears heavier than it really is.  With a beautiful deep ruby hue, it has crystal clear edges, and a soft look to the body.  The nose is full of cherry, cloves, soil, cedar, and mint.  There is an excellent spice on the palate, with notes of black cherry and espresso on a heavy body for a Pinot.  It has a bite when it is first opened, but cools off after about 20 minutes and the body becomes soft and luscious.  The finish is savory and lingers with a a want for another sip.  At about $35-45 retail, this is truly one of my favorites, and I highly recommend it for all occasions.

Laetitia Pinot Noir, Estate, Arroyo Grand Valley, 2009: also one of the many wineries we had the pleasure to visit.  Known not only for their fruit-filled Pinot Noirs, but for their fantastic Sparklers.  Our experience at the estate was to view the fermenting and bottling process of their Sparkling Wines.  During introductions of the winemaker, owner, and staff, we were treated to a demonstration of sabrage, the technique of opening a bottle of Champagne/Sparkling Wine with a sabre.  Giving the bottle a slight swirl to agitate a few bubbles, our host then, with a clean swipe, followed the length of the bottle with his pirate-like sabre and sliced the lip of the bottle clean off with a diagonal cut.  A burst of bubbles shot the cork and removed edge of the mouth of the bottle soaring a good 15 feet.  We were told the story of Napoleon's Champagne escapades when he would canter his horse across his line of generals who held bottles of Champagne like swords, and he would sabre the bottles prior to battle.  It was for this his famous line would forever be etched in Sparkling lovers' minds: "Champagne!  In victory, one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it."

After receiving our reward of our entertaining treasure in a Laetitia etched flute, we walked down a long stairwell, reminiscent of a massive bomb shelter (in all seriousness and all nonseriousness, if I had to reside in a bomb shelter, Laetitia's would be my first choice), into the wine cave.  Below stood barrels stacked between "scaffolding-like" steel rods, several rows deep, many columns wide, and about 2 stories high.  It was a massive display of the production process.  Lurking deeper into the cave, we were able to witness the "purification process" where the bottles are stored upside down in a sub-zero fluid solution so sediment will settle and then freeze in the upper portion of the neck of the bottle.  Capped with a metal "beer" cap, the bottle is quickly opened to release the frozen slush containing the impurities, and the cork is immediately placed and the wire cage applied.  The process was fascinating, but an even more mysterious enigma revealed was the size of sparkler cork prior to bottling.  It was a solid piece of massive cork resembling a double magnum cork, that through the bottling process, is [forcefully] forced into the bottle neck, causing the mushroom-shaped cork you would normally find after popping a bottle... which makes sense, but I really thought the cork was mushroom-shaped prior to the bottling process.  Who knew?
We then retired to a luncheon held in Laetitia's tasting and retail house, where their wonderful line up of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and other varietals were paired with a fabulous meal.  The Estate Pinot Noir was one of the favorites among our crowd.  The nose is bright with lush berries, sweet cherries, and a slight menthol note.  There is elegant spice and red roses present after another swirl.  The palate is soft and elegant, with mild spice, and full fruit on the front and middle.  It has a refined body and is fair and fresh.  There is a hint of apple-wood smoke on the finish.  It is an excellent representation of the Central Coast and at about $25 retail, it is an incredible value for the quality.

Moral of the story: if deciding to visit California for a vineyard-hopping vacation, check out the Central Coast AVA... make a few days of it.  The beauty of Santa Barbara, the variety of Paso Robles, the hills of Santa Ynez... there is no other place on Earth with these qualities.  While Napa is the first thing to come to mind when visiting California for the wine experience, the geology of the Central Coast allows for some of the greatest Pinot Noir production in the World... I will agree with Sideways on that.  Cheers and enjoy!


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