Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

Calera Vineyards Mt Harlan Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

For a midweek dinner, Linda served baked ham and scalloped potatoes. I pulled from the cellar this Calera Pinot Noir from Mt Harlan near Hollister in North Central California.

This is a single vineyard designated wine from the Ryan Vineyard. Readers of these pages know we primarily collect, drink and enjoy Bordeaux varietals and to a lesser degree Rhones. This is one of the very few Pinot Noirs we hold in our cellar. The reason for holding this label is part due to the classic history and legacy of this producer, and, the whimsical fun that this vineyard designated label shares the name of Ryan our oldest son. 

We don't do a lot of Pinots, opting instead for bigger, bolder, fuller bodied, darker more fruit forward wines. There are occasions when a lighter, more delicate subtle wine is more suitable and Pinot Noir, the wine of Burgundy is ideal. Such wines are not simpler however and can often be equally complex and even elegant.

Ten year old Pinot
vs Cabernet
As I have often written in these pages, our cellar is full of labels selected as signature labels for a family member or friend due to Vineyard names, special bottlings, or logos on the bottle as remembrances or tributes to someone special. These selections are in addition to our penchant for collecting wines from birth year and anniversary and special occasion year vintages as well.
Add to all this exuberance the selection of the producer Calera Vineyards and its founder winemaker Josh Jenson who is the epitome of Pinot Noir in California, or perhaps America.

I have written that I initially learned about Josh Jenson and his legendary Calera Vineyards were featured in Marq Devillier's wonderful 1994 book - "The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir". The story tells the tale of Josh's quest to grow the very finnicky Pinot Noir grape in California in the early days before Pinot was cultivated here. In pursuit of his dream to create authentic Burgundian style wines, he sought to find the place in California suitable to achieve that goal. 

Devillers tells of Jenson's quest and research to find the right terrior - all the attributes of the right location, soil, climate, drainage, and other nuances of 'place' that make up the character and personality of a wine from grapes of a particular site. Josh chose Mt. Harlan, an area not then know for grapes or winemaking. 

The rest, as they say, is history. While it is a human interest tale, it also provides a rich insight into the challenges and travails of setting up a winery, and a business, and achieving one's dream to make noteworthy wines. 

Calera’s Mt. Harlan Vineyards are located in Hollister, California, in the Gavilan Mountains, 25 miles east of the Monterey Bay. After much research and searching, Jenson found and selected this site for its limestone soils and ideal climate. At an average elevation of 2,200 feet it is among the highest and coolest vineyard sites in California.

Calera Pinot Noirs are single vineyard designated meaning they are each named for and produced from fruit sourced from one vineyard each. Their five vineyards planted in Pinot Noir are named for Josh's father (Jenson), Mills, a neighbor who mentored Josh in his early years, Reed, for one of Josh's dear friends and early investors, and in this case Selleck, for a family friend whom Josh attributes to introducing him to wine.

In 2002, the Ryan label appeared, named for Calera's vineyard manager since 1979. We've had fun with this wine collecting it for our #1 Ryan, serving it in celebration of his wedding a few years ago, and holding it in our cellar for special Ryan oriented occasions, or just fun occasions shared together such as tonight!

The Calera vineyards are enumerated and featured on the rear bottle label of the bottles as shown here. They are perhaps the most comprehensive and informative labels one will find anywhere on a bottle of wine. They spell out the information on the vineyard, geography, altitude, plantings, vines, the vintage and the bottling. The rear label itself makes for interesting reading, and insightful comparisons across the vineyards or vintages if one happens to have such bottles.

The Calera branding features the historic massive 30 foot tall limestone kiln that sits on the property from earlier days quarrying and processing limestone. Noting limestone in the soils of the legendary French Burgundy region, Jenson scoured the US seeking similar terroir to site his vineyards to produce Pinot Noir. He found such terroir and thoughtfully chose the property in the Central Coast region of California. The name Calera translates to 'limekiln' in in Spanish.

The Calera organically farmed Mt. Harlan vineyards are in the Gavilan Mountains, 25 miles east of Monterey Bay. The Ryan Vineyard, like Calera's others, has limestone soils, which are prized above any other soil type for growing Pinot Noir. Combined with the vineyard's average elevation of 2,200 feet--among the highest and coolest in California--the result is structured, intense Pinot.

Interesting that the latest wave of development in vineyard plantings for Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is in the western reaches of Sonoma County along the Sonoma Coast. Producers are calling these cool climate wines for the coastal breezes and fog encroaching and enveloping the vineyards from the Pacific Ocean. 

We toured the region and stayed in the remote town of Botega Bay during our Napa/Sonoma County Wine Experience in 2017

Winemaker notes for this release: "Graceful aromas of rose petal, tea, cassis, and clay accent a beautiful strawberry brick hue. This 2011 Ryan is firmly structured and intense with classic Mt. Harlan mineral purity. Mouthwatering flavor of cranberry, sour cherry and calcium offer fascinating tension with the taut, well integrated tannins offering a bright and very complex wine, and definitely a candidate for cellaring."

Calera Ryan Vineyard Mt Harlan Pinot Noir 2011

We hold a half dozen vintages of this label in our cellar as one of our 'signature' wines we hold in fun tribute to son Ryan.  

I still hold several bottles dating back to the 2010 and 2011 vintages. Normally I would select the older vintage but I chose the 2011, believing it might be the 'lesser' vintage, from a less ageworthy vintage. This is based on the lackluster vintage up further north in the Napa region. Alas, what a pleasant surprise that was very enjoyable, showing well, and holding up well showing no diminution of age whatsoever at ten years of age, exceeding my expectations on both counts. I raised my personal rating score of this label from earlier tasting (s).

Winemaker notes for this release suggest it is a 'candidate for cellaring': "Graceful aromas of rose petal, tea, cassis, and clay accent a beautiful strawberry brick hue. This 2011 Ryan is firmly structured and intense with classic Mt. Harlan mineral purity. Mouthwatering flavor of cranberry, sour cherry and calcium offer fascinating tension with the taut, well integrated tannins offering a bright and very complex wine, and definitely a candidate for cellaring." 

Pundit Allen Meadows of Burghound suggests 'drinking this on the younger side with an appropriate dish,' and Vinous said 2014 it 'should drink well for many year's. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate Jeb Dunnuck in 2014 wrote, 'Overall, it’s a structured effort that should be given another handful of years in the cellar, and consumed over the following decade.

I suspect at ten years, we're drinking this wine at the apex of its drinking window. The label from the bottle was in perfect condition (shown above).

This release was awarded 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 92 points by Vinous

Consistent with our last tasting of this wine, ironically a year ago this week, and our previous tasting for this label which we served for the family Thanksgiving diner back in 2015, this was translucent ruby red colored, medium light bodied, scent of dusty rose, cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with a hint of cola, clove spice, leather and earthy mushroom turning to fine grained delicate tannins on the moderate lingering finish.

RM 90 points.




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