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Where the Burgundy varieties reign

June 01, 2005|Leslie Brenner | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Times tasting panel met recently for a blind tasting of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from three of Sonoma County's 13 AVAs -- Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast. On the panel were columnist David Shaw, restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila, staff writer Corie Brown, deputy food editor Betty Baboujon and deputy features editor Michalene Busico.

We were more impressed with the flight of seven Chardonnays than with the group of Pinots. The Chardonnays (2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages) were less oaky and more elegant than what we consider typical of California Chardonnays. "They're not made in such a blockbuster style," Virbila noted. "They're ratcheting down the volume, achieving real delicacy." Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley was tops.

On the whole, we found the Pinots (1999 through 2003 vintages) to be somewhat less inviting in terms of bouquet than we would have liked; still, many were compelling, and a few wowed us more than any of the seven Chardonnays. Two standouts: the 2002 Lynmar Quail Cuvee Pinot and the 1999 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Pinot.

In terms of producers, Flowers showed well, with entries in the top three of Chardonnays and Pinots. Two wines (2001 Iron Horse estate-bottled Chardonnay and 2003 Hartford Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir) were in poor condition and excluded.

The wines are listed in order of the panel's preference.


2002 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay. A well-balanced, elegant wine, with delicate aromas, soft fruit flavors and a long finish. At the Wine House, in West L.A., (310) 479-3731 (about $26).

2003 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Attractive and complex, with a sweet vanilla and apple nose, citrus flavors and a nice touch of acidity. Should be a terrific food wine. At fine wine stores (about $34).

2003 Hartford Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. A crisp, lean, fairly Burgundian wine with a delicate floral perfume and a soft finish. At Woodland Hills Wine Co. in Woodland Hills, (818) 222-1111; the Wine House (about $19).

2003 Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay. Pleasant, with apple aromas, lively fruit and crisp acids. At Wally's Wine & Spirits, West L.A., (310) 475-0606; Woodland Hills Wine Co. (about $19).

2003 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. A lean wine, without much complexity. Reticent pear and floral aromas, lemon and bitter almond flavors. At fine wine stores (about $14).

2002 Sonoma-Cutrer The Cutrer, Estate Bottled Chardonnay. A fairly one-dimensional wine, with burnt-caramel aromas. At fine wine stores (about $30).

2001 Marimar Torres Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay. Off-putting, faintly sulfuric, baked apple and vegetal aromas lead to a cloying, slightly petillant palate. At the Wine House and Wally's Wine & Spirits (about $22).

Pinot Noir

2002 Lynmar Quail Cuvee Pinot Noir. An elegant wine with ripe red fruit and vanilla aromas, good acid and a long, pretty finish. One panelist referred to it as "cashmere weight." At the Wine House; Woodland Hills Wine Co. (about $35).

1999 Joseph Swan Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Burnished, mature and well-balanced, with lovely cherry aromas. Complex and elegant, but not much length. At Liquid Wine & Spirits in Chatsworth, (818) 709-5019 (about $39).

2003 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Quietly elegant, with a soft fruit nose, good balance, soft plum and strawberry flavors and a lovely finish, like a good village Burgundy. At the Wine House; the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills, (310) 278-7322 (about $42).

2000 Scherrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A ripe, rich Pinot with generous aromas, plum and prune flavors. Liquid Wine & Spirits (about $38).

2000 Dehlinger Pinot Noir Estate Russian River Valley. An attractive, elegant wine with delicate fruit. At Sepulveda Wine Co. in Manhattan Beach, (310) 318-9080 (about $55), or at$45 plus shipping).

2002 Marimar Torres "Christina" Pinot Noir. A big, happy, not particularly graceful Pinot, with a ripe cherry nose, generous fruit, medium tannins, and a short finish. At Wally's Wines & Spirits (about $48).

2001 Iron Horse Estate Bottled Pinot Noir. Well-balanced, with a red fruit nose and prune flavors; a bit dull. At Wally's Wines & Spirits (about $30).

2002 Peay Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. One-dimensional, with bubble gum flavors and a bit of unpleasant fizz. At Liquid Wine & Spirits and Wally's Wine & Spirits (about $46).

2002 Hartford Court Seascape Vineyard Pinot Noir. Prickly and green at first, a bit better on opening up. Over-alcoholic, tiring to drink. At Wally's Wine & Spirits (about $60).

2002 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir. An undistinguished Pinot with a volatile, uninviting ripe blackberry nose. Somewhat diluted-tasting. At Mission Wines, South Pasadena, (626) 403-9463 (about $26).

2003 Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Pinot Noir. Over-

alcoholic and one-dimensional. Somewhat vegetal, excessively sweet. At Wally's Wine & Spirits (about $57).

2001 Marimar Torres Pinot Noir, Don Miguel Vineyard. A decent wine with clean fruit that's ruined by an over-the-top Cracker Jack nose. At Wally's Wine & Spirits; the Wine House (about $27).

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