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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
He is a member of a storied group of winemakers that began changing the face of California wine in the 1970s. He graduated from California State University at Fresno with a master’s degree in oenology and food science, then went on to gain more experience as a winemaker. As his experience grew, some of his wines became favorites throughout America. The portfolio under his care continued to expand, and he began crafting special-reserve wines that were known only to a few.
Dennis appreciated the old-world focus of single-vineyard wines and true expressions of the terroir they represented. He also knew which vineyards were special, producing outstanding fruit, vintage after vintage. Given the chance to showcase what he had found over the previous three decades, the decision was easy, and Sanctuary wines came to life.
Working hand in hand with longtime colleague, friend and collaborator Christian LeSommer, who had tended the grapes at Chateau La Tour for more than a dozen years, for the initial offerings of Sanctuary, Martin identified grower partners who shared a special affinity for the land they farmed and the wines that were created from these unique vineyards.
On a mountaintop in Mendocino, Dennis found promise in a Zinfandel that was as distinctive as the Mariah Vineyard perched high above the clouds. From the famed Rutherford dust of Napa came a Cabernet Sauvignon from the historic Usibelli Vineyard, which has been for many years a source of great wines. And along the cool coastal range in Santa Barbara, a Pinot Noir that was born out of a 20-year partnership with the Miller family at Bien Nacido.
A lesser-known but elite AVA within the larger Santa Barbara district, the Santa Maria Valley AVA runs precisely west to east starting near the coast. The valley funnels cool, Pacific Ocean air to the vineyards more inland, allowing grapes a longer hang time to ripen evenly and achieve their full potential by harvest time. Combined with minimal rainfall, consistent warm sunshine, and well-drained soils, it is an ideal environment for grape growing.
Many of the wineries here are small and highly respected, having established a reputation in the 1970s and 80s for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More recently, Syrah has also proven quite successful in the region. Many vineyards are owned by growers who sell their grapes to other wineries, so it is common to see the same vineyard name on bottlings from different wineries. Bien Nacido Vineyard is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious.
One of the most difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is commonly referred to by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.” However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. More reflective than most varieties of the land on which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality, and demands care in the vineyard and lots of attention in the winery. It is an important component of Champagne and the only variety permitted in red Burgundy. Pinot Noir enjoys immense popularity internationally, most notably in Oregon, California, and New Zealand.
In the Glass
Pinot Noir Is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and lively acidity. It ranges in body from very light to the heavier side of medium, typically landing somewhere in the middle—giving it extensive possibilities for food pairing. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount), it can develop hauntingly beautiful characteristics of fresh earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon, ocean trout, and tuna. Its mild mannered tannins don’t fight with spicy food, and give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry—chicken, quail, and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, it can even match with heavier fare. Pinot Noir is also very vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable, highly addictive, and has a bad habit of emptying the wallet. Look for affordable but still delicious examples from Germany (as Spätburgunder), Italy (as Pinot Nero), Chile, New Zealand, and France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions.