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Geyser Peak Pinot Noir 2012, California

Cost: $14-17

What: I have been thrilled that in recent years American Pinot Noirs have been making huge improvements in quality, especially in the under $20 category.

When Pinot Noir gained a huge following in the 1980s, you could buy outstanding Pinots from Burgundy in France for a relatively low price. The dollar was particularly strong then, and the average wine drinker did not realize how great a wine Pinot Noir could be.

Then when it became popular, growers started planting Pinot vines all over the place, often in places not suited to that grape. The winemakers rushed inferior juice to the market to capitalize on the popularity of Pinot.

So we consumers often were left with a choice of paying too much for a good Pinot Noir or drinking an inferior wine. There were still some good Pinots from New Zealand and the top tier American producers, but there was just so much other good wine out there I often steered clear of Pinots.

Geyser Peak Pinot Noir
Geyser Peak Pinot Noir

Eventually wine drinkers got confident enough to say they didn’t like a wine when an iffy Pinot was presented to them and the winemakers cleaned up their act. Now it’s much easier to find a good, affordable Pinot Noir, though there are still some clunkers out there.

One of the better bargain Pinots I’ve come across recently is from Geyser Peak, one of California’s oldest and most renowned wineries. Apparently they waited until they could get it right before coming out with a Pinot because this is a new offering in their core tier of California appellation wines.

It was worth the wait. This smooth, velvety wine is bursting with lively young fruit flavors, but it is not overextracted. The style is more restrained Burgundy than brash New World with lots of subtle flavors that unfold in layers.

There is some spice and black tea on the nose followed by raspberry and strawberry flavors.

Winemaker Ondine Chattan was an exchange student in Burgundy, and she apparently learned to appreciate the subtleties of well-made Pinot Noir.

Only 25 percent of the wine spent any time in oak barrels, so the lightness of the wine is not overpowered by oak.

Geyser Peak also used the occasion of this new wine to debut new labels to highlight the winery’s heritage in Sonoma and the Alexander Valley. An updated logo appears at the top of each label with a nod to the history of the place.

“Established in 1880” and “Bonded winery No. 29” are around a drawing of a mountain peak. It is a nice nod to history as the winery brings out this refreshing new wine. I would serve it slightly chilled and let it warm up in the glass as you drink it.

Winery: The winery was founded in 1880 by Augusta Quitzow who chose the site overlooking Geyserville for its views of the Geysers Geothermal area. Steam from the geysers billows up the mountains, lending an otherworldly air to the landscape.

The winery closed twice from bankruptcies in 1908 and 1945 but always bounced back. It moved into quality wine production in the 1980s.

Accolade Wines of Australia is the current owner after buying it from another Australian firm, Penfolds. Accolade owns many well-known brands around the world, including XYZin, Hardys and Banrock Station.

The winery owns 220 acres of vineyards and buys fruit from other growers. It produces a wide variety of wines in several price ranges.

For many blends the winemaker sources from several small lots and ferments each lot separately before blending. Each vintage allows the winemaker to create a new blend.

The winery is committed to sustainable farming and eco-friendly bottling practices.
The visitor center boasts panoramic views of the Alexander Valley from picnic patios nestled in a lush garden setting.

Geyser Peak Pinot Noir pairs well with stir fry pork.
Geyser Peak Pinot Noir pairs well with stir fry pork.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this wine with a new stir fry recipe I was trying. It included strips of pork loin, carrots, green pepper, water chestnuts, cashews, Mandarin oranges, soy sauce and sherry. We loved it.

The Pinot Noir was a nice balance of fruit and muscle, so it more than held its own with the somewhat spicy pork.

This also would go well with salmon, pasta and light beef and pork dishes. It is a nice sip with cheese and crackers or a crusty baguette.

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