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An Appreciation of Classic Styling
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 22, 2014
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Baileyana, Edna Valley (California) Pinot Noir “Firepeak” 2012 ($30):  If you love fine Pinot Noir but your wine budget is limited, you are in an unfortunate situation.  Of all the main varietal wines, Pinot Noir is the one that suffers the most when viticulture or winemaking decisions favor large volume and low prices.  That’s why I consider this Pinot Noir from Edna Valley a real find.

I tasted this wine in a blind flight of ten California Pinots from six producers and five AVAs.  Prices for the wines ranged up to $70, and at $30 this wine was one of the two least expensive on the table.  But its quality equaled and in many cases surpassed that of the other wines.

This is not a showy or flamboyant Pinot Noir, although many of the others I tasted were just that.  Along with their spectacular richness of aroma and flavor, these other wines were also sweet; whether the sweetness derived from high alcohol or particularly ripe fruit or insufficient acidity to balance the sweetening elements, the effect was sweetness.  Sweetness is a common trait of inexpensive California reds, such as $15 Cabernets or Merlots.  But the Pinots I sampled occupied an elevated price bracket, where more classic styles should prevail.  The shortcomings of most of the other wines set off the virtues of the Baileyana:  It is a dry, classically-styled Pinot Noir and it is affordable.

Baileyana is one of the product lines of Niven Family Wine Estates, owners of the celebrated, 1200-acre Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley.  This wine comes not from the Paragon Vineyard but from an adjacent property that the family purchased in the 1990s and planted with clones and rootstocks specifically chosen for the cool climate and volcanic soils of the site.  While the family grows a wide range of grapes, mainly cool-climate white varieties, the Baileyana label covers only the Burgundian grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Winemaker Christian Roguenant is himself a Burgundian, a fortunate bit of serendipity.

Edna Valley has a cool climate with long summer days and evening fog that cools the vines.  Winemaker Roguenant describes 2012 as “one of the best vintages EVER in the Edna Valley.”  The long season lacked the heat spike that late August or early September often brings, and the Pinot Noir berries and clusters were tiny, which brought great color and ripe tannins to the wine, in his assessment.

This wine boasts beautiful fruitiness that comes across in pronounced aromas and flavors of raspberries, black cherries and red cherries, with flavor nuances of aromatic herbs, cola and an earthy, minerally note.  The wine is full-bodied but not hugely so, with the velvety texture of ripe tannins and with refreshing acidity that keeps the wine’s structure trim and its flavors focused.  Fruity flavors resound in the wine’s long finish.

Winemaking techniques included five days of “cold soak” (maceration of the juice and skins before fermentation), fermentation in open-top vessels at a fairly cool temperature, and nine months of aging in French oak barrels, 39 percent of which were new.  The wine, 13.5 percent alcohol, was bottled with a screwcap closure.

The 2012 Baileyana Pinot Noir is delicious now and will probably remain so for a few years because of its high acidity and good balance.

90 Points