Two fine Pinot Noirs from one winemaker

JIM BEAUREGARD September 02. 2014 10:28PM

I am not on MacMurray’s payroll, honestly I’m not.

I’d written about a MacMurray Pinot Noir not that long ago in this column, but then I came across two 2012 bottles that were sourced from different California locations and thought they both merited mentioning.

Also worth mentioning is my friend, Kent Silvernail, whom I consider a Pinot Noir expert, who has been drinking McMurray for many years and was the first person to direct me to it a long time ago.

He spoke at some length on one occasion about the different locations from which grapes sourced for these wines and the differences that resulted. At the same time, you will note below that there is a significant price difference in the two wines, and his thought was that the higher price of one of them did not necessarily mean you should ditch the other; They are both quite good. It depended in part on the condition of your pocketbook.

Before we look at the wines, I think we need to say a few words about California. It has many different wine regions and distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The North Coast comprises Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, the first two being perhaps the most famous California wine regions. Both are along the ocean, north of San Francisco.

The Central Coast is divided into a north and south section, the north comprising Monterey, and the south San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. Now, we’re talking about territory that stretches along hundreds of miles of the Pacific coast, so not surprisingly there are major climate and soil differences. There is one common denominator, though, that makes for great California wines: it doesn’t rain much during the critical times of the ripening season, when the grapes are building up sugar and acidity to the point where they are ready to be picked and vinified.

The lack of rain is one major factor. The second is the Pacific Ocean, of course. The ocean creates rolling mists that cool things down at night and in the early morning, factors that are central to the making of good Pinot Noir. The very climate allows for the growing of many different kinds of grapes including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and of course Pinot Noir, as well as white varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Now, if any of you have been a new near a computer or newspaper you know that there was an earthquake last week centered in Napa that shook the wine regions, but it remains to be seen how the crops might have been affected.

And now, on to the wines: same maker, drawing grapes from two very different locations in California, in both cases resulting in good Pinot Noir:

-- MacMurray Ranch 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, 14.8% ABV. $17.99, Harvest Market. California’s Central Coast region is huge but, generally speaking, the entire coast is cooled by the Pacific Ocean and remains fairly dry, allowing for a number of different kinds of grapes to be grown there. Monterey County is known for at Chardonnay and the Santa Cruz Mountains have had success in producing Rhone varietals. Further south, the climate has been perfect for the production of very good Zinfandels. This Central Coast wine, at almost 15 percent ABV, has a medium intensity with both purple and ruby hues developing, with a strong nose of raspberry. The palate is markedly dry with very high acidity, medium tannin and medium-plus alcohol. The body is medium, and the flavors are medium-plus in intensity with raspberry, earth and some vegetal flavors in the background. The quality is very good, and it is ready to drink now. This one is more in keeping with the tradition of French Pinot Noirs: The fruit does not jump out and dominate, but rather is integrated into the profile. It’s made to go with food, too: It won’t overpower the food, but will accompany it beautifully. 86 points.

-- MacMurray Ranch 2012 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, 14.2% ABV $25.99. We are talking here about grapes grown on the North Coast, specifically in Sonoma, where the Russian River Valley is located. This is the region best known for its Pinot Noirs. This Pinot Noir also as a medium intensity, more purple but with a ruby rim. It too is developing, but overall it appears younger than its 2012 companion from the south. There are oak aromas, as well as fruit, of medium intensity on the nose. The palate also is noticeably dry, with high acidity and medium tannin. The alcohol is better integrated in this one and the body is a tad bit lighter, with medium-plus flavor and a bit more on the fruit profile including raspberry, strawberry and some smokiness in the oak aromas noted above. There is also some red plum in the background. It is, overall, lighter than its southern companion, and of the two, it is the one more appropriate for drinking on its own, but will certainly pair well with food. 88 points.

Contact beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at


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