Wine review of Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, Rapley Trail Vineyard, Windy Hill

Focus on Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir from Thomas Fogarty Winery

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A couple of months back I looked at three Pinot Noirs from Oregon, without question one of the very best areas for New World Pinot Noir. California has some pockets where this finicky grape thrives as well. One of those is in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A producer there that I've been impressed with over the years is Thomas Fogarty. Their wines, which are produced from estate vineyards, tend to show the elements that make mountain-grown fruit so appealing. They have been making wine since 1981 and their main focus is wines from single vineyards. By doing this they highlight the unique sense of place that separates one vineyard from another, as well as showcasing the differences that occur from year to year. After tasting a number of their Pinot Noir releases and noting the differences in them, I decided to focus here on three of their distinct releases.

Thomas FogartyThe first is the Thomas Fogarty 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. Fruit for this selection was sourced from seven vineyards within the Santa Cruz Mountains, and these vineyards represent four distinct sub-regions. Barrel aging was accomplished over 10 months in a variety of French oak, and 30 percent of the barrels were new. The suggested retail price for this wine is $29.

Wild strawberry, black cherry and hints of créme fraiche are all part of the expressive nose of this 2008 Pinot. The cherry theme continues through the palate where it plays a big role, along with mushroom notes and wisps of forest floor. Cinnamon and cardamom provide a nice backbone of spice that makes its way through to the finish, which is particularly spice-laden. Those notes resonate and provide lots of tingly characteristics along with mineral and earth. The fruit on this wine is particularly lush and mouth-filling. In its price point this wine is an absolute steal. Drink this over the next three or so years.

2007 Rapley Trail Vineyard Pinot NoirNext up is the Thomas Fogarty 2007 Rapley Trail Vineyard Pinot Noir. This is a single vineyard offering with all the fruit coming from the namesake vineyard. Rapley Trail Vineyard was planted in 1981. The fruit from this vineyard was used in a reserve bottling for many years, and some still is. However, as of 2002, some is held aside for this vineyard-specific wine. Barrel aging occurred over 18 months in a combination of French oak, and 43 percent of the barrels were new. The suggested retail price for this wine is $48.

Black cherry aromas accompanied by red fruit undertones represent the core elements in the nose of this wine. What's readily apparent from the very first sip is how smooth this offering is. An avalanche of spice through the palate is joined by a touch of tobacco leaf and copious quantities of fresh and dried red fruit flavors. Cranberry, sour cherry and ever-continuing spice elements mark the lengthy finish. Over a few hours this Pinot really opens up and reaches new heights, so if you have the patience, decant it. If you're not in a hurry to drink it, you could lay it down for five to eight years and it will improve over that time. In any case a delicious and distinct wine.

2007 Windy Hill Pinot NoirThe third wine from Thomas Fogarty is the 2007 Windy Hill Pinot Noir. The single vineyard that this fruit was sourced from was planted in 1982, and Windy Hill Vineyards stands at an elevation of 1,970 feet. This offering was aged in 100 percent French oak over 18 months, and 66 percent of the barrels were new. This Pinot has a suggested retail price of $48.

A variety of berry aromas fill the huge nose of this Pinot Noir. Of the trio of Pinot's, this one has the biggest and boldest nose; it practically leaps from the glass. Raspberry notes are dominant throughout the palate and accompanied by a touch of plum. There is a hint of tangerine zest that provides an interesting and very appealing edge of distinction. The full-bodied fruit flavors continue through the finish and show off an impression of sweetness. These give way to sour cherry and pomegranate flavors, as well as nice elements of spice. A hint of forest floor comes out as well. This Pinot will age well for the next two to four years.

These three Pinot Noirs from Thomas Fogarty winery represent an excellent cross section of Santa Cruz mountains fruit. Tasting them side-by-side is a revelation into the differences that selecting grapes from specific vineyards can make. While Thomas Fogarty is one of a solid group of producers making wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains, they're a particularly excellent one to seek out. In addition to Pinot Noir, they make equally terrific examples of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer and more. The commonality for me is the absolutely pure expression of mountain fruit that their wines unabashedly showcase, along with finesse and balance. I would be comfortable purchasing any selection with the Thomas Fogarty name on it – such is my confidence in their across-the-board quality.

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