by Andrew Chalk
Appearance: Bright ruby. Near opaque at core with watery rim;
Nose: Earthy, forest floor, raspberry, dusty earth. Emits aromas from the glass with fortitude;
Palate: Soft luxuriant tannins. Fruit sweetness from rich, ripe fruit. Medium acid.
Overall: A delicious pinot noir in the top tier of the fine examples coming from California nowadays. Although appellated Sonoma Coast we can pin down the source of these grapes to a specific vineyard, the Putnam Vineyard owned by Cliff Putnam. Winemaker James MacPhail says that he loves the results from this vineyard, and I concur. For MacPhail, Putnam Vineyard is a labor of love. Part of it is only accessible by 4x4, and parts are shielded by Redwoods, postponing ripeness. “I should get a support animal for myself when I deal with this vineyard” he jokes. All this for only 100 cases. Tiny quantities so order from the winery.
Grapes were handpicked on September 19th, 2017 and sorted once in the vineyard and once at the winery. Bunches were destemmed but not crushed, then cold-soaked for five days in 1-ton open-top steel fermenters to leech color into the juice. A native yeast fermentation was accompanied by daily hand punchdowns of the grape cap up to three times a day. Malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation that converts tart malic acid to softer lactic acid) was also on native yeast. Battonage (lees stirring) followed every other week for three months. Ageing was sur lie (on the dead yeast) for 16 months in 100% French oak, of which 25% was new. Finishing was a light polish filtration with no fining (on February 18th, 2019).
I recite these wine making steps to draw attention not to how heterodox they are but how orthodox, in the Sonoma Coast context. MacPhail would likely say that it is the vineyard that is the scarce input and to the taster this wine delivers sui generis.
This wine is part of Tongue Dancer’s Fall release, the other wine is their 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay which I hope to review in the near future.
James and Kerry MacPhail are doing great work of uncompromising quality at Tongue Dancer. It is a winery to follow closely as it must surely soon receive the recognition it deserves.