Savory Pinot Noirs



Benziger, 2016 Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.2% alcohol, $45. ★★★★

This is an earthy pinot that’s elegant with bright fruit of black cherry and raspberry. It has a touch of tobacco and a whisper of white pepper. This pinot has great balance and a lingering cherry finish. Lovely.


Sea Smoke, 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★1/2: The Sea Smoke has explosive fruit and savory notes of cedar and herbs in the mix. The fruit is concentrated and generous — strawberry and raspberry — with a hint of cherry. Crisp balance. Nice length. It’s pricey but if you have the disposable income, it’s well worth the splurge.

Siduri, 2015 John Sebastiano Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 14.2%, $50. ★★★★: Those who relish savory will find this pinot striking because it’s earthy and even a bit gamy. What’s more, it’s complex with layered notes of boysenberry and cola, and it has impeccable balance. Smart.

Three Sticks, 2016 PFV Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★: This pinot’s savory appeal comes from its blend of plum and spice. Buoyed with crisp acid, it also has high-toned strawberry fruit, with a hint of blackberry. But it ultimately wins you over with its supple texture.

Portlandia, 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $20. ★★★★: This is a rustic pinot that has a great quench of red fruit — cherry, plum and a hint of cranberry. It has an edge, this pinot, and its earthiness is matched by its powerhouse fruit. Rock star.

Lisa Amaroli grew up in an edible forest, one ripe for a feast with acres of Gravenstein, Golden Delicious and Rome apples within reach.

But picking the apples wasn’t what Amaroli was most fond of. Tossing them was. She and her siblings and her cousins would take a heap of rotten apples and have devilish food fights.

While the 8-year-old in Amaroli misses her edible forest, today she finds herself in a similar landscape, an edible vineyard.

Amaroli is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Benziger, 2016 Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir at $45.

This earthy pinot noir is elegant with bright fruit of black cherry and raspberry. It has a touch of tobacco and a whisper of white pepper. The pinot has great balance and a lingering cherry finish. It’s lovely.

The house style for pinot noir, according to Amaroli, is one that embraces the old world and the new.

“We’re in California, but we have one foot in Burgundy,” Amaroli said. “We want to keep the natural acidity, the lift in the wine. We want the wine to end on a high note of vibrancy, with a life force … ”

The winemaker is quick to give full credit to the winery’s biodynamic and organic practices for this intercontinental triumph.

“Our farming methods will give anyone who tastes it a feel for what can be produced in the Russian River Valley,” Amaroli said.

For the uninitiated, organic farming prohibits pesticides and herbicides, while biodynamic practices go a step further.

“Biodynamic farming also makes sure you have diversity, like sheep on the property eating grass, tilling and fertilizing,” Amaroli said. “It creates a biosphere that gives us the truest nature of this property possible.”

The Benziger family has always had deep roots in both biodynamic and organic farming and Amaroli said the legacy of these vineyard practices endured even after the winery was sold to The Wine Group in 2015.

“Almost everyone on our vineyard team stayed on after the sale,” she explained, “which created great consistency with our farming practices.”

Amaroli, 57, joined Benziger in 1999 and today she’s the director of winemaking. She graduated in 1996 from Sonoma State University with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.

The winemaker encourages people to visit the Glen Ellen property and take a tram ride to explore the 86-acre spread. In addition to the vineyards, they’ll see the greenhouse, grazing sheep, organic gardens, and even an insectary where plants are designed to attract beneficial insects, keeping troublesome pests at bay.

“There’s so much influence you can have in the vineyards,” Amaroli said. “We have our footsteps on the ground to make really great wine.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or