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2010 Pinot Noir

A difficult year is tasting better

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Having heard of and personally witnessed horror stories of the 2010 vintage, I've been curious as to how the wines turned out. Now the reds are trickling in. The year started cool and rainy; for weeks, the summer saw nothing but gray skies. Many growers took the nominally wise precaution of stripping leaves from their vines, exposing the fruit to, surprise, a three-day, triple-digit heat wave. All the bistros in wine country could not have sold enough small plate salads garnished with local, roasted grapes.

But wine and memories mellow with time. "After 2011, 2010 seems like a distant memory and a walk in the park," says VML winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix. The Bohemian blind-tasted eight regionally appellated Pinot Noirs from $20 to $40, scored from 1 to 5 stars.

VML 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($30) The "coolest" tasting of the lot, fruit-wise, fringed with cayenne and warm spices. Cranberry, cherry jelly and a sliver of dried apricot make this a summer salad of a Pinot, with a fresh finish. ★★★★

La Crema 2010 RRV Pinot Noir ($40) As purple as a summer crepuscule, as rich as a cream-filled chocolate, this wine overwhelms a slightly inky aroma with vanilla, cherry cola, broadly appealing black cherry flavors and a big, smooth finish. ★★#9733;½

Martin Ray 2010 RRV Pinot Noir ($30) High marks for balance and complexity; dusty, dried red fruit aromas and herbal berry tea flavors. Might be a good pairing with light but meaty fare, like steak salad. ★★★½

Rodney Strong 2010 RRV Estate Pinot Noir ($20) Smoky oak and sandalwood over ripe flavors of cherry, Dr. Pepper, chocolate. A classic of the region, lacking a little on the finish. ★★★

Balletto 2010 RRV Estate Pinot Noir ($20) Opinions diverged: I tasted intense, boysenberry juice over cool aromas of fruity potpourri and cardamom spice, wrapped up with a sour plum finish that begs for another sip. Different, possibly delicious. ★★★

Lutea 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir ($35) Needs some time before the dusty, medicinal aromas make way for more appealing chocolate-mint. Restrained, astringent, with cherry fruit. ★★½

Cline 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($18) Cline insists on tagging this "Cool Climate Pinot Noir," more of a selling point for their Syrah. The overall favorite of one taster; all found it agreeably fruity. ★★½

La Follette 2010 North Coast Pinot Noir ($19.99) Some of the fruit hails from sunnier Mendocino County. The lightest of the lineup, its bright, tutti-frutti raspberry flavor was noted by all; some liked it, others were not jazzed. ★★½

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