LIOCO 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Sonoma Coast, California
Similar to Baptiste Cuvelier's Cuvee de Maule that I reviewed in December, this bottle of LIOCO Pinot Noir was a wild roller coaster of a wine, and I mean that in all the good ways and then some. I'm generally not a huge fan of California pinot noir. It may be an exaggerated stereotype but California pinot noir too often tastes like alcoholic cherry cough syrup that has little to no resemblance to wines produced in the grape's motherland of Burgundy. Nor does it pay any respects to pinot noir from my favorite region: the Willamette Valley. A lot of critics go on long, purist tirades about what "real" pinot noir is, but there's not much truth to it and it's really not worthwhile. I simply don't like "bigger" pinot noir from California, but all the power to those that do.
That said, there are exceptions to every rule and this bottle from LIOCO happens to be a delicious one. LIOCO is one of 30+ California winery members of In Pursuit of Balance, a group of wineries that "share a commitment to producing balanced pinot noir and chardonnay." The member wineries are by no means an exhaustive list of great California wineries, but many of them, including LIOCO, Au Bon Climat, Flowers, Hirsch, and more, were the first to challenge my Oregon-centric ways and introduced me to complex yet mild-mannered pinot noir of California. Most of the wineries happen to care a lot about how the grapes are grown and source from cooler climate sites in the coastal regions of northern California.
LIOCO's website sums up their approach nicely: "All of the fruit we buy comes from real people working their land in real places. The resulting wines harken back to a simpler time, or as we say: vintage California." A bit of propaganda maybe, but I like it nonetheless. The grapes in this wine come from Barbed Oak Vineyard and Hirsch Vineyard, the latter of which is one of the undisputed "Grand Cru" sites of California pinot noir (Grand Cru = best vineyard sites). LIOCO practices minimalist winemaking and uses wild yeast for their wines.
This was a bit disjointed straight out of the bottle and needed some time to harmonize, but in the end it came together nicely. On the nose there is an attractive pop of high-toned red fruit, unique and distinctive plum and rose, savory, herbal, baking spices, funky forest floor, orange peel/zest, floral, citrus... I could keep going. And then, the tea. Tea? Wait, what? It's not an insane stretch to describe what's coming out of the glass as tea-like. The power of suggestion may come into play here, as they mention "oolong tea" on the bottle, but no joke, this wine has a distinct tea-y component.
On the palate, the wine is silky with nice backbone of acidity, pleasant floral notes and the red fruits carry on through a long and rich finish. This bottle was multifaceted and absolutely enjoyable from the first sip, though it benefited from 15-30 minutes of aeration in a big bowled pinot noir glass. It is both light and delicate on the nose but also silky and plentiful on the palate. Incredible, especially if you can find it for under $30. It reminds me a lot of the 2011 Joseph Swan Cuvee de Trois, which I haven't reviewed on the blog, but was a damn tasty wine.
I want to note that this cost more than twice as much as I normally spend on a bottle of wine. I painstakingly focus on wines I've paid $20 or less for on MUST because there are an abundance of delicious, unique, and sustainable wines that can be found in that price range. The average consumer, including myself, can rarely drop $30 on a bottle of wine. But, there are treasures to be had in the world of wines above $20, as this bottle of LIOCO shows. So what's the best way to get your hands on these gems without going broke? Do some research and split an expensive bottle with friends instead of shouldering the cost yourself.