The 2012 Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard, which comes primarily from the Calera clone (although I suspect there are a few mystery clones in their plantings), always seems to remind me of a grand cru from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits, particularly Morey-St.-Denis. Dense ruby/plum, its sweet nose of strawberries, black cherry liqueur, fresh porcini mushrooms and forest floor is followed by a dark, full-bodied, rich and concentrated wine that is supple, dramatic, and even flamboyant. Drink it over the next 12-15 years.
What an extraordinary tasting this was at the Marcassin winery just north of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Just when you think the duo of Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer can’t make greater wines, they bowl over the taster with an array of exquisite quality that really must be tasted to be believed. Marcassin was probably California’s greatest Chardonnay after the famous Chalone winery fell from the pinnacle and onto hard times in the 1980s (and it has yet to rebound). Moreover, Marcassin set the bar for great Pinot Noir as well. And while both their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have many competitors these days (from the likes of Harford Court, Mark Aubert, Kistler, Kongsgaard, DuMol, Thomas Brown, Peter Michael, Martinelli and Luc Morlet, to name a few), John Wetlaufer and Helen Turley remain the reigning geniuses of these two varietals in California. Certainly, their meticulous attention to detail in both the vineyard and in the winemaking and élevage account for the quality, but they were among the pioneers who saw the unlimited potential from the Sonoma Coast, now a relatively crowded neighborhood. This was a remarkable tasting that simply blew me away, and I have been following their wines since the first Marcassins were made in the early 1990s. By the way, any doubts about aging potential should be crushed immediately, as even in the most challenging vintages in California, Marcassin Chardonnays and Pinots have aged as well as, if not better than just about any grand cru white Burgundy. For example, 1995 and 1996 Chardonnays, particularly those from the Lorenzo Vineyard, are incredibly youthful and dynamic, and the Marcassin Estate Pinot Noir, even from vintages such as 1998, is simply amazing.