Stellar vintage for Pinot Noir in 2009: Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (wine review)

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot NoirMuch fanfare surrounds the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noirs in northern California. Nature bestowed the ideal blend of rain and sun to create a rare blanket of Pinot perfectness — it ain’t easy satisfying this LA housewife of a grape, but 2009 delivered the goods. (Editor’s note: Stock up now since, in 2010 and 2011, Mother Nature pretty much turned her back on those vintages.)

Many 2009 Pinot Noirs — depending on where they’re grown — offer up bright cherry and raspberry fruit, elegantly subtle tannins, perky acids and a well-rounded personality, reflecting the fruit’s growing season happiness. Most of my favorite 2009 Pinots emerged from Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The wines’ flavors have all that and more if the winemaker knows what they’re doing. Take Milla Handley, Winemaker and Proprietor of small-production Handley Cellars in Anderson Valley… She’s been babysitting this child-like grape for decades, learning as she went along that picking Pinot later in the harvest — when the sugars are higher — lowers the acidity so the wines won’t have much structure or ageability. Think fruit bomb. Milla prefers her wines to be balanced, with higher acids to make good friends with food. so she picks a wee bit earlier. I tasted a series of her older Pinots recently and the proof that her growing methods work is in the flavor of the unbelievable 1997 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir — sexy, earthy, luscious and enticing.

Milla says,”Pinot Noir should have a ‘come hither’ quality and make you want to commit sins.” I couldn’t agree more. Other varietals just don’t have the subtlety of this prince of grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon — with its robust, in-your-face dark fruit and often abrasive tannins — can’t touch the grace of Pinot. Whether fair or not, I can sum up a wine drinker’s personality by their preference between Cabernet and Pinot. (see my column on Wine Typecasting).

Handley’s current release is the 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. It’s won a bunch of awards (see the glowing details) and with the full cooperation of the idyllic ’09 weather, this wine offers up full frontal raspberry, red cherry and ripe plum with vibrant — almost bracing — acidity. Tannins are fully tamed and integrated so as not to rear too much of their head and an incredibly long finish gushes with vanilla, cocoa and more red cherry. Lovely.

Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Price: $32
Occasion: Tasted with the winemaker at an event.
Availability: Restaurant wine lists and high end retailers. Or in their online store.
Food pairing: Drink this wine with roasted salmon dishes, Chicken Saltimbocca (recipe here) and cheese like Nettle Meadow Kunik


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