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WTN: 3 J. Wilkes Pinot Noirs

geo t.

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Jeff Wilkes sent us three samples of his J. Wilkes Pinot Noirs, so we took advantage of a dinner opportunity with Margaret Marchak and Mark Schreier to try them. Wilkes, whose small winery is located in Santa Maria, California, spent 18 years at Bien Nacido Vineyard, focusing on everything from marketing and sales to improving farming techniques and upgrading trellises. In 2001, he struck out on his own, creating J. Wilkes with the intent of producing small lots of cool climate Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs that have extraction while maintaining the natural delicacy of the grapes. His primary focus is on the vineyard that he knows best, Bien Nacido, but he's also gone as far afield as Napa to source quality fruit.

2003 J. Wilkes Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard Block 3, $37, 14.5% alc.: Only 125 cases of this ruby dark garnet Pinot Noir were produced; it exudes effusive aromatics of black cherry and plum, with subtle accents of smoke and spice and a big but not excessive kiss of oak. These all follow through on the palate, with big fruit on entry, zippy acidity and tannins and heat that show more toward the earthy finish. Margaret described it as "like jam." Medium full bodied and somewhat syrah - like in texture, it opens nicely with air, but never quite loses the hot, tannic bite. A wine with more pluses than minuses, needing a few years to tame the tannins, but what about the heat?

2003 J. Wilkes Napa Pinot Noir Vall - Foss Vineyard Block T6, $27, 14.1% alc.: "This wine has no nose at all," Kim exclaimed upon putting hers into the glass of this ruby garnet libation, adding that it has a "very cherry" character after a sip or two. I was able to coax some cherry and licorice with vigorous swirlatude, but the flavors are much more expressive, gaining some brown spice, chocolate and maple syrup as well. Pretty smooth, with moderate tannins, this is neither as big nor as hot as the Solomon Hills model, and it shows better balance. As it opens, it becomes reminiscent of white house ice cream, all cherry and vanilla, making a nice match for a double cream Fromage d'Affinois and pita bread. 175 cases made.

2002 J. Wilkes Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Block Q, $50, 14.5% alc.: Slightly cloudy ruby garnet in color with a fairly generous nose of almost candied cherry and black cherry, echoing and expanding on the palate with some added cranberry, pomegranate and again, something like white house ice cream as it opens. Medium to medium full bodied, this is better behaved than the other two we tasted on this occasion, but perhaps at the expense of some intensity; it's smooth, kind o' creamy, not at all hot, and not too tannic. In short, it's user friendly and makes a fine match for some delicious broiled Black Pearl Salmon.

215 cases made.

-From More Pinots on Parade

Reporting from Day-twah,

geo t

George Heritier aka geo t.

The Gang of Pour

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