Kistler Pinot Noirs

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John Gilman
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Kistler Pinot Noirs

#1 Post by John Gilman » December 16th, 2015, 4:30 am

Had a bottle of 2004 Kislter "Cuvee Elizabeth" (Headlands Vineyard) Pinot Noir served to me double blind the other night and wondered how emblematic it is of more recent vintages of pinot here at Kistler. Served blind, there was never a consideration of this wine being pinot in my mind, as its overripe aromatic pastiche of black raspberries, dill, chocolate, pepper and prunes had me guessing a too ripe blend of grenache and syrah. The wine purported to be 14.1 percent ABV on the label, but these types of overripe aromatics only come at higher Brix, so had to assume it was either watered back significantly or under-reported the alcohol on the label (or both). The palate was jammy and blowsy, but not as much as the nose might have suggested, but still overtly hot on the backend. Have not tasted many Kistler pinots in the last dozen years (and never a great many even back in the day), but never recalled those older vintages showing so little varietal character. Was this a one off because of the vintage and or bottling, or is this still typical of the pinot program at Kistler down to recent times?

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Richard T r i m p i
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#2 Post by Richard T r i m p i » December 16th, 2015, 5:32 am

John, your description sounds very similar to my last encounter with a Kistler (although better worded). It struck me as more Cab-like than Pinot. Same vintage time period. I've heard talk of them becoming more "toned down". WA and Vinous still seem to be heaping on the points.

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#3 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » December 16th, 2015, 5:45 am

My most recent Kistler experiences have been 2002-2004 vintages, and while I always recognized them (even blind) as Pinot Noir, they were consistently in the high-octane range, outside of my preference window for Pinot Noir, and too expensive to be "Tuesday night after a bad day at work" guilty pleasure wines.
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#4 Post by Matthew King » December 16th, 2015, 7:47 am

I'm not an expert about or a fan of Kistler wines. But I can say that the few bottles I have enjoyed have tended to be the "lesser" Sonoma Coast blends. Perhaps less extraction, manipulation, concentration because they aren't some kind of super cuvee like the Elizabeth, etc.?
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#5 Post by Brian Maxwell » December 16th, 2015, 8:36 am

John,
I echo your sentiments exactly. big blousy, low acid.... not my cup of tea
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#6 Post by Ken Strauss » December 16th, 2015, 8:50 am

I have had this wine many times but never blind. I can understand your confusion because of the concentrated fruit. To me the wine is ecstasy. A bit of sweetness but oh so silky. I surprised you didnt experience a more pleasant nose. 2004 was my 1st Kistler pinot but I have a few more to try on special nights. Parker sometimes compares their Kistler Pinots to DRC but I have not tried enough DRC to compare.
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#7 Post by Brian King » December 16th, 2015, 8:59 am

Not sure I understand the DRC compare. I tasted at Kistler over the summer, and they were very clear that their wines are made for short- to mid-term enjoyment (thus the low-acid comment above). Not sure how that can be compared to one of the longest-lived, most structured wines on the planet other than both using the same grape

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#8 Post by Ken Strauss » December 16th, 2015, 10:28 am

Here is the review..better to see the real thing than my comment.


Bordering on perfection, the 2004 Pinot Noir Bodega Headlands (from Kistler’s new vineyard planted on the Sonoma Coast) offers up sweet plum, forest floor, and violet scents along with a La Tache-like, ethereal, floral, and black raspberry-like character. This prodigious, deep ruby/purple-colored Pinot possesses fabulous concentration as well as a layered, multidimensional palate, wonderful fruit, sweet tannin, and good acidity. It should age beautifully for 10-12 years. Interestingly, Steve Kistler planted this vineyard with the old Calera clone, which is rumored to be a suitcase clone pulled out of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti grand cru vineyards.
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#9 Post by Howard Cooper » December 16th, 2015, 11:08 am

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#10 Post by John Gilman » December 16th, 2015, 11:12 am

Thanks everyone for the comments- it gives me a better idea of how to evaluate the wine. The last vintages I tasted of Kistler pinots were back in the mid to late '90s and I remember them as more black cherry in fruit tone and loaded with cola-like notes. They were a bit over the top and marked by residual sugar for my traditonalist palate, but I could recognize their pinot noir origins quite clearly. That the 2004 came from younger vines might explain some of the less clearly varietal character that I found in the wine this time around- definitely did not see any resemblance whatsoever to DRC, but then maybe I just have had more wine from this estate than some folks over the last couple of decades. Would hope that subsequent vintages of this bottling start to take more advantage of the cool Sonoma Coast region and tone things down a bit, as it is a pretty strange stylistic selection for this area of Sonoma. But, I am sure it brings the big points elsewhere and that always helps pay the bills.

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#11 Post by Chris Seiber » December 16th, 2015, 11:36 am

Just to give this some additional context, 2004 was possibly the ripest California pinot vintage ever, or certainly on the very short list. Plus, it was smack in the middle of the period in which some pinot producers were pushing to see how far they could go on hang time and ripeness.

So not only would this probably be pushing the high end of even what that producer makes, but I think it was a vintage that was particularly poor for aging as well.

I haven't had that wine, so I'm just trying to offer some generalized context. I'm also not saying other vintages of that wine are delicate autumn leaves and dried flowers either - I think their style is pretty bold and ripe in general. But I would guess that bottle is probably a more extreme example of what they make.

Starting around 2007, a number of producers who went big in the mid 2000s tried to dial back to a a more medium style, such as Sea Smoke and Kosta Browne. And some producers who were medium in the mid 2000s went to an AFWE style, like Kutch and Copain. I don't know if Kistler moderated its style in recent years or not, though.

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#12 Post by Fred Bower » December 16th, 2015, 12:24 pm

I took some of the 2012 Occidental that my local shop got after having dropped Kistler after the 2005 vintage. The wine remains a cocktail pinot, which I hanker for occasionally. The extraction isn't as deep as the heaviest wines of the early 2000s, but I wouldn't see this getting better to my tastes with cellar time.

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#13 Post by johngonzales » December 16th, 2015, 3:30 pm

Chris Seiber wrote: I don't know if Kistler moderated its style in recent years or not, though.
I still buy Kistler on a limited basis. I'm surprised when experienced tasters can't tell it's pinot. Maybe I drink enough Kistler that I recognize the flavor profile. Though the 2004 was ripe and dark, even for them. As you said the hot season made for a lot of ripe pinot.

My impression is that they've dialed back, but just a little. They are certainly still squarely in the same camp. I think the Chards have changed much moreso. They too are still outside the finesse camp, but really have more verve and less flab than they used to.

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#14 Post by John Morris » December 16th, 2015, 8:35 pm

Ken Strauss wrote:Here is the review..better to see the real thing than my comment.

Bordering on perfection, the 2004 Pinot Noir Bodega Headlands (from Kistler’s new vineyard planted on the Sonoma Coast) offers up sweet plum, forest floor, and violet scents along with a La Tache-like, ethereal, floral, and black raspberry-like character. This prodigious, deep ruby/purple-colored Pinot possesses fabulous concentration as well as a layered, multidimensional palate, wonderful fruit, sweet tannin, and good acidity.
The bolded descriptors seem very far from any Burgundy I know.
Ken Strauss wrote:Interestingly, Steve Kistler planted this vineyard with the old Calera clone, which is rumored to be a suitcase clone pulled out of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti grand cru vineyards.
Sometimes it seems like every pinot grower has suitcase clones from DRC and every syrah vineyard was planted with cuttings from La Chapelle.
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#15 Post by John Gilman » December 17th, 2015, 1:44 pm

Many thanks to Chris and John and others for putting the '04 Cuvee Elizabeth into further context. So a combination of the vintage's torrid character and the continued penchant of Kistler to "go big" conspired nicely to make a wine on the far side of the spectrum. It certainly was an experience I was very happy to have gone through (once), but not the sort of thing that will make me search out recent vintages, particularly given the comments that things are still pretty much the same here for the pinot program. Still can't figure out the 14.1 percent ABV on the label though- if you are going to go big, at least advertise that a bit more on the label for those of us who might not want to go big with our pinot. I cannot remember precisely for labeling in the states- is the leeway on declared alcohol a half point, or a full point? If it is a full point, I guess I could be comfortable with this wine tipping the scales at 15.1%, but to my palate it seemed even a tad heftier in octane. Would not want to have to drive home after splitting a bottle.

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#16 Post by Chris Seiber » December 17th, 2015, 1:51 pm

Above 14%, it's 1 full percent either way. Below 14%, it's 1.5% either way. Thus, you see many wines labeled 12.5% (i.e. to span 11-14%) and labeled 14.9% (so as to span 14-15.9%). And then on top of that, there is very little enforcement anyway.

But the alcohol in that wine could also reflect watering back, I suppose.

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#17 Post by John Gilman » December 17th, 2015, 2:25 pm

Chris Seiber wrote:Above 14%, it's 1 full percent either way. Below 14%, it's 1.5% either way. Thus, you see many wines labeled 12.5% (i.e. to span 11-14%) and labeled 14.9% (so as to span 14-15.9%). And then on top of that, there is very little enforcement anyway.

But the alcohol in that wine could also reflect watering back, I suppose.
Thanks Chris- I definitely had the impression it had been watered back, as the aromatics and flavors really seemed to speak of much higher Brix to start with and there was still a fair bit of RS as well. A 1.5 percent spread is pretty huge (sub 14 percent) and does tend to make the labeling pretty much meaningless...

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#18 Post by John Ammons » December 17th, 2015, 3:08 pm

There was a conscious decision by Steve Kistler to dial things back starting with the 2008 vintage, although this might apply more to the chardonnays than the pinot. I think the NYTimes wrote about this complete with an interview with Steve. He had become unhappy with how the wines were aging, as I recall.

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#19 Post by Chris Seiber » December 17th, 2015, 3:23 pm

It's interesting how 2007-2008 was a similar turning point for a number of notable (at least here on WB) California pinot producers. I feel like there was an extent to which California pinot producers saw in the mid 2000s how far they could go in the ripeness direction, then they dialed back some from there - to widely varying degrees and from different starting points, of course.

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#20 Post by jcoley3 » December 17th, 2015, 5:50 pm

Ken Strauss wrote:Here is the review..better to see the real thing than my comment.


Bordering on perfection, the 2004 Pinot Noir Bodega Headlands (from Kistler’s new vineyard planted on the Sonoma Coast) offers up sweet plum, forest floor, and violet scents along with a La Tache-like, ethereal, floral, and black raspberry-like character. This prodigious, deep ruby/purple-colored Pinot possesses fabulous concentration as well as a layered, multidimensional palate, wonderful fruit, sweet tannin, and good acidity. It should age beautifully for 10-12 years. Interestingly, Steve Kistler planted this vineyard with the old Calera clone, which is rumored to be a suitcase clone pulled out of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti grand cru vineyards.
John Morris wrote: Sometimes it seems like every pinot grower has suitcase clones from DRC and every syrah vineyard was planted with cuttings from La Chapelle.
At the WA, "La Tache" was used several times to describe wines that bore zero resemblance to La Tache.
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#21 Post by Chad Richardson » December 17th, 2015, 7:16 pm

Interestingly I was at a tasting tonight where the Kistler was the first/lightest pour (and correctly so):
2012 Kistler RRV
2013 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast
2012(?) Guarachi Gap's Crown
I didn't find it big, overly extracted or hot in any way.
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#22 Post by John Morris » December 17th, 2015, 8:07 pm

jcoley3 wrote:
John Morris wrote: Sometimes it seems like every pinot grower has suitcase clones from DRC and every syrah vineyard was planted with cuttings from La Chapelle.
At the WA, "La Tache" was used several times to describe wines that bore zero resemblance to La Tache.
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#23 Post by jcoley3 » December 17th, 2015, 8:16 pm

Shocked. Gambling. All that.
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