Spring is a time of renewal; recently, I came across a delightful old friend in a bottle of pinot noir: Calera Mt. Harlan Cuvee 2006.
Decades before “Sideways” and its ode to pinot noir, Josh Jensen tilled the limestone of California’s Mt. Harlan for his vision of pinot noir.
The vision was formed in 1970 and 1971 when, as a twentysomething from Yale and Oxford, he harvested grapes at the altar of pinot noir: Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and its acolyte, Domaine Dujac. He observed that they, and other top Burgundy vineyards were planted in limestone soil. His quest began.
A cocktail of youthful vigor and ignorance of the challenge culminated in a two-year search with the purchase of an abandoned limestone quarry 2,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It was named “Calera,” the Spanish word for limekiln.
In 1975, Jensen planted 24 acres of pinot noir in three parcels: Selleck, Reed and Jensen vineyards. Three years later, the first wine arrived.
I recall drinking Calera Jensen vineyard pinot noir in the 1980s and always having a place for it on my wine list at Le Delice restaurant. It was one of the few California pinot noirs during that period and, in my opinion, the best.
By the 1990s, pinot noir from California was plentiful but not always good — especially from Napa; Oregon was on the rise, and Calera was out of the spotlight. But Josh Jensen kept producing great wines from his limestone soil, and I kept them on the wine list of my last restaurant, Sonoma Grill.
Last year, after a hiatus of five years or so, I tasted the full range of Calera’s 2005 pinot noirs and chardonnays. I must confess to being disappointed by the high level of alcohol and New World style of darkly colored, extra ripe fruit, and obvious oak barrel aging. I thought Jensen had capitulated to modern wine fashion.
This year, the 2006 Mt. Harlan Cuvee erased that thought. Here is the Calera pinot noir that I adore. Made from a blend of the single-vineyard grapes, it is cherry-colored with an enticing aroma of spice and strawberries. The aromas seem to float from the glass and stop your thoughts.
A combination of black cherry, cinnamon and strawberry flavors glides across the palate. The tannins tingle the tongue and give the tasty fruit a fresh and lively sensation. Its 13 percent alcohol never intrudes, making the 2006 Calera Mt. Harlan Cuvee as Burgundian as those wines that inspired Josh Jensen’s vision more than three decades ago.
The 2006 Calera Mt. Harlan Cuvee has everything a classic pinot noir offers: graceful texture, captivating scents, layers of flavors and an elegant finish.
And Josh Jensen has been smart in his bottling, too. The 2006 Calera Mt. Harlan Cuvee is available in full and half-bottle.
The two bottle sizes of the 2006 Calera Mt. Harlan Cuvee retail for approximately $33 and $17, respectively.