FrontRunner: From the Robb Cellar

Cambria 2002 Pinot Noir Clone 23, clone 115, and clone 667

When more-inventive efforts at description fail, the wine critic often falls back on the stock conceit of labeling the wines at hand as masculine and feminine, like Noah pairing up his cargo of beasts. Thus, readers of the wine press are treated regularly to reports on the assertive masculinity of a particular Cabernet or on a Viognier’s feminine sensuality. In the case of the Cambria Winery in California’s Santa Maria Valley, however, genuine feminine influences may be cited: Barbara Banke, wife of Kendall-Jackson owner Jess Jackson, acquired the vineyard in 1986 and—working with a team that includes recently appointed winemaker Denise Shurtleff—has cultivated these 1,400 acres into a premium estate that produces superb single-vineyard Syrahs, Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs. Though Cambria is best known for its Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, and Bench Break Pinot Noir, the estate’s single-clone Pinots are among its most rewarding releases. The wines take the concept of vineyard expression a step further by offering the opportunity to taste the undiluted pleasures of three distinct hybrids: Clones 23, 115, and 667.

Even the veteran wine hack would have difficulty classifying the “gender” of these three artisanal Pinot Noirs, which combine the strength of big red wines with subtler nuances. The Clone 23’s rich red color flashes an alluring ruby—a brightness that belies the dark, dusky boysenberry fruit on the nose and palate. Ten months in new French oak barrels lends a hint of grilled bread to a complex mingling of clay and mushroom flavors.

The 2002 Clone 115 leans toward the softer side of the Pinot spectrum, exhibiting a bright, intense color that matches perfectly the strawberry and red cherry scents and tastes. The wine’s supple structure supports a potpourri of spices—vanilla, cinnamon, clove—that balances its considerable 15.1 percent alcohol content.

The most complex of these Pinots (and—dare one say it?—the most masculine) is the 667, whose flavor and aromas blend together a sultry liquid smoke with tobacco, clove, grapefruit, pomegranate, and hints of nutmeg and vanilla. ($48 each) 888.339. 9463, www.cambriawines.com

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