Wine Review – 2005 Neely Picnic Block Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz, California

Winery: Varner WineNeelyPinotFront

Bottling: 2005 Neely Picnic Block Pinot Noir

Region: California

Sub-Region: Santa Cruz Mountains

Estimated Retail Price: $30 – $40

Purchase Details: Purchased for $30 at R. Field Wine Co. on the island of Oahu

Tasting Notes: This 2005 Neely Picnic Block Pinot Noir was outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable.  Beautiful ruby color in the glass.  Aromas of cola, earth and spice.  In the mouth, flavors of dark cherry cola, more earth and other dark fruits and spice.  Great texture and a firm mouth feel.

The wine definitely had an old world sensibility to it with it’s earthy flavor profile and subdued fruit flavors.  The wine was actually very closed in the first half an hour or so, but really began to open up and evolve as the night went on.  Again the texture was soft, caressing and velvety even though it had an earthy profile that would lead you to believe that the wine would have a harder edge to it.

Much like the Anthill farms wines that I’ve been tasting recently, I don’t think it’s a pinot that will appeal to a broad audience.  For those who “get it” though, this is a unique wine with a subtle and complex personality that true wine enthusiasts will appreciate.  I’m confident that this is a wine that can be cellared and enjoyed for at least another 2 – 4 years.

Food Pairing and Context in Which to Enjoy: Perfectly fine on its own.  There are a lot of subtleties and layers of complexity that are best enjoyed without food in my opinion.  However, if you are looking for food to go with it, I’d recommend simple dishes that tends towards the savory side: pork chops, grilled veggies, roast chicken with herbs.


The battle-worn back label

Winery & Other Background Information: Bob and Jim Varner have a pretty cool operation going on in this rugged, somewhat off-the-beaten-path appellation.  They make three lines of wines; the Neely and Varner labels that focuses on chardonnay and pinot noir from the Santa Cruz area, and their workhorse Fox Glove brand, which consists of a value priced zinfandel, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles.

When I think of Santa Cruz Mountains wines, not very many wineries come to mind outside of Ridge Vineyards, Mount Eden Vineyards and Bonny Doon Vineyards.  Although the region covers three counties (Santa Cruz, Santa Clara & San Mateo), there are only 1500 acres under vine; small in comparison to other regions similar in land size. The region is rugged, has high land prices and contends with Pierce’s Disease, so I can see why there would be only fifty wineries in the region.

It’s an area that’s very much a mystery to me, but after recently trying wines from smaller operations like Storrs Winery and Varner Winery, I’m becoming more intrigued by the potential of the Santa Cruz Mountains growing area.


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