2005 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir • Hilltop Ranch Estate Vineyard
California: Carmel Valley
What we say
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SUPERIOR WINE ALERT! We love Cima Collina and their fantastic wines. Today we are proud to feature their very special, limited release, Estate Pinot Noir. It’s big, rich, delicious and highly collectible
Mission Codename: Inauguration
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Investigate rumors that Cima Collina’s newest Pinot Noir is also their best ever! If this limited-edition, 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Estate wine is spectacular, secure an ample supply for our Cima-lovin’ Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Cima Collina
Wine Subject: 2005 Cima Collina Hilltop Ranch Estate Pinot Noir
Winemakers: Annette Hoff
Backgrounder: Monterey County is emerging as a mecca for Pinot Noir. The Wine Spies have featured several Monterey County Pinots and every time, our Operatives have scooped them up enthusiastically. We’ve even featured Pinot noir from today’s winery but, unlike the previous excellent Cima Collina Pinot, today’s collectible example is a far richer and more bold Pinot than we have ever tasted – from any winery anywhere. Be sure to read all of Agent Red’s tasting notes, Winemaker Debrief, and Mission Report below.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Darker and more rich-looking than any other Pinot Noir we have ever seen, this 100% Pinot Noir looks more like a Syrah. With deep garnet hues and perfect clarity when you peer through its darkened heart. When swirled, the winesettles quickly, leaving behind chubby, wide-spaced legs that are slow to form, but then hustle down the glass
Smell – A powerful nose with big earthen and fruit aromas. Plum, dark mixed berries, soft leather, forest floor, smoky spices and toasted wood all combine in harmonious balance to make this wine exciting to inhale
Feel – Angular on opening, but after a few hours of decanting, this wine gains a softer feel. It is light at first, but then the wines medium tannins take hold and grip the mid-palate and roof of the mouth. The mouthcoating and lip puckering qualities add to the excitement of this wine
Taste – Concentrated and old, this wine also has a brightness to it as it delivers big flavors of ripe plum, dark cherry, cedar, leather, spice and mildest forest floor
Finish – Big flavors and a full mouthfeel linger on, long after you sip this wine
Conclusion – This is one fantastic and stand out Pinot Noir from one of our favorite Monterey County wineries, Cima Collina. When I first heard about this wine, I expected another light-hearted and delicious Pinot Noir, much like those that the winery has graced our Operatives with in the past. This wine is a whole different cluster of grapes, however, driving bold flavors and deep fruit with juice that look more like Syrah than the 100% Pinot Noir that it is. This wine is special all the way through, from its hand-numbered, silver-palladium screened outside, to its heavy bottle adorned with blue ribbon, to the incredible libation inside. I have the highest love for great California Pinot Noir, and this wine makes me gush (can you tell?). This Pinot Noir drinks best after some extended decanting, and will lay down for at least the next 10 years, rewarding the patient with perhaps a smoother and even more lush experience.
Original Mission Report:
Now that Cima Collina is a fully vetted winery, The Wine Spies are privy to their wines. When intel reports began flooding in about today’s wine, we only needed to ask Cima Collina for a private tasting.
To see how our relationship with Cima Collina began, what follows is our original mission report:
For more than a month, Agent Red had tried and failed to bring us a Cima Collina wine. Wine Spies HQ gave him one final chance to land this exceptional Monterey County Pinot Noir from fabled lady winemaker Annette Hoff. Read the mission report below to see how he finally managed to snare this great wine!
Not every mission goes as smoothly as I would like them to. While this particular mission did not go horribly awry, it did take me an awfully long time to complete.
I first learned of Cima Collina wines from an Asset of mine, a private informant that has alerted me to more than a few great Monterey-area wines. This Asset, we’ll call him ‘_Monte_’, sent me an alert on my SpyComm device and told me to rush to try what he called Cima Collina’s ‘perfect pinot’. Included in the alert was all of the intel he had gathered on the wine, the winemaker, the vineyard and the winery. Everything sounded impressive and I trusted Monte’s judgment, so I headed to their tasting room in the village of Carmel-by-the-sea, a few miles south of Monterey.
While I pride myself on a good sense of direction, Carmel initially proved a difficult place for me. The town uses no street addresses! Instead, people navigate their way around by heading to ‘addresses’ such as: “_The West side of San Carlos, between Ocean and 7th, in the Paseo Courtyard, behind Kocek Jewelers_”, which happens to be the Cima Collina tasting room. Well, after a few mis-turns, I finally found the tasting room, which also houses a lovely gallery where the works of local artist are on display. On tasting the wine, I was immediately impressed and knew that I should procure an allotment for our Operatives. I got the business card of the manager of the winery, and was on my way.
Rather than place the winery under further surveillance, I decided to take a more direct approach and simply ask for the wine. Sounds simple, right? Well, after extended rounds of phone-tag, I decided to visit Cima Collina at a then-upcoming tasting event in downtown Monterey. There were many wineries at this particular event and when I found the Cima Collina table, it was mobbed. After fighting my way to the front, I introduced myself to the Winemaker and explained my plight. She was sympathetic and told me to keep trying. She explained that her wines were very popular and that they had been inundated with purchase requests. So, I kept trying. And kept missing. Then at another wine event, I met the hard-to-pin-down manager himself. Because he was so busy at the event, he asked me to keep trying him.
More of the same ensued and then, finally, just yesterday we actually spoke on the phone – and we simply and jovially arranged to secure some of this fabulous Pinot Noir for our Operatives. Busy wineries don’t get that way without a reason. A busy winery is usually a sign that something special is going on. In the case of Cima Collina, it was all about their fantastic Pinot Noir, and this one is my favorites!
What the winery says
About This Wine:
We offer this inaugural vintage with pride. This small bottling of Pinot Noir is from our estate vineyard 700 feet above sea level and 14 miles from the ocean in Carmel Valley.
The grapes that come from this vineyard are generally of small size and are much darker and richer than most Pinot Noir fruit, and we attribute this to soil, clonal selections, and climate. The grapes were harvested by hand. At the winery we gently destemmed them, then they were fermented in open top tanks and punched down gently. The wines were drained and pressed then aged in French oak, 40% new, for 11 months. The wine is unfined and unfiltered.
It is a blend of fruit from all of the blocks in the vineyard and is a powerful, dark, rich wine with aromas and flavors of plums, blueberries, leather, earth, smoke and spice. It will benefit from some bottle ageing now since it is still in its infancy, and because it’s a well-structured wine, it will age in the cellar for at least the next 10 years. We recommend giving this wine some air after opening, or decanting it.
The imprinted label is a precious metal, combining silver and palladium silk-screened on the bottle, then hand finished with ribbon, silver foil necker and numbered on the back.
The following is a transcript of a recent conversation between Annette Hoff and Agent Red:
AGENT RED: Tell me about this beautiful bottle. I’m intrigued.
ANNETTE HOFF: This Hilltop Ranch Estate Pinot Noir is a very special wine, Red. From the wine inside, to the bottle itself, this wine marks a real first for us.
RED: Its the first release from your estate vineyard, right?
ANNETTE: Yes, its 100% Estate and 100% Pinot Noir. The fruit is really exquisite and very unique. The berries were tiny and the thick skins contribute to the color and concentrated flavor of the wine.
the wine is opened and poured into our glasses
RED: Wow, that color is impressive. Not what I would expect a Pinot Noir to look like at all. It looks more like a…
RED: Exactly. Its deep garnet, almost burgundy in color.
ANNETTE: Yeah, and even though the wine is unfined and unfiltered, its got great clarity. If you hold it up to the light, you’ll see what I mean.
RED: Beautiful. Lets have a sniff!
agent red inhales deeply
ANNETTE: Powerful, right? We are very proud of this wine and expect that it will only improve with age. We have cellared a stash of our own and will revisit the wine every few years. I think that it will hold improve for 10 years or more.
RED: Let’s have a taste… WOW! Again, not what I was expecting, but delicious. Bold. Robust. Great fruit!
ANNETTE: Here, taste this one. Its been decanted for a few hours.
RED: Delicious! More balanced and much softer.
ANNETTE: I’m happy that you like it. Our little 2 acre vineyard produces special fruit and we take tender care of it. Every cluster is hand harvested and 2005 was a very even-ripening year so the fruit was all picked at its peak.
RED: And 2005 was a great year for Monterey County Pinot Noir, right?
ANNETTE: One of the very best.
RED: I can’t get over how distinctive this wine is. It’s big and delicious.
ANNETTE: It’s big, it’s bold, it’s not my usual Pinot Noir. This wine is something more.
RED: I’m sure our Operatives will love it!
ANNETTE: Cheers to that!
About Cima Collina
Cima Collina produces artisan wines from small Monterey vineyards. The idea of an “artisan wine” is the partnership with growers who meticulously cultivate vineyards, the insistence on using only carefully chosen fruit, and the creation of wine on a barrel-by-barrel basis.
The focus on Monterey vineyards is an acknowledgement that this region is now and will continue to produce wines that are interesting, compelling and unique. Many factors conspire to make this a truly gifted region for growing grapes, from the cool maritime climate, well-drained soils and the energy of our winemaking colleagues a dynamic renaissance is currently underway in our region.
We invite you try the wines of Cima Collina as well as the other wines of the Monterey Wine Country we are confident will meet your highest expectations.
Annette began her winemaking career in Napa Valley under Winemaker Bill Dyer at Sterling Vineyards. In 1994 Hoff was chosen to oversee the winery’s in-house, yet self-running experimental winery. She move south in 1996 to Carneros and Saintsbury Vineyards where she took the enology position and confirmed what she’d always known: Pinot Noir was her first love.
Her fondness for Pinot drove her west, far west, in 1998 when she went to New Zealand to undertake a study of that country’s approach to Pinot Noir production working at various wineries in a freelance fashion. But it was only a few months when Estancia called and asked Annette to become the winery’s Pinot Noir Winemaker in Monterey. So, she headed west, back to the states, where she discovered a region she became convinced could be Pinot Noir and winemaking heaven. In 2004 Richard Lumpkin went looking for a winemaker as passionate about the Monterey wine region as he had become. He found Annette and asked her to manage Cima Collina and make the wines. It was the chance to apply her knowledge of winemaking and enthusiasm for artisan wine from the ground up. Annette released her first Cima Collina wines in 2005.
Everything about this wine was handmade in our minimalist approach. After an initial sorting, we fermented the grapes in small, open-top bins that were punched down two to three times daily to extract color, flavor and complexity. The wine was pressed off into oak barrels of which 27% were new. There it rested for 14 months before bottling.