Wandering through the Eighth Street East wine complex in Sonoma, you pass a myriad of crush facilities, but none quite so inveigling as the one with the siren’s call of the melodic dissonance of King Crimson’s album, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. You’ve arrived at Talisman – a Pinot lover’s standard for Burgundian-style wines whose longevity is to be the topic of this retrospective tasting of the sublime 2006 vintage. But first – a brief background history.
Flashback to the who and when of Talisman. At the helm is owner and winemaker, Scott Rich. He is an intriguing individual replete with the knowledge of the ages – both in regards to wine, as well as a plethora of ephemera on a host of random topics. I initially met the surfer/architect-cum-winemaker back in 1995 while he was winemaker for Etude in Napa. While on a buying trip, I met Greg Brown (RIP) of T-Vine who was doing custom crush for his wines at Etude. While chatting with him, he mentioned that I should take a serious gander at a couple of other custom crush clients’ wares. That was the auspicious day upon which I met Mr. Scott Rich and tasted his very first vintage – the 1993 Carneros Pinot Noir (I was also fortunate enough to also meet Mia Klein and snag a bit of her Sauvignon Blanc, but that’s another story for another time.) Suffice it to say, I fell in love with his seductive Pinot Noir and they have always held a special place in my heart (and cellar).
Fast forward to the present – Scott now has an exquisite bevy of beauties in his Pinot stable from various vineyard designates throughout Sonoma (Red Dog, Adastra, Gunsalus, Wildcat Mountain, to name a few) and a toe-hold in the Yorkville Highlands (Weir). There is a kaleidoscopic artistry to his clonal selection - and blending thereof - and he prefers “…extreme character within an appellation; location, soil, aspect, elevation and personality.” Some favorites from past years may no longer be in the current line-up, but rest assured that their replacements will maintain the quality and uniqueness of past editions.
Talisman is a compact facility (4,200 square feet) that manages to operate like a well-oiled machine during harvest whilst filling almost every spare inch of floor space with tanks and T-bins that hold the various unique blocks, clones and vineyards that are fermented separately until bottling. I know this because I have spent 2 harvests in said facility (2014 & 2016) and still bear some of the bruises to prove it! But this is not the only job Mr. Rich holds. He has also been the winemaker at the renowned Bel Air estate of Moraga in Southern California for the last 15 years; the complete opposite (in terms of size and sexy machinery) of the Talisman operation. Despite space restrictions and the compressed timeline that Pinot Noir harvests seem to always burden the winemaker with, the wine produced here is magical and imbued with an extraordinary ability to age with grace and stature.
Scott firmly holds to the adage that wine is made in the vineyard. But as important as the relationship of the grapes to the terroir is the relationship of the winemaker to the grower; “Philosophical alignment is paramount…”. All of his Pinots bear the respect and passion that each vineyard receives from the owners and Scott himself. He refuses to source from any vineyards that are not within a 4-5 hours (roundtrip) drive; reason being that he needs to be within close proximity to maintain the human touch in the vineyard that makes his wines so spectacularly unique and delicious. As he so eloquently states, “Our objectives are to guide beautifully grown Pinot Noir grapes from these various single vineyards into the bottle; to express their individuality – we want all our wines to be different from each other; like children, with a thread of commonality but with very different personalities”.
And with that, let us away to the 2006 tasting…
TALISMAN 2006 “Red Dog Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Mountain):
Clones: Dijon 115, Dijon 777, Pommard
I have absolutely no shame in saying that this was MY favorite from this retrospective, as it epitomizes the sublime and alluring nuances that should be present in a well-crafted, older Pinot Noir. The bouquet slowly uncoils out of the glass with a depth of spice, dried pie cherry and forest berries. I can’t stop smelling this because the fragrance just sucks you in! Finally, I escape the clutches of its addictive aromas and get around to sipping. The first taste unleashes flourishes of spice, and cedar-lashed cherry and pomegranate that delicately unfolds with undercurrents of violet and a sensual streak of smoke and raspberry. The silky texture begs your lips back to the glass and maintains its presence with a delicate and persistent finish that tapers into shadows of red fruit and fine-grained tannins. Still a candidate for your cellar, though you probably won’t be able to hold off drinking it down now!
TALISMAN 2006 “Adastra Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Los Carneros):
Clones: Swan, Pommard, Dijon 113, Wadensville 2A
The Adastra Vineyard is a California Certified Organic vineyard located in the Heart of the Los Carneros appellation. This wine has a broader and more concentrated character and reveals more minerality and dark fruit laced with strawberry and cocoa in the nose. Once again, the bouquet keeps you sticking your nose into the glass, but eventually you get around to tasting and “Wow.” Structured and bright, but a roller coaster to depths of blackberry & bramble and heights of precise, elegant strawberry and floral elements. A complexity that belies its age and a staying power in the glass that promises extraordinary food pairing potential – I managed to pull myself away and whip up a simple farro and duck confit casserole that was a marvelous match. Thank goodness for leftovers!
TALISMAN 2006 “Hawk Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Russian River):
Clones: Dijon 115, Pommard
This Pinot Noir took a bit more time for complete lift-off; it has a time-release of blue and black fruits that are accompanied by a bit of wild herb and bramble notes. The mélange of blueberry, boysenberry and tea leaf reaches a harmonious apex about 20-30 minutes into the bottle. Sinuous and supple with a balanced (and somewhat brooding) trinity of fruit, acid and lithe tannins. More of a Wuthering Heights sort of experience…Heathcliff would pine for it.
TALISMAN 2006 “Thorn Ridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast):
Clones: Dijon 115, Swan, Pommard
I’m going to use Scott and Marta’s (Scott’s lovely wife and partner) perfect moniker for this wine – it has an “extremely high ‘yum’ factor”! Amazingly – though 10 years old – this “yum factor has its integrity intact. The nose leans towards more of a black cherry and roses tandem that very quickly flares up with a spicy breath of clove and star anise. Delicate and elegant opulence in the mouth with a repeat of the black cherry and some haunting notes of mulberry and earth. Eminently quaffable and perfectly respectable in the company of others. It has stealth booty and knows how to use it.
Many say that many California Pinots don’t have the ability to age well; that may be true in certain cases, but I am here to tell you that Talisman Pinots are the rare exception to that rule and just seem to increase in amplitude, beauty and nuance with time in the bottle. Though these 2006 Pinots drink quite well in the present, I would not hesitate to give most of them a bit more time in the cellar. That being said, Talisman has just released their 2013s and these wines are stunning! Make certain to add this winery to your list of go-to Pinots; you will not be disappointed, and you will find that they are a little slice of Burgundian heaven (at a fraction of the cost!) in Sonoma.
NOTE: All these wines are limited quantities and Special Order only. Keep your eyes peeled for the equally excellent 2013 and 2014 vintages appearing soon on our site.