Wine of the week: FEL 2016 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Pinot Noir

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THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Striking Pinot Noirs

TOP PICK: FEL
FEL, 2016 Donnelly Creek Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1.% alcohol, $65. ★★★★1/2:
What sets this pinot noir apart is its intensity. It has bright fruit with a tasty current of spice running through it. The FEL is complex with layered notes of blackberry, black cherry, tobacco and clove. Weighty yet balanced, this pinot is gorgeous.
Tasty ALTERNATIVES
Anaba, 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $42. ★★★★: A tangy pinot with generous fruit. Savory, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and forest floor. Supple texture. Lingering finish. Impressive.
Caramel Road, 2016 Monterey County Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A juicy pinot with layered notes of strawberry, black cherry, cola and toast. It’s balanced with bright acidity. Nice length. A steal for the quality.
Dutton Goldfield, 2017 Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $45. ★★★★: A food-friendly pinot, this bottling wins you over with its bright acidity and tangy notes of cranberry. Herbs play back up and spice is subtle. Finishes crisp. Well crafted.
Copain, 2016 Tous Ensemble Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.7%, $28. ★★★★: This is a pretty pinot with layered notes of cherry, raspberry and plum. Balanced, with refreshing acidity. Supple texture. Nice length. Top rate.

Pinot noir is often described as the most transparent variety in reflecting its site. But this is only possible when a winemaker is willing to let the fruit speak its mind.

Ryan Hodgins, as it turns out, is committed to free expression with his vines.

“I like to make honest wines that reflect where they come from,” he said. “I like telling stories. If you can’t tell the story about your wines and vineyards, then the wines could be from anywhere.”

Hodgins is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– the FEL 2016 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Pinot Noir at $65. What sets this pinot apart is its intensity. A tasty current of spice runs through this wine, and it’s complex, with layered notes of blackberry, black cherry, tobacco and clove. Weighty yet balanced, this pinot is gorgeous.

“We harvest pinot noir from Donnelly Creek in late September or even early October, well after we typically see any heat waves,” Hodgins said. “The result is a pinot noir with intensity and concentration, but one that still has elegance and acidity.”

The biggest challenge in making pinot noir, Hodgins said, is dealing with the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

“It’s when there’s too little water in the drought years and too much water in the wet years,” he said.

Staying the course, Hodgins said, is his saving grace.

“I’m good at taking the long view and not getting lost in the minutiae,” he said. “It goes back to patience as being an important quality for a pinot winemaker. I’ve always admired winemakers who take the time to meticulously document each vintage and take extensive notes on each lot. It’s something I always hope to do, but I usually get lost in the chaos of harvest.”

Hodgins, 43, discovered his destiny after tasting a 1997 Kathryn Kennedy Cabernet Sauvignon when he was a graduate student at UC Davis.

“I had an ‘aha’ moment,” he said.

Growing up in Portland, Ore., Hodgins first encountered pinots from the Willamette Valley. While at Oberlin College in Ohio, Hodgins was introduced to the UC Davis program by a professor who was taken with winemaking.

Today, Hodgins is the winemaker and director of operations of FEL Wines and Savoy Vineyard.

“I like to think I make elegant wines,” Hodgins said, “but when that’s the first descriptor someone else uses tasting my wines for the first time, I know I’ve done my job.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Striking Pinot Noirs

TOP PICK: FEL
FEL, 2016 Donnelly Creek Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1.% alcohol, $65. ★★★★1/2:
What sets this pinot noir apart is its intensity. It has bright fruit with a tasty current of spice running through it. The FEL is complex with layered notes of blackberry, black cherry, tobacco and clove. Weighty yet balanced, this pinot is gorgeous.
Tasty ALTERNATIVES
Anaba, 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $42. ★★★★: A tangy pinot with generous fruit. Savory, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and forest floor. Supple texture. Lingering finish. Impressive.
Caramel Road, 2016 Monterey County Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A juicy pinot with layered notes of strawberry, black cherry, cola and toast. It’s balanced with bright acidity. Nice length. A steal for the quality.
Dutton Goldfield, 2017 Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $45. ★★★★: A food-friendly pinot, this bottling wins you over with its bright acidity and tangy notes of cranberry. Herbs play back up and spice is subtle. Finishes crisp. Well crafted.
Copain, 2016 Tous Ensemble Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 13.7%, $28. ★★★★: This is a pretty pinot with layered notes of cherry, raspberry and plum. Balanced, with refreshing acidity. Supple texture. Nice length. Top rate.

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