2011 Morlet Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Coteaux Nobles Sonoma Coast
Expert Rating
ST 93 points
(Read the full review below)
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Luc Morlet Côteaux Nobles and the Suitcase Clone

In 2011, Luc Morlet threw us a bone. The young Champenois who led Peter Michael to the 98-point Promised Land makes both white and red wines. From time to time since we first met in 2007, Luc had offered the WineAccess membership his Chardonnays, Ma Princesse and Ma Douce. He'd set aside a few cases of what may well be the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon high-flier in the valley, the extravagant Mon Chevalier. But when it came time to talk about Pinot Noir, Morlet was gracious in the tasting room, but tight-fisted at the negotiating table.

"You can taste what you want, even the back vintages from our private stock. But there are just a few acres of the suitcase clones. Yields are next to nothing. The Côteaux Nobles is for Jodie (his wife), my brothers, my parents — and our mailing list. C'est tout." It wasn't too tough to figure out why.

The "suitcase clones" to which Morlet referred were just what they sound like. In the mid-1990s, budwood from the most expensive Pinot Noir vineyard in the world — set on the center of Vosne-Romanée's east-facing slope — was stuffed in a suitcase along with a pile of dirty laundry. When that suitcase passed customs in San Francisco, it was ushered right up the coast, to a chilly perch on the second ridge from the Pacific. With Peter Michael on one side and Marcassin on the other, the clonal contraband was grafted onto 15-year-old rootstock. The first call Luc made when he hung out his own shingle was to the owner of that now-priceless vineyard. With scant cash reserves and no idea what the future would bring, Luc grabbed every acre he could possibly afford.

In the summer of 2009, as our friendship solidified with Luc and Jodie Morlet, Jodie made a gift to WineAccess. Few of you saw the offer for just 180 bottles of the 2009 Côteaux Nobles. Offered in a 4-bottle pack, only our most loyal high-end buyers read about the most exciting Pinot Noir offer in the website's history.

Forty-five members purchased. Most remarkably, 36 took the time to rate and review. When the votes were tallied, 21 of 35 rated the 2009 Côteaux Nobles a perfect 5 stars. Thirteen more came in at 4 stars. The average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 remains one of the highest ever on WineAccess.com.

Two days ago, when we again visited the Morlets in their brand-spanking-new winery just above St. Helena, we hoped for the best — but expected little. We began with the piercingly mineral La Proportion Dorée, making off with just 240 bottles (sorry, nothing left from yesterday's offer!). Then it was on to the Chardonnays, of which not a bottle remains. When Luc uncorked the 2011 Côteaux Nobles, a dark-ruby, beautifully textured, drop-dead knockoff of something grown on the east-facing hillsides of Vosne, we smelled, we swirled — then we smelled again. We would have been perfectly happy had we never put wine to lips. The nose alone was well worth the price of admission. But then we tasted, and tasted again — and resolved on the spot to make WineAccess part of the Morlet family.

The magnificent 2011 Pinot Noir Côteaux Nobles brought Stephen Tanzer, the stingiest and most respected Burgundy critic in the world, to his knees. Dark red to the edge with stunning aromas of crushed raspberries and wild strawberry, Tanzer described it as "spicy, sappy and intense, with terrific lift," calling attention to the rare New World marriage of richness and balance, stemming from the cool 2011 growing season and a suitcase full of clonal contraband.

At first, Luc wasn't budging, ignoring our request for the last bottles of the 2011 Côteaux Nobles. He tried to change the subject, to move on to the Cabernets or the late-harvest wine. He asked us about our recent trip to France, the lunch at Georges V with fellow Champenois winemaker Jacques Diebolt. He dodged every punch, but in the end, he never had a chance.

Tasting Notes

2011 Morlet Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Coteaux Nobles Sonoma Coast
"Medium red. Pungent aromas of raspberry coulis, griotte cherry and white pepper. Spicy, sappy and intense, with terrific lift and early personality to the flavors of raspberry, spices, earth, tea leaf and iron. This highly complex young pinot finishes with a firm edge of acidity that calls for a couple years of patience."
93 points -- Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar


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