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Mendocino dreamin'
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Among all the grape varieties I sample, I return over and over to one varietal – Pinot Noir.

I appreciate this little dark purple terroir sponge. When handled properly, it’s a tasty measure of its surroundings – soil, sun and water. It’s like taking a trip with your taste buds.

I dipped into the wine vault and uncorked one of my personal favorites last weekend: 2007 Saracina Pinot Noir.

Saracina is the project of John Fetzer. He and his family built the massive Fetzer brand then sold the label to liquor powerhouse Brown Forman. They took their earnings and started new, smaller projects – and Saracina is the new love of Fetzer and his wife, Patty Rock.

Brown Forman just resold the former Fetzer property to Chilean wine producer Vi a Concha y Toro S.A. for $238 million. Saracina, near Hopland, Calif., is a 600–acre ranch with 300 acres of biodynamic or certified organic vineyards and a smattering of hops. The region’s regaining agricultural interests in hops with the growth of the American craft beer industry.

I visited the property for three days last year – and found the wines, the hospitality and the beauty of Mendocino County beyond compare. This is Pinot at its best: Nuanced, silky and ruby colored in the glass. Aromas include spice, dark cherries and oak. On the palate, expect raspberry and floral notes – work with it in the glass and experience even more fruit expressions, like blueberry and dark cherry.

Wine maker Alex MacGregor coaxed a benchmark Pinot Noir from these rolling hills. The 2007 vintage is sold out at the vineyard and may be hard to come by. The 2009 release carries very similar characteristics. About $38.

Bargain Pinot Noir

The hunt for a bargain Pinot turned up several contenders but none in the $10–$15 range more enjoyable than Blackstone Winery 2009 Pinot Noir. Smokey, spicy and rich with flavors of plum, raspberry and vanilla. The blend of 14 percent Syrah adds to the smokiness. It has beautiful color in the glass and drinks wonderfully with grilled salmon.