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Brilliant $40 California Pinot

Sure, it's a bit pricey for an everyday wine, but the 2006 Sea Smoke Cellars Botella Pinot Noir is one California's best pinots

O.K., I admit, I am prejudiced.

I generally don't like California pinot noir. This is not a blind, irrational prejudice, but one based on long experience of tasting hundreds of examples of this magical, if difficult, varietal.

Then every now and again, along comes a wine, even a California pinot noir, which is so good it upsets this comfortable certainty and causes me to reevaluate the whole picture.

California is generally too warm to grow what I consider great pinot. Still, it has cooler regions where conscientious winemakers work hard to produce more restrained wine, wine with less jammy over-ripe fruit, wine that retains the acidity and tannins necessary for longer aging.

One of these is the Wine of the Week, the Sea Smoke Cellars Botella Pinot Noir 2006 ($40). Its own particular cool spot is high on the Santa Rita Hills overlooking the Santa Ynez River Canyon. Unique in North America, this series of ridges and valleys in Santa Barbara County run east-west, so the canyon acts as a funnel, drawing in cool ocean air from the Pacific.

In fact the name Sea Smoke refers to the fogs that frequently roll up the canyon, and it is this particular microclimate that results in one of California's best pinots.

At the moment the wine is bright with the flavors of ripe, tart blackberries and cherries. It also lasted three days in my refrigerator after opening, getting better each day, and remarkably still tasting of summer raspberries at the end. When a wine does this, I'm sure I'm on to a winner, a wine that will not only last, but go on improving.

I just know that in a few years all those wonderful old red wine flavors like cigar box cedar, wet leather, and damp fall leaves will emerge to wonderful effect.

If they don't, I'm turning in my wine drinker's license.

WOW Rating:

When to Drink: Now and for at least the next five years

Breathing/Decanting: Open for at least an hour, and decant if possible

Food Pairing: Pork, pasta, lamb, and especially duck

Grapes: 100% pinot noir

Appellation: Santa Rita Hills

Region: California

Country: U.S.A.

Price: $40

Availability: Limited

Web Site:

See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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