As far as wine is concerned, there is much more to California than just Napa Valley or Sonoma. In fact, one of the Californian wineries that so far has impressed me most is located a little bit further south, in Santa Maria Valley: Jim Clendenen's Au Bon Climat. On election day in the UK, when a risotto was slowly cooking in the kitchen, it was time to open a Californian Pinot Noir to support us through the long night.
A wonderful nose of cherries, chocolate/cocoa, pepper, bread, woodlands and herbs with just the right dosage of toastiness; cool, earthy and leathery, but still fresh. On the tongue the Pinot is smooth, lots of berries and cherries mix with bread, mild ground pepper and spice, plus leather and tobacco aromas. The oak was already well integrated when I had previously opened a bottle of this in October 2008 (to which Caroline remarked it had 'more of an earthy oakiness than an oaky oakiness', which is still very true); now it provides the right contrast to the still surprisingly fresh acidity that gives the wine a very lively character - and a long finish.
I did already like this a lot in 2008 (when despite the 13.5% we downed a whole bottle over lunch), but now it got even better. It combines energy with substance and fresh elegance, which is never a bad thing in a wine. Even more noticeable is the, for a Californian wine from a top estate, relatively moderate price (it may be more pricey now, seeing as I bought it in 2008).