Log In / Join Now

what we're drinking now

Senior editor James Laube, Wine Spectator's expert on the wines of California, joined the magazine in 1983.
James Laube

An Exciting California Pinot Noir

W.H. Smith Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Maritime Vineyard 2003

James Laube
Posted: December 31, 2009

That Bill Smith ended up making Sonoma Coast Pinot always surprised me, since Smith founded La Jota Wine Co on Napa’s Howell Mountain and made gutsy Cabernets and racy Zinfandels for two decades. But with W.H. Smith, he decided to stake a claim in Sonoma on the true coast, sourcing grapes from the appropriately named Maritime Vineyard. His 2003 Pinot from that site continues to wow me.

When I wrote about the 2003 Pinots (back in 2005), I noted that I had more fun tasting Pinot Noirs that year than ever before. The wines from this vintage continue to show youthful, vibrant flavors, lively acidity, depth, concentration, length and vitality. In short, about all one could ask for from any wine. The Maritime Vineyard currently has all those traits, along with a finish of subtle floral notes and an enticing earthiness, plus the kind of finesse that separates great wines from sensational ones. 97 points on release and still holding.

I bought six bottles of the W.H. Smith Maritime Vineyard and am now down to my last one or two. But every bottle of the ’03 Maritime has left me stunned by how good it is. This wine made the Top 100 of 2005, and this winery made Wine Spectator’s list of the Top 30 California Pinot producers.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for W.H. Smith Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Maritime Vineyard 2003 (97, $45, Top 100 of 2005: rank 15).

Plus, get our quick list of Top Values in California Pinot Noir.

Brian Buzzini
NorCal —  December 31, 2009 8:39pm ET
What a coincidence...just had this last night!

2003 W.H. Smith Pinot Noir Maritime Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (12/30/2009)
Well, I took my full allocation on release...and this is the first bottle I have opened?!? What strikes me first is how smooth and plush this wine is. Has the rich fruit and killer Ca. Pinot spice...and not a sharp edge to be found. Gorgeous wild berry, strawberry, plumcherry fruit...earth dust, sandalwood spice, oak dipped in cola, lovely dried florals, cranberry tartness. Super balance, tasty with deep flavors......the WS 97 is a little on the high side, even for me....but the Tanzer 85 is crazy! This is tasty Calif. Pinot, drinkin well now! (94 pts.)
Paul Pashley
Middletown, CT —  January 3, 2010 11:33am ET
I was lucky enough to get six bottles and I'm down to one.
The first bottle that I had about six months after getting it,
was one great wine experience for me. So much complexity and changes during the two hours of enjoying it, I was really mesmerized.
A lot of people on different web blogs have totally trashed this wine -
I, like James have nothing but wonderful experiences with it!
My wife and I had it in Newport RI at a BYOB restaurant named Spark
on the night we got married last Dec. (bottle #5!) - we were blown away!
and so were the two ladies that owned the restaurant - I've always believed as many do, that you must share great wine. I have about 450
bottles of pretty darned good wine in the cellar and this was the bottle that I chose to celebrate our wedding nght. It has been that special to me. Glad you feel the same way James & Happy New Year! - Paul
Daniel J Oconnor
Long Beach, CA —  January 3, 2010 9:29pm ET
My wife and I just had the 06 vintage of this wine and loved it. I know JL did not rate it as highly as the 03, but we really enjoyed it. I will have to try to find the 03.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 300,000+ ratings.