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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Pinot Noir Grape

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About Pinot Noir

(Synonyms: Auvernat, Auvernaut noir, Blauer-Klävner, Blauer Nürnberger, Blauer Spätburgunder, Burgunder blauer, Clävner, Franc Noirien, Franc Pineau, Möhrchen, Morillon, Nagyburgundi, Noirien, Pineau de Bourgoyne, Pinot nera, Plant Doré, Salvagnin, Schwarzer Burgunder, Schwarzer Riesling, Vert Doré.)


Pinot Noir grapes Map showing Burgundy

Pinot Noir is a red-wine grape originating in the Burgandy region of France. It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page), arguably one of the top two (with the Bordeaux type Cabernet Sauvignon).

Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape in the vineyard. In its home, it has had many centuries of intense care, presumably leading to the use of clones that are exactly matched to their soils and microclimates; in other regions, that selection and adaptation is still a work in progress. There may well be more clones of Pinot Noir in vineyards than of any other wine grape.

(Clonal selection is a little-discussed but critical part of grape-growing and thus wine-making; there is a good discussion of Pinot Noir clones in this U.C. Davis report on the grape. Pinot Noir notoriously mutates quite readily, which is why its clonal variants differ from one another much more than is the case with most other wine grapes.)

The French passion for classification reaches its apex in Burgundy. In Burgundy, there are five growing areas, divided in total into fully one hundred AOCs (appellations d'origine contrôlée), and, within each, designations from "Grand cru" through "Premier Cru" and "Village" down to "Regional". (Take notes: there will be a quiz in the morning.) There is no point in re-inventing the wheel, and Hilarie Larson has a fine introduction to the world of Burgundy (including also Chardonnay) at the Wine Folly web site.

Some of the most fantastically expensive and swooned-over wines in the world are Burgundies of Pinot Noir. So what is this fascinating grape like? Well, once you have tasted it, you will not likely ever mistake anything else for it, or vice-versa (whereas, in contrast, there are several eminent Bordeaux reds that can readily be mistaken for one another). Jancis Robinson states that "Perhaps the only characteristics that the Pinot Noirs of the world could be said to share would be a certain sweet fruitiness and, in general, lower levels of tannins and pigments than the other 'great' red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah."

The great claim about Pinot Noir is that it is the premier grape for expressing that elusive quality, terroir. The French Wine Guide defines terroir as "a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine-making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine." That's really not very helpful; as the Wikipedia article on the word better puts it, "Terroir can be very loosely translated as 'a sense of place', which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product." That is why Pinots from vineyards scarcely a stone's throw apart (literally) can differ substantially in almost every respect (yet be equally good—or great, or mediocre—wines. Notice that neither definition refers to the wine maker: it is as if the wines magically make themselves from the grapes; obviously, however, the wine maker is, as one might say, the lens through which the the terroir is perceived in the glass.

(All this is only an extremely superficial introduction to the complexities with which Burgundy lovers must acquaint themselves; even just the Wikipedia article on Burgundy wines is a towering wall of text.)

If we try to get more definite, we can say that cruder Pinots, grown where the climate is really a bit too warm for it, produce relatively simplistic fruit bombs often described as "jammy"; we recall some that tasted like they should be spread on toast. In better circumstances, the resulting wine is light-to-medium in color and body, and pervaded by fruit flavors of the dark-red-berry sort, typically cherry but sometimes raspberry/strawberry. Beyond those basics come the highly variable terroir variations of earthiness, cedar, tobacco, and the usual host of vague words that try to express the subtle and complex red-wine flavors for which there are still really no good words.

Factoid: French wine law allows most Pinot Noir Burgundy to be cut with up to 15% of regional white-wine grapes. In practice, such blending is extremely rare.

Some Descriptions of Pinot Noir Wines

  • About.com

    "Pinot Noir is a dry, red wine that typically exhibits fruit-forward character with strawberry, cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit taking the cake for palate presence. Notable earth-driven layers are also quite common in a glass of Pinot, with herbal, mushroom, leather, and game-like qualities being fairly familiar. Warm spice notes also make their way into the Pinot Noir palate profile, often in the form of cinnamon, clove and smoky, tobacco nuances."

  • Jancis Robinson

    "Pinot, as I have said, can vary enormously but its essential characteristic is charm. It tends to be fruity, perfumed and haunting. It dances on the palate rather than overpowering it. Heavy tannins and deep colour are not essential elements in a fine Pinot Noir - not even in a young Pinot Noir. In fact some of my favourite burgundies are not grand, long-living monsters but lively, sprightly essences of place, sometimes just a general village wine - not one labelled with the name of a grand cru or even a premier cru but one carrying simply the name of a village. . . Wine producers the world over tend to be so smitten by the quality of the greatest red burgundies that they cannot resist trying to make Pinot Noir where at all possible. There are accordingly small plantings all over Europe and beyond. But very few regions can claim to have a real proven affinity with the grape. The Pacific north-west state of Oregon was the first New World wine region to claim Pinot Noir as its own, but its variability of climate (and, it must be said, some less than perfect clones) has made quality extremely irregular. When Oregon succeeds, it makes a particularly fruity style of Pinot. Next to claim the crown were fog-cooled pockets of California such as the Russian River Valley (big juicy Pinots), Carneros (lighter and more fragrant) and the Central Coast between Monterey and Santa Barbara where certain sites have shown over a decade that they can reliably ripen Pinot, just, and make truly appetising examples. . . New Zealand is setting its cap at Pinot Noir and certain examples from Martinborough/Wairarapa just north-east of Wellington in the south of the North Island and Central Otago towards the south of the South Island suggest that they may well have a real claim to be the next great Pinot region."

  • Enology International

    "One Pinot Noir winemaker who changed to a more commercial style [picking at higher sugars, lower acidity, dehydration] and saw his ratings and sales take off, remarked 'Elegant and delicate wouldn't score more than 82 points. Each year the bar is raised and the further we get from Pinot Noir. But we want to make a wine that sells. What is success: maintaining a style or selling 30,000 cases?'"

  • The Kitchn

    "Pinot Noir should never be described as powerful. The beauty of Pinot Noir wines lies in their elegance, finesse, perfume, silky tannins, and bright fruit character. Pinot wines are seductive, drawing you in with their captivating bouquet. With age they can develop complex aromas and flavors of earthy truffle, leather and dried herbs."

  • The Wine Cellar Insider

    "Pinot noir produces a heavily perfumed wine with scents of earth, spice, cherries, strawberries and raspberries when ripe. It is a light to medium bodied wine, with high acidity that can age well. Burgundy is an expensive wine region. While great wines are produced in Burgundy, many wine collectors state, finding a good Burgundy is a bit of minefield. While the great wines are amazing, as often as not, the bottles they buy and open do not deliver their desired levels of pleasure."

  • Wine Tasting Reviews

    "Pinot Noir wine is produced from red grapes but it is much lighter in color than other red wines. Pinot Noir flavors and aromas include roses, fruits, black cherry, berry, and currant. Other Pinot Noir characteristics include high acidity and low tannins. Pinot Noir's flavor depends heavily where it is grown and how the wine maker treats it, so a good winery can produce exceptional wines. However, Pinot Noir is finicky and can produce poor wines even when the wine maker does things right."

  • The French Scout

    "The structure is delicate and fresh. The tannins are very soft; this is related to the low level of polyphenols. The aromatics are very fruity (cherry, strawberry, plum), often with notes of tea-leaf, damp earth, or worn leather. Yet pinot noir is very transparent to the place where it is grown. The staggering range of wines produced makes it pointless to define which personality is the best expression of the variety. "

  • Darryl Rosen

    "Pinot Noir is described as tasting like strawberries, black cherries, leather, game, mushrooms, spice and humus. Some simple, straightforward, well-priced Pinot Noirs do taste like strawberries, but for most Pinot Noir, aromas and tastes vary fairly widely."

  • Food & Wine

    "Pinot Noir can be among the most amazing wines you'll ever taste, and it can be flat-out anticlimactic. It inspires more rhapsodies—and disappointments—among wine lovers than any other grape. When it's good, it's ethereally aromatic, with flavors ranging from ripe red berries to sweet black cherries, and tannins that are firm but never obtrusive. (When bad, unfortunately, it's acidic, raspy and bland.) "

Some Pinot Noirs to Try

(About this list.)

As Jancis Robinson has remarked, "price is an extremely unreliable guide . . . what a wine sells for often has more to do with advertising hype and marketing decisions than the quality contained in the bottle." And that is so of Pinots from wherever it is made, not just Burgundy; this varietal seems to be more of a religion than perhaps any other.

While top-rank Burgundies have prices that are the subject of jokes (and are actually treated as investments), remarkably decent Pinots can nevertheless be had for reasonable prices. Outside of Burgundy, the top Pinot regions would be Oregon and (perhaps especially) New Zealand; California Pinots (as some of the remarks above show) often are ill-made quasi-Cabernets (because that's what sells), but there are also some good specimens from select regions of the state. We have tried here to present a palette of Pinot Noirs from those regions; as everyone says, there is no Universal Standard Pinot Noir under glass in a lab somewhere. The idea here is not to reveal all that Pinot Noir can be, but simply to get you started on a long road of exploration. Because Pinot Noir can be so many different things, our list here is longer than usual, and includes several wines from each of the four areas mentioned.

(A wine region not so often mentioned in connection with Pinot Noir but which nonetheless produces many fine specimens is central Europe, most especially Austria; keep an eye open for some when in wine shops.)

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.

Burgundy Pinot Noir

When buying modestly priced Burgundy, your chief clues to reliability are the négociant or the importer or both. Some highly reputed négociants are (in no special order) Louis Latour, Joseph Drouhin, Louis Jadot, Domaine Faiveley, Bouchard Père et Fils, and Olivier Laflaive; respected Burgundy importers include, among others, Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Louis-Dressner, Robert Chadderdon, and Polaner Selections. In the list below, we present four somewhat differing modestly priced Burgundy bottlings, all from one négociant, Joseph Drouhin; that way, if you choose, you can examine versions that differ but are all (more or less) from The Same Hand. (We chose Drouhin simply because they had exactly four bottlings in our price range; Latour has six, and Jadot a couple.)

  • Joseph Drouhin "Laforêt" Bourgogne Pinot Noir, $11 - $17.
         ($16.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [It] begins with aromas of mostly red fruit including a little cranberry and just a touch of green. Tasting the wine reveals that it is very easy to drink featuring more fresh red fruit, soft tannins, good balance and good acidity. It is also very smooth with a nice spice component that comes out at the end and leads into the lingering finish. This is one tasty Pinot Noir and a steal for under $15!

    Across the entire lineup, the Drouhin wines are noteworthy for their elegance, focus, varietal correctness and lucidity. . . Drouhin wines are immaculately clean, with precisely ripened fruit and a subtle sense of terroir. . . [Their] biodynamic approach also tends to curtail the use of new oak barrels, and the Drouhins quite rightly believe that oak should be a seasoning, not an entrée. . . the entry-level Laforet Pinot Noir offers genuine varietal character and Burgundian finesse, at 12.5 percent alcohol.

    Nose: Floral, soft marigold, raspberry, savory with white pepper. Palate: Light, smooth, moderate grip along edge of tongue, delicate with a proper amount of acidity across the palate, raspberry and cherry on the dry finish. Balanced wine waiting for dinner. Flexible enough to pair with many meals, seafood, poultry and lightly seasoned beef stew. Day two: A bit more assertive. Firmer on the palate, acid and tannin across the tongue, rich essence mid-palate, tart cherry finish.

    Brunello sunburst orange red, crystal clear with a very broad transparent rim. Wet cardboard (diminishing with air) and red cherry make for an undistinguished aroma (Screw-cap enclosure). Medium bodied with good acidity that intensifies with late palate mouth-watering edginess, combines with mild-plus tannin, early palate smooth drinkability, late palate tart black cherry, and a fair finish of white pepper and a slight trace of the 12.5% alcohol, manages some complexity out of a rather one-dimensional Pinot Noir.

    The bright-red wine abounds in raspberry, wood and spice aromas. Tart raspberries also grace the palate, which is marked by firm structure and elegant fruit. The wine has more personality than most pinots in this price range. It's an excellent value.

    Truthfully, the Drouhin Laforet has had some mixed results in past vintages. There's been years where I have absolutely detested this wine: too thin, too green...where's the fruit? I was hesitant in putting the 2011 up to my lips, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. Even before the first taste, it smelled wonderful. A smoky, sweet nose with hints of bacon fat already promised more flavor than some past efforts. This is not made in an over-extracted style. Never has been. Medium bodied, but the 2011 is bursting with fresh, clean raspberry, black cherry and cranberry flavors. The fruit is pure without being intense. A nice touch of leather and forest floor enhances. Stylistically, the perfect Pinot Noir to pair with a variety of dishes. The bottom line is that finding a Red Burgundy this good under $20 is extremely rare. Good Juice!

    It had this sour cherry character and there was some barnyard/game/what wine snots call brett (it's this bacteria that leads to a band-aid smell and taste, which sounds so freaking disgusting but is actually pretty delish). I loved that it was smooth but still kind of acidic and that it had this awesome sour cherry and spice flavor as it went down. . . I really don't even need to say that much more. I love this wine. Here's a case where the wine definitely lived up to the negociant's name . . . SO worth the $$$. This is the closest I'm going to get to great Pinot until I hit the lottery

    The wine inside is also very accessible. The aroma of grapes from Chalonnaise and Cȏte de Nuits is perfume like with red berry goodness. On the palate the wine has a warming, sour cherry flavor. It has a smooth texture and light to medium body. The wine is finished in stainless steel for seven to eight months and then in oak for one to two years. That's a nice balance because the delicate tastes are not masked by over-oaking. This is a reasonably priced Pinot that should appeal to American wine lovers who often can't see the “forest” for the trees. It displays an elegant French style in a clean, contemporary fashion.

  • Joseph Drouhin "Véro" Bourgogne Pinot Noir, $14 - $27.

    Some quotations and facts:

    There is nothing at all showy about this wine; that in itself is a hallmark of classic red Burgundy. Medium light ruby tones, bright and beautiful./Aromas that seem dusty and dry at first, then open up beautifully with scents of red cherries, ginger, ripe raspberries and a dash of pepper. The flavors unfold in a similar fashion with more black than red fruits. Excellent balance with round, harmonious flavors.

    Once in the glass I really picked up on the cherry followed by a pepper spice. Only after the wine opened up in the glass could I find the red raspberry. Some licorice in the middle as well. Ripe juicy red raspberry greets your palate on each taste. Traces of the blackberry are evident throughout, hints of pepper and licorice round out the finish.

    Varietally correct, good fruit, well resolved tannins, no nasty funk (or mushrooms or earth, for that matter) to detract from our pleasure. Fruit forward, not new world but maybe new French in character, a little more oak than I like but not overwhelmingly so. It's so difficult to find decent Pinot Noir I would buy this again, even at $19.

    Named after Véronique Drouhin, this is a blend of village and premier cru wines designed to give more weight than a basic Burgundy. It certainly has considerable elegance, generosity and a good weight of red fruits. The aftertaste is pure and fresh. 87 points.

    Sight: Garnet rim, reddish core. Attractive color showing hints of time. Nose: Meaty and full at first sniff, then unfolding with surprisingly deep strawberry jam and blackberry aromas cradled by a very pleasant and ephemeral earth component. Although I refer to jam, this is not a 'jammy' wine, it's just that the intensity of the fruit gives it the feel of concentrated rather than fresh fruit. Taste: Tasty red fruit flavors, light to medium body, pleasant acidity and fine but persistent tannin. Not as interesting in the mouth as it was in the nose. Overall Impression: The nose surprised me because the fruit aromas were darker than I would've expected from a Bourgogne AC wine. Some 2003's were fruitier than usual, but were not as deep as this. The winemaking is definetely having an effect on the end product, and it's not at all unpleasant. It may not be traditional, but it certainly isn't bad.

    Bright, clear ruby in color, with a muted cherry nose. Very disappointing on opening, with thin, dilute, acidic flavors wrapped in prickly tannins. Improved only somewhat with airing, as it lost some of the tannins and some emerging fruit caught up with the acidity, but the flavors tend towards the tart cranberry. Not a steal at $19.

    In the glass, the color is mid ruby. Aroma is of raspberries still on the bush - that is, very young and spring-y. Touches the palate smoothly. With bright, vibrant berries. Not much in the way of depth or length or distinction, but a pleasant sip.

    From France's Burgundy's Drouhin family comes an affordable, light hearted red Burgundy with tart cherry, refined tannins and a dry, dusty earthiness. 4 stars out of 5.

  • Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune-Villages, $16 - $35.
    (Do not confuse this with their "Cote de Beaune" offering—this is the Villages bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The color is slightly darker ruby than the previous wine and displays a tinge of magenta at the rim. A bouquet of red raspberry and dried red cherries with touches of mulberry and plum is framed by an earthy character manifested in underbrush and briers and a bit of dusty graphite. The wine is firm with dry, slightly austere tannins yet directly appealing because of the vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. It fills out and fleshes out a bit more than the Côte de Nuits-Villages, though it retains some reticence in its nature.

    Made from a blend of pinot noir grapes grown in vineyards extending over 16 Côte de Beaune villages, this wine presents a terrific introduction to Burgundy's trademark finesse and elegance. Distinctive terroir provides the key. Burgundy's clay and limestone soils highlight pinot noir's bright, pure fruit with uplifting acidity and distinctive earthiness. Drouhin's long-term contracts and collaboration with growers control yields and emphasize a "biological" approach that minimizes chemical treatments. The approach yielded solid results in 2007's cool growing season. Sunny, dry September days also helped to salvage the vintage. After a long, slow maceration and fermentation with natural yeasts, aging took place in French oak with only 10 percent new barrels. The wine's ruby color offers delicate aromas of violets and black cherries. Bright, tart cherry fruit layers in silky tannins for elegant structure and a well-balanced finish. Try it with strong cheeses, fresh fruit and baguettes. Highly recommended.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 88 points

    Pale bright ruby red, clean with delicately ripe cherries, strawberries and raspberries, some candy floss note with subtle oaking,spicy. Dry with moderate plus acidity, fresh and bright, there is clarity with savory texture, delicate Pinot fruit follows through, juicy, with moderate alcohol of 13% abv, energetic style.

    Ripe and open nose, welcoming with sweet pinot fruit. Very smooth mouthfeel and a short, simple palate of ripe red fruit, finishing with a sharp minerality. Good stuff, again. (89 pts.)

    This is a lovely little burgundy. Subtle and earthy black cherry notes and gentle on the palette for such a young wine. I'm a novice, but can it be I tasted a mild citrus at its finish?

    Plump and juicy, with spicy cherry and raspberry flavors. It has mouthwatering acidity and an elegant frame. A good introduction to the region and the vintage.

  • Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune, $18 - $30.
         ($20.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2011 Chorey-les-Beaune Village is about 50% from the estate and vinified at the winery on the outskirts of Beaune. It has a lifted, pine-scented bouquet with fine delineation. The palate is a pleasant fleshy entry: a fine bead of acidity with an elegant finish that does not outstay its welcome. It is easy-drinking and well-crafted.

    [Google-translated from French:] The house Joseph Drouhin has a little less than a hectare of vines in this small appellation stuck between Beaune and Corton. In this place, the soil is alluvial and stony, with the alluvial fan of the valley Bouilland which brought its debris over geological time. Pinot Noir planted in these places has mastered yields to well express the terroir. Harvested by hand, it is then fermented in vats and aged in new barrels tenth, for a little over a year. Thus developing a Chorey-lès-Beaune pleasant, intense, round , with aromas of truffle and undergrowth.

    The very small appellation of Chorey-les-Beaune lies between the prestigious neighbors Savigny-les-Beaune and Aloxe-Corton. This bottling is aged 12 to 15 months in 10 percent new French oak. The elegant wine exudes intense aromas of cherry, red berries and forest floor followed on the palate by red fruit with notes of dried strawberries, spice and earth.

    The great Domaine Joseph Drouhin produces a superb Chorey every year, and they've absolutely nailed it in the high-toned, red-fruited 2007 vintage. Expressing bright raspberry fruit infused by the inimitably earthy Burgundian terroir, Drouhin's '07 Chorey cries “real Burgundy” from the moment it hits your glass. Red raspberries, rose petals, and a dusty limestone soil signature fill your senses and yield to a silky texture and a refined, elegant expression that rewards those who listen to their wines rather than expect them to shout.

    Pale colour. Lovely fresh sappy cherry and herb fruit nose. Attractive and fruity. The palate is bright, fresh and sappy with lovely focus and good acidity. 87/100

    Semi-transparent; not terribly dense in appearance. Deep cherry aroma and flavor. Seemed smooth and ready to drink although it may evolve further in time. I tried it both chilled and at room temperature and slightly preferred it chilled. Strangely, along with the cherry component I noted a citrus element in the wine--lemon or grapefruit--maybe from the natural acidity. On the second day I thought it exhibited some deeper, almost earthy undertones and performed well for the price point among Burgundies.

    The little-known Chorey-Les-Beaune, one of smaller villages in the northern part of the Côte-de-Beaune, tends to produce delicately flavored Burgundies which are perfect as aperitif wines. Drouhin's 2003, with 12.5% alcohol, is a perfect charmer, light-bodied and supple, with aromas and flavors of red berries and cherries. A great value! 89 points

    On the nose, there are scents of smoke, tobacco, and cherry. The flavors are of cherry, smoke and a light spice. We liked this wine during our visit [to the Drouhain Oregon winery], and it didn't disappoint now. Well, that's not quite true. The disappointment was in the fact that we drank the last bottle!

    Nothing better than a bottle of elegant, beautifully poised Joseph Drouhin 2010 Chorey-lès-Beaune accompanied by some mellifluous playing from the late, great French pianist, Michel Petrucciani, playing his tribute to another favourite jazzman of mine, Bill Evans. All I need is an open fire.

    The wines are elegant in Drouhin's typical style, and are often below $30, a stunning value for any Côte d'Or Pinot. The 2005 is especially suitable for Pinot lovers on a budget.

New Zealand Pinot Noir

  • Coopers Creek Pinot Noir, $9 - $23.
    (This refers to Cooper Creek's "entry level" Pinot.)
         ($13.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; appealing, tart cherry, forest floor nose; tasty, tart cherry, forest floor, cranberry palate; medium-plus finish (good value at about $15). 90 points

    Ruby, translucent. Perfumed and musky. An elegant style with silky tannins, and richness of juicy black cherry fruit, a savoury undercurrent and a long fine textured finish.

    Five months in French oak, predominantly new. 4th crop from this vineyard. Quite a rich, dark mineral nose, with schisty qualities but a touch of sulphur too. Some plummy fruit comes through. The palate has a little more elegance, with a juicy cherry edge, good acidity. Starts to open up, and a fruity, plummy quality comes through. Definitely a richer style of Pinot Noir, but tangy, and successful in the final analysis.

    Good pinot ruby, the third deepest of this set. Bouquet is soft and rich on this wine, not pinpoint varietal, a trace of VA, but burgundian all the same. Palate is more blackboy and plum than cherry, the oak not quite as fragrant and clean as the Peregrine, the finish slightly phenolic. But the whole package is in style, and with 18 months to mellow, it should become an attractive food wine, and more varietal. 17½ (****)

    The real value source for characterful Pinot Noir these days, however, is New Zealand. They can be a bit more of a challenge to find on U.S. shelves, but are well worth the hunt, for both quality and value. Some of the best recent releases I've tried, that can be had for $15 to $20, are from Coopers Creek [and a few others]. You'll find a delicacy, lightness and good acidity in these Kiwi Pinots that make their value pricing no contest when compared to similarly priced domestic Pinot.

    Soft accesible wine with plum, chocolate and oak flavours. A simple and accessible Pinot Noir that offers value at this price.

    Ruby purple-garnet, clear and bright. Aromas of musk and earth, and fine-textured flavours with a herbal edge before black cherry fruit fleshes out the palate. The finish is full with a spicy flourish and excellent length.

  • Dashwood Pinot Noir, $10 - $19.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is a nice, light colored pinot noir with intense aromatics. It's a little bit spicy on the nose with plenty of cherry and raspberry aromas complementing that spice. There's a hint of grilled meat and leather on the nose too. Soft cherry flavors make up the bulk of the palate, and while it's relatively simple it's also very enjoyable. There is a spice note that hits the mid palate and adds some interest. The acidity is nearly perfect. The finish brings a cranberry flavor, which dissapates quickly making for a relatively short finish. Nonetheless, I'm not disappointed in this wine. For the price, this is a very nice—and recommended—pinot noir.

    Perplexing initial nose. Coconut! A piña colada tsunami—pineapple, coconut milk, strawberry garnish and a Meyer's Rum floater. It's all there, then 10 minutes later, it's gone. Just like that. Those initial few moments after a cork is pulled can be so touch and go—either very telling or completely irrelevant. But, whether I plan to let it breathe or jump right in, a little sniff and sip is never missed. The nose eventually settles on dark cherry, strawberry, green herb, and tomato. Soft spice, cocoa powder, musty and mushroom advance on the palate. My preferred New Zealand Pinot Noir for the price thus far.

    The 2009 Dashwood Marlborough Pinot Noir begins with aromas of bright cherry and raspberry with a few herbal notes and a little spice. The wine tastes of juicy red and black cherry and has a nice layer of spice that carries all the way through to the finish. There's also some juicy fruit on the finish that lasts for quite awhile. This is a really nice, easy sipper and a great wine to pull out at your next party to introduce your friends to New Zealand Pinot Noir.

    The aromatics are really attractive featuring red cherries, herbs, oak and a hint of cinnamon. The flavors echo the aromas. Juicy, light on its feet, with polished tannins and perky acidity on the somewhat lengthy finish. A very good daily drinker and an exceptional value.

    This one has a fruity cherry, raspberry, herb, and spice character.

    Surprisingly, 4 of those inexpensive wines made our top 10. Those four, the Waipara Springs, the Babich, the Dashwood and the Oyster Bay . .  represent excellent value in pinot noir, surpassing what just about any other region is offering.

    Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Fresh aromas of dried red fruits and herbs. Light and simple redder fruits are featured with cherry-red candy flavor prominent. Bright with gossamer tannins making for easy drinkability. Decent.

    Another smartly priced wine, this one comrd from the AwatereValley. It displays the nervy, tight lines and purity so typical of Awatere pinots, together with a herbal twist that adds complexity.

  • Oyster Bay Pinot Noir, $10 - $26.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Color: A beautiful deep rose color in the center with a bright pink, watery edge. A little darker than I'd expect from Pinot, but the rim was the right color for me so I held hope that it wouldn't be overripe (a lot of times when the producers allow the grapes to get too ripe you get dark skins, so the wine is super dark from the juice being in contact with the skin). The legs were not too gloppy — 13.5% alcohol is right on the border for me in terms of being a little too much so I was concerned this would be off balance, but I reserved judgment. Smell: And this is why I love New Zealand Pinot Noir. There was a rich red berry smell — like raspberry and strawberry parfait — with a musky spice note to it. I thought of a campfire when I smelled the wine. It smelled earthy and like dried dirt, but with a note of sandalwood or Indian-type spice. A really outstanding blend of earth, fruit, and spice that's hard to find in a wine at this price! Taste: Yum. It tasted just like it smelled — red berries and exotic spices. The French oak, which contributes that spice flavor, made the fruit taste better, rather than overpowering it. The tannins and acid were in balance — very medium and didn't overtake the wine by drying out my mouth/making it water too much. My only criticism: the wine was a little hot on the back of my throat from the alcohol. Again, 13.5% is right on the fringe of being a little too high (except in very rich, fruit wines like Zinfandel or Cabernet 14% is kind of my threshold for alcohol) and although it didn't ruin the wine or throw it off balance, I would have preferred that the burn wasn't there. . . I love this wine. What a value for the price and so reliable that it's a standby for me when I want a good Pinot that's widely available. Go for it.

    It's medium bodied and tightly wound, with a crisp core of mouth-watering acidity that adds zest to the flavors of dark cherry, earth and leather.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (March 2010), 91 points

    This is a pleasant Pinot Noir, which is light but fanciful, with a strong fruit concentration highlighted by the fragrance of cherries. The flavor contains the presence of the cherries, combined with plum, and a hint of strawberry. There is an underlying herbal suggestion which I could not identify, which glides the wine into a lingering finish, with only hints of the sweet tannins.

    This Pinot is well done . . . Nose starts kind of peppery, and then you notice the wine's nice light body and red fruit, cherry flavors. Finish is ok, maybe a little on the flat side, but it does linger for a bit. A good package at this price point for sure. More character than you find in most Pinots in that [dollar] range, so I will definitely recommend trying one.

    Light, polished and highly perfumed, with lavender and spice overtones to the currant and cherry flavors, lingering easily.

    Surprisingly, 4 of those inexpensive wines made our top 10. Those four, the Waipara Springs, the Babich, the Dashwood and the Oyster Bay . .  represent excellent value in pinot noir, surpassing what just about any other region is offering.

    Ripe fruit expression matched with a food-friendly sharpness are what characterise New Zealand's wines; historically famous for its grassy pungent Sauvignon, the country is also becoming a second spiritual home for Pinot - and this Oyster Bay, Marlborough Pinot Noir from The Co-op is a textbook entry-level example. A translucent cherry red in the glass, it has aromas of ripe red fruits with hints of Burgundian farmyardiness. The palate is full of ripe sour-cherry fruit, red berries and good savoury underpinnings; well-structured and soft textured with some persistence on the finish. It manages to be both crowd-pleasing and serious; it's also well-made and balanced and at this price point you can't ask for more than that from as fickle a grape as Pinot.

    Ripe and focused, but light on its feet, with dark currant, licorice and cream flavors mingling on a polished frame.

  • Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir, $11 - $30.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This dry Marlborough, New Zealand wine has a fairly rich red color with fruit jumping right into your palate. Specifically, the fruit yields the taste of cherries – sweet, not tart. Pinots with a good body like this can stand up to a variety of foods. Despite low tannins, this one could use a bit of breathing time. Not surprisingly, the vintner suggests it is "particularly suited to aging." As you sip, the cherries get a bit stronger but are not overwhelming. Is it typical pinot? Are there typical pinots? No. They vary as much, if not more, than any varietal. It's not a complex wine, just young, fruity, clean and bright. And weren't we all at one point?

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 91 points

    Shows smooth raspberry and cherry notes at the core, with a supple texture and nice details of caramel, loam, cigar box and clove. Displays great focus, an elegant profile and a long, lingering finish.

    Very precise, with ripe raspberry, tart cherry, mint, mineral, orange peel and cherry blossom notes that all come together in a beautiful chorus. The tannins are firm, but this is smooth and appealing.

    The initial nose on this wine was intense; strong notes of cocoa & cherries, as well as a very prevalent alcohol smell (this wine is 15% ABV, so that wasn't shocking). The color of this wine was absolutely gorgeous. It was quite dark for a pinot noir, a lovely cranberry color with a slight purple tint. After 10 minutes of breathing, the cherry smell was very dominant, but my nose was picking up on a dark cherry noir chocolate truffle smell…it was divine! My initial taste of this wine was very tart. It had a warm mouth feel, and a surprisingly smooth finish for such a sharp bite in the beginning. Also, the flavor lingered for quite some time and it was very pleasant. Initially I didn't notice but after a few sips, tannins became more noticeable and the tartness moved to the back of the throat. This wine had a very strong flavor palate for a Pinot Noir, especially considering my recent wine tasting in NZ where I drank quite a few pinots. After a few more sips, the tartness subsided slightly & I found this to be a fun wine to drink. Day two didn't change the flavor of this wine almost at all, which was unusual. It kept its tartness & fruit flavor, and although it a bit more sweet, it had a very similar taste to day one. I will admit day three was the best! This wine became much more smooth, but still kept its flavor profile & a bit of the tartness, but was overall a much more pleasant wine. I would recommend breathing this wine for a little while, at least a few hours, before drinking.

    It was a bit lighter on the nose with subtle vanilla notes that I had sniff a few times to really define. It was like when you know what a scent is but can't quite place it. The color was a bright claret but the most interesting thing was the lingering essence that I've never experienced before: Licorice. And it wasn't something that I really became aware of until about halfway through the first glass. The licorice vibe provided a really pleasing warmth and gave a little more zest to the wine experience.

    An open, flavorful P.N. that was slightly marred by a flat-feeling vegetal component in the back half of the palate. Dark ruby garnet. Ripe, open, inviting nose of sweet, sappy cherries (identifiably P.N.), brown sugar, crushed rocks, and a freshly-mowed weeds component. Mouthfilling, direct Pinot flavors on entry (ripe cherry and subtle, minerally earth), but developing the aforementioned slightly flat, vegetal component as the seconds went by. Still, hard to complain at this price point (under $20), since modestly-priced, good P.N.s are very hard to find. 86.

    Ok, where has this sexy, toasty, earthy, spice, vibrant red-fruited thang been all my life? Well, if I was going to write up a description for what I like in New World Pinot Noir, it would come awfully close to this wine. Dark red berry and red plum fruits, spice, a touch of earthiness, a hint of toast – it's all here, and it just draws you in seductively. A bit more complexity and balance would put it into greatness territory, but then it would end up costing like $50 so we're probably better off this way. B+

    The Nobilo Icon 2010 Marlborough Pinot Noir offers a classic profile of pinot noir, with textures of dark berries, chocolate and mocha adrift in silky tannins and lifted by a hint of smoky peat.

    Lovely ripe cherry aromas with a little hint of baked pie crust underneath. Tart but with mild tannins, low acidity, and a long finish.

Oregon Pinot Noir

  • Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir, $8 - $16.
         ($13.44 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2012 that I tasted had a spicy aroma with notes of plum and the taste fruity all the way through the end with flavors of raspberry and cherry and a hint of vanilla. If you like fruity pinot noirs, you'll like this wine. Most of the fruity pinot noirs that I've tasted start out dry in your mouth and their fruity flavors bloom mid-palate and then fade, but this wine tastes fruity through and through to varying degrees. . . The wine is very drinkable now and would age well for a couple of years, but I'd encourage you to buy what you can if you taste it and like it because at this price, it can't last long.

    Its limpid, translucent color is more that of a real Burgundy than a New World pinot noir. The mix of black cherry and bramble in the aroma is also convincing, finishing with hints of mulberry and balanced acidity, and no overlay of wood. But the low price is neither Burgundian nor New World.

    Illustrates aromas of red currants, ripe raspberries, with notes of cedar wood. The palate is filled with juicy strawberry and touches of cinnamon. This wine's bright tang and silky tannins come together to give off a smooth, fresh finish.

    Grade=Outstanding. Soft and fruity red with cherry, pomegranate and red raspberry fruit aromas and flavors, slight nuances of white cinnamon, white pepper, shaved truffle and hazelnut undertones.

    A pleasing ruby red color fills the glass to a garnet rim. Tart raspberry dominates the nose but hints of licorice are also present. Smooth, syrupy cherry creates an even palate with a slightly tart and dry finish. I wouldn't really care for this as a food wine. It makes a decent sipper. If I was going to eat with it then I would have either unseasoned white meat or vegetarian. I'm not blown away by this but it is not bad and neither is it expensive. This wine is reasonable for the price.

    Underwood Cellars, however, pulls off a . . . fantastic Oregon pinot noir. The berry flavor hits your palate at full speed and then retreats in a wonderfully subdued afternote. This wine is the brain child of a former Rex Hill employee so naturally you can expect good things. At $13 this bottle is a steal of a deal and will be sure to impress the ladies. I give it a 4 out of 5 but only because it is not a true "Willamette Valley" pinot. Drink it.

    [T]he earthy taste of this pinot was blended excellently with notes of cherries and spice. Even with a bit of acidity to the finish, the taste was so smooth.

    Bright red, the wine engages from the start with a nose abounding in raspberries, flowers and wood. The fruit is light but firm, leading to a hint of tannins on the finish. It's a great value.

    Light-footed, with pretty black cherry and floral flavors that pick up a mild buzz of tannins on the lingering finish.

    Bright red in the glass with aromas of strawberry, cedar and a little spice, this Pinot Noir has very good flavors of cherry, strawberry, light brown sugar and spices in the mouth. Very light feeling in the mouth with just a touch of tannins. You could even label this one refreshing!

  • Brandborg "Bench Lands" Pinot Noir, $17 - $22.
    (Brandborg makes at least two other Pinots, so don't get confused.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [2009 vintage:] Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely perfume of cherries, BBQ grill, and leather glove. Middleweight flavors of fresh cherries with a dusting of oak. Gossamer tannins, bright acidity, and admirable aromatic persistence on the finish. Will make any meal better. Very good. [2006 vintage:] Light garnet in color in the glass. Shy nose featuring subtle aromas of cherries, oak spice, popsicle stick and herbs. Tasty cherry and strawberry fruit flavors with a hint of red licorice. On the lighter side with supple tannins and a dry finish. A very good daily drinker. Decent (+). [2005 vintage:] Attractive wild berries in the nose. Plenty of likeable berry flavors, especially strawberry, with a little spice and an earthy, mineral bent. Light on its feet and easy to drink.

    Ripe notes of raspberry are balanced with a whiff of earthy peat, clove and cinnamon. Quite elegant.

    Bench Lands is a blend of several vineyards in the Umpqua Valley, and that valley's heat gives this Pinot more tannic depth than many of its counterparts in Willamette to the north. Its aromas are darkly floral and earthy, its flavors of frest floor adorning a core of red plum.

    The garnet-colored pinot noir has aromas of earth, Bing cherries, crushed, dried tea roses, pomegranate and blackberry candy and flavors of sweet cherry fruit and spice with a subtle smokiness.

    The Bench Lands, located 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean on mountains rising to 1,000 feet, feature Dijon and Pommard clones planted in well-drained sedimentary sandstone and clay loam soils. The marine influence provides fog, warm days and cool evenings to encourage slow ripening in the vineyards to develop the grapes' flavor. The wine offers aromas of cherry, pomegranate, baking spice and subtle smoke. On the palate, taste sweet berry, earth notes, toasty vanilla and herbal and mineral components.

    [T]his is an awesome Pinot. Red cherries dominate subtle hints of earth, cedar and smoke. Supple tannins, solid acidity and fruit driven qualities offer a well rounded, well balanced, long lasting finish. This is an incredible example of the style of world-class Pinot Noirs that come out of Oregon.

    To use the obvious but inexact analogy with Burgundy, some producers insist on mimicking the power of Pommard. Brandborg is content to romp in Santenay, an appellation that produces delicate pinot noir with surprising, scene-stealing presence.

    Light and aromatic, this delicate and poised wine seduces with lush aromas of cherries and baking spices. It has the elegance that only fine Pinot Noir can express. Here the subtleties have been coaxed into rich expression, with details of spice and incense and chocolate truffles adding to the lingering finish. 90 points

  • Mouton Noir O.P.P. ("Other People's Pinot") Pinot Noir, $17 - $22.
    (Mouton Noir—"Black Sheep"—also makes a rather more expensive "Oregogne" Pinot.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The color is pale cherry red with a bit of a cough syrup look to it. The nose is ripe cherries, a light touch of herbs and soft spearmint chewing gum spice. This is a light bodied, delicate, layered Pinot Noir. It tastes of cherries, with astringent oaky spice, a light slap of minerality, a faint array of herbs and mix of exotic spices. The tannins are soft and sweet, the acidity is right in the pocket, giving this Pinot plenty of structure and length. This is one of those wines were you take a sip and let the flavors unfold. The finish, again, is delicate and lengthy. The O.P.P Pinot is a serious Oregon Pinot Noir, the label says fun, but the juice in the bottle says real deal. Tasty, delicate, nuanced and layered and a flat-out bargain. What else can you ask for in a Pinot Noir. If you are interested in finding out what Oregon Pinot Noir is all about, O.P.P. is a solid way to start and you would be hard pressed to find another Oregon Pinot this good at price anywhere close to this.

    Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of red cherries, sandalwood and baking spices. Tasty core of dark red cherry and dark strawberry fruits with an underlying streak of tarry oak. Soft, silky, and easy to drink, with some fine-grain tannins and a fruit-filled finish. Score: 88.

    The O.P.P (Other People's Pinot) is an Oregon Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley with ripe attractive fruit, generous yet not cloying or clobbering (as in, sickly sweet or smack-you-in-the-face-and-lay-you-on-the-floor-over-extracted-high-alcohol-poison), super smooth tannins and a lovely finish that keeps you going back for another. This is one of those super friendly, very accessible Oregon Pinots, well-structured with plenty of acidity that's fully integrated, soft tannins and balanced alcohol. I don't drink many American wines, but this one I come back to again and again . . . It's a go-to when I don't know what else to serve, and it's always right on.

    Because when you find a great deal on Oregon Pinot that's not your own, it's possible to offer a wine that delivers when it comes to both value and flavor. Cheers to Mouton Noir for bringing a lively, interesting, and unique Pinot to a wine glass near you for around 20 bucks.

    On the initial go round the OPP is predominantly bright and young fresh fruit, and even possibly a bit shy. Give it about an hour or so in the glass and the Pinot becomes a bit more signature Oregon, opening up with hints of dust and earthen aromatics along with a faint hint of clove. The more this Pinot breathes the more the classically Oregon bramble-berry profile comes to life on the palate.

    Grade=Outstanding. A bit bolder with much more nuanced red fruits, black pepper, truffle shavings and forest floor. A tasty, light-to-medium-bodied red.

    It's not easy finding Pinot Noir from anywhere that hovers around twenty bucks that's worth crowing about, but Mouton Noir delivers the goods.

    There was a lower lying nose of delicate red berries and a little yeasty, Pilsner aroma. In the mouth there was dry red fruit which was a little tart. Herbs and cran-raspberry flavors eventually came out. There was plenty of acidity which made me salivate, fine, grapey texture, and some texture. This bottle remained tight and young so I would cellar it for the short-term.

  • Spindrift Cellars Pinot Noir, $18 - $23.
    (This is their basic Pinot Noir; they also make a more expensive "Lewisburg" Pinot.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Unfiltered. Perfect marriage of crushed berries, herb garden, flowers and barnyard on the nose. Tart berries, including cranberries, on the palate with a touch of oak. Decent richness, smoothly textured and a pleasing citrus lift on the persistent finish. Plenty to like here.

    This wine is not one of those super premium pinot noir thrillers which the Williamette Valley seems to produce with amazing regularity, nor is it priced as such. Instead, this is a very good single vineyard PN displaying the rich fruit and acidic balance of top quality pinots from this area. It is a light-boded wine but is chock full of flavors . .  Tantalizing aromas of dark cherry and black pepper leap immediately from the glass, but let this one breathe a bit and the layers keep opening. Flavors are lush and layerd with cherry & dark berry fruit most prominent, with prominent earth and a touch more black pepper on the finish. I'm a big fan of Oregon pinot noir and I try a lot of different ones at all different price points. Am always looking for wines that hit the "sweet spot" of quality-for-price. This one really hits the mark. Haven't found too many pinots this good for under $25.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (October 2010), 90.

    Silky in texture, this dark, spicy red is fragrant with smoke, toast and mineral overtones as the cherry fruit character rolls nicely through the long finish. Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style.

    This wine is the perfect mid-weight pinot with gobs of spice, fruit and bouquet. The taste sensations in this wine are really quite charming and seemingly go on forever. Those wishing for a powerhouse red for the season should not look for pinot noir in general or Spindrift in particular, because these wines offer elegance over mass and power. I think the Spindrift pinot is really quite something.

    [F]ruit-forward Pinot Noir with bright strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit. The flavor leads you into the well-managed, supple tannins. Overall balance is about perfect, and the finish leaves you wanting more (In my opinion). Well-made Oregon wine.It is balanced by fresh & lively acidity, very little wood and soft tannins make this wine very drinkable now and it should continue to cellar for years to come.

    The Spinnaker Pinot Noir is excellent, with aromas of toasty oak with cherry and strawberry. It offers a soft even palate and a lingering finish with lively acidity.

California Pinot Noir

  • Echelon "California" Pinot Noir, $8 - $15.
    (Take care not to confuse this with Echelon's pricier "Collection" Series Pinot Noir, something many reviewers and retailers are careless about.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    I am a very picky Pinot drinker, and it takes a lot to impress me with this varietal, so I am honestly not expecting too much. Ok, so here goes. So, the wine is pretty like a Pinot – light and ruby in color, shines in the glass. When swirled, produces tears, not legs, so probably a little lower in alcohol. On the nose, I get a little bit of cranberry, some black cherry and a touch of spice. Let's taste. First impression: lots of raspberry, but has that underlying earthiness of a Pinot. Black currant, earth and mineral on the finish. The finish is smooth and velvety, and lingers, but in an elegant way like a light Pinot should. Okay, so this is really a pretty good little wine for 8 bucks. . . And even though I don't typically sip on Pinot (unless it's a fuller bodied Pinot, which usually means it's too pricey to sip on Wednesday night, lol), I am sure going to enjoy this one tonight!

    Silky often describes a great Pinot Noir; unfortunately, so does expensive. Here's an exception: a Pinot Noir with plenty of shimmery silkiness and richly layered elegance—without a high price tag. Look for bright cherry aromas and a little baking spice as you sniff and ripe-fruit flavors and oaky notes as you sip.

    Overall, this was a very drinkable wine, but not especially interesting, complex, or "wow-worthy." I detected a distinct vanilla aroma, and we both felt that the wine would be categorized as dry and light. Patrick picked up some black cherry, but I never really got too much of that. This is a perfectly fine table wine to go with dinner, but if we'd paid the full $15 I think I would have felt that we paid too much. On a scale of 1-5, this wine is a 3 - drinkable, but nothing special.

    Dark ruby in color with a complex nose of spice, oak and floral notes. In the mouth, there is almost explosive cherry fruit ending in a long, pleasant aftertaste.

    Dependable, medium-bodied Echelon offers these virtues: vividly fruity near-sweetness; a juicy texture; concentrated, expansive flavors (high on cherry notes and, randomly, cocoa); spice; some complexity; mild tannins, and a long finish.

    Elegant light berry spice, holiday clove studded orange, and vanilla cherries make this a friendly wine.

    A bit on the thin, simple side, but packs plenty of flavor in the form of ripe raspberries, cherries, milk chocolate and cola. The grapes come from both the Central Valley and the Arroyo Seco appellation.

  • A by Acacia Pinot Noir, $10 - $22.
    (This is Acacia's entry-level Pinot; they make others.)
         ($20.44 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine we chose as best of class spoke to the nobility that pinot noir expresses when it customarily is priced in one of the much more expensive classes. Its luster was deep and brilliant, its texture luxurious, its flavor unequivocally rich and balanced. I was ready to award it a gold medal on its smell alone – rich, fresh and focused. Overall, the wine was characteristically Californian – full, round and long – but with a spunk not often found in pinot noirs so concentrated. It came before us deep into our flights and was the first entry about which we got truly excited. The panel concurred unanimously that it deserved a gold medal, meaning it ended up with a double gold. The wine was the A by Acacia 2011 California Pinot Noir.

    COLOR: Clear garnet. Legs! AROMAS: Cedar, orange, tea, cola, a little bit of cherry pie. MOUTH: Medium-bodied, moderately mouth-filling. Smooth. FINISH: Long, slightly spicy finish of tea and tannins. CONCLUSION: An approachable, yummy example of the lighter style of Pinot Noir.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2008 vintage), 88 points

    San Fransisco Chronicle Wine Competition (2014), Gold medal

    The nose features ripe wild strawberries, exotic woods and spice. A medium-bodied wine offering sweet dark fruits and spice box. The short finish has lively acidity and fine-grain oak tannins. Decent.

    Not something I'd buy again, but I'd drink it if it were offered.

    Big cherry flavors and spice dominate this impressive value priced Pinot from Acacia. Only $9.99 at Costco, this one is right there with the always great Mark West Pinot in terms of great value Pinots from California that can be found for under $10. This one feels nice and delicate in the mouth; it's fresh with vibrant flavor and a perfect touch of spice, which is likely how I will remember it. Again, great price; this doesn't taste to me like a $10 bottle. A good versatile red for summer. I'm a fan. 89 poinys

    [D]ecent fruit on the nose and palate, but flabby and boring overall. Nothing too exciting. 85 points.

    A by Acacia didn't win as many medals as River Road, but the winery (a second label for the iconic Carneros winery Acacia Vineyards) scored a platinum medal for its 2011 Pinot Noir, California ($14.99). At the Sommlier Challenge, wines are grouped and evaluated within a price range, so it's all the more impressive that this one was awarded platinum and sent forward to the championship rounds to be tasted side-by-side with much more expensive wines in the effort to determine best of category and best of show.

    The color is Dorothy's ruby slippers red. The nose is raspberry, Starbucks Venti Mocha, black cherry and a hint of toasted vanilla. Well balanced flavors, tart cherry, raspberry, a little licorice and softer black cherry upfront. The mid-palate adds blueberry, sweet tea, a light brushing of curry spice and dark chocolate, a very tasty melange of flavors. The tannins are soft and smooth, the finish is "ok", but not up to the standards of the body of the wine. . . The A by Acacia is several cuts above the usual back porch, pizza and burgers wine found on the shelves, but sells for the same price or less.

  • Buena Vista "Carneros" Pinot Noir, $12 - $44.
    (Buena Vista makes several Pinots; this is the "Carneros" bottling.)
         ($24.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    On the lighter side of medium-bodied, Buena Vista’s Carneros pinot delivers a soft, smooth core of jammy-sweet raspberry and currant, with subtle baking spices providing interest and balance.

    [2007 vintage:] Attractive perfume of spicy dark fruits underscored with oak. A forward wine offering typical Pinot flavors of dark raspberries, blackberries and cherries with a subtle spice note. Easy drinking with soft tannins and a welcoming silkiness on the palate, this wine packs in plenty of charm. Very good. [2006 vintage:] Moderately dark reddish-purple color. The nose really draws you in with aromas of ripe black cherries, vanilla, and a woodsy tone of forest floor and mushrooms. Discreetly concentrated cherry and berry flavors with some pomegranate, earth and oak toast in the background. Tangy and smooth on the finish leaving a pleasant impression of fresh cherries. Very good.

    The wine has generous aromas of strawberry and raspberry and a good dose of spice, with nutmeg prominent. It is a medium-bodied wine, and what I like most about this is the long and lingering finish of that typical Pinot Noir characteristic of the red berry fruit. One thing I noticed was this wine opened in aroma and flavors about 30 minutes after pouring the first glass. Run it through an aerated or just let it breathe for 30 to 60 minutes before pouring. Decanting would accomplish the same thing. . . I am rating this wine at 88 Points.

    Initially this one comes across as more earthy and minerally before opening up to dark, lush (mainly cherry) fruit with sandalwood and spice. The rich, creamy finish lingers softly with cherry-cola spice. Once given time to breathe this one is smooth and easy drinking throughout. That said be sure to crack the top on this one an hour or two prior to planned consumption. If you can handle that this one offers some nice QPR at $10.

    The 2009 Buena Vista Pinot Noir ($21-$27 retail) benefited from the longer Carneros growing season, which was evident in the ripe, juicy aromas and flavors of black cherry, cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry, with just a touch of spicy cinnamon and vanilla. I'm a tolerant taster who enjoys a fruit-forward Pinot, so this was a palate match.

    Buena Vista Pinot Noir, made with grapes from the Carneros region, is really about the marriage of earthiness and fruit flavors. There are heaps of cherry and plum flavors that are balanced by spice and coffee. The contrast between the two is quite pleasant and leaves you with a decent finish. I did enjoy the Buena Vista Pinot Noir. However, I do have reservations about recommending it. Is it worth drinking? Yes, it is a good wine. However, the real issue here is value. It is on par with some of the better $7 Pinot Noir offerings. That makes it a good wine but one that does not stand out enough to justify the extra money.

    Color: A lighter, translucent garnet, ruby red. Nose: Earthy, earthy, earthy! Mushrooms, minerals, slightly vegetal, some dark berries and as the wine is exposed to air, the oak barreling becomes more pronounced, but in balance. Palate: Layers of earthiness, some dark fruit, toasted oak, with very bright minerality and acidity. Balanced and NICE! Bottom Line: Buy-A-Case Here's a wine which will introduce new Pinot drinkers to the flavors, lightness yet presence good Pinot can and should have. I've tasted Pinots 3x's the price which don't show the balance and layers this wine does. If you're a Pinotphile, you'll wow your friends with this wine (for $10!!!) and it will make a comendable 'second bottle' or wet your whistle for a good Pinot on a Tuesday night.

    Lighter style Pinot Noir, bright with lively acids. Fairly well balanced. Good for the price if you like this style Pinot Noir. Buy it if you like a lighter style PN. Mildly recommended.

  • Siduri "Sonoma County" Pinot Noir, $18 - $30.
    (Siduri, a Pinot specialist, makes a horde of Pinots; this is the regional "Sonoma County" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Energetic, exaggerated Pinot Noir aromas—initial nose reminds me of a Joseph Carr, Larson Family Vineyards Point Noir also from Sonoma. Prominently herbaceous, strong strawberry rhubarb, sweet cherry red fruit, and sandalwood. Incredibly weighty in the nose—dense, water vapor-like aromas of a heavy mist or fog. A fog machine, perhaps. Very enticing. Cocoa powder and ash join on the palate. I am reminded of the creosote buildup I used to clean off the glass of our wood-burning stove in Vermont. I recall the smell and taste it while I scraped. Most likely unhealthy, but not unpleasant, like pine resin and campfire ash—a bit acrid though. In the wine it just serves to produce a nice earthy edge and a good memory. Hefty attack and midpalate followed by a clean, lean finish. A medley of caramelized cherries, apples and strawberries. Dank, musty, woodsy and delicious—a touch Oregonian. Quite a score.

    Cranberry, wild raspberries and rose petals on the nose. Tangy acid combines with fine tannins on this plush Pinot. Juicy strawberry and cranberry flavors, underlined with some smoke, toasted oak and pepper. Fun, tasty, crowd-pleasing stuff to drink in the near term. A solid deal, and if I had a bar I’d put this on the by-the-glass list immediately. (88 points)

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (May/June 2013), 87 Points

    Deep ruby. Pungent cherry and dark berry aromas are lifted by a subtle peppery note. Broad and fleshy on the palate, offering ripe cherry and plum flavors and a touch of bitter chocolate. Comes off a bit loose-knit, finishing smooth and smoky, with decent persistence.

    The 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma County is an attractive, entry-level bottling. Crushed red berries, flowers, mint and spices are some of the many notes that take shape in the glass. All the elements are in the right place.

    [2012 vintage:] Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Enticing aromas of darker red cherries and berries with hints of spice, anise and smoky oak, picking up intensity over time in the glass. The middleweight core of fresh dark cherry fruit is accented with a riff of cola and oak. Firm tannins provide structure and the acidity is nicely balanced. A solid drinker. Score: 87. [2011 vintage:] Light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, new leather and subtle oak. Reasonably concentrated dark red cherry and berry flavors with a hint of cola, oak and savory spice. Light on its feet with an appealing delicacy. Decent. [2010 vintage:] Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of dark red stone fruits initially, becoming more charming over time in the glass. A nicely composed, balanced, and flavorful medium intensity wine displaying a variety of flavors including pie cherries, dark red berries, sassafras, herbs and tar. Soft in the mouth with restrained tannins and some aromatic persistence on the cherry and citrus toned finish. Very good.

    The 2011 Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir is very bright with cherry fruit and a touch of spice. The wine is extremely smooth and is a great compliment with light appetizers or by itself.

    The 2008 vintage posed a number of major challenges to winemakers in Sonoma County in 2008. . . The 2008 Sonoma County blend is a testament to the constant drive Adam, his wife Dianna, and the Siduri crew have for making better wine every year. The 2008 edition may well surpass the terrific 2005 and 2007, which were the product of much kinder growing seasons. Expect plenty of black cherry fruit, spice, and a bit more earthiness out of the 2008 Sonoma County.

    [2011 vintage:] With moderate alcohol and brisk acidity, this shows the elegance of the 2011 vintage, and it offers ripe flavors of cherries, cranberries and pomegranates. 86 points. [2009 vintage:] One of the best values on the market now. Totally delicious in raspberries, cherries and pie spices, and so silky. Lovely tannins, crisp acidity, everything about it is likeable. What a great by-the-glass wine for restaurants. 89 points. [2008 vintage:] Good and silky, with racy acidity. The fruity flavors are fresh and jammy, suggesting cherries and raspberries, enhanced with sweet, toasty oak. 87 points. [2007 vintage:] Shows fine Siduri character, a silky, dry wine with pleasant Pinot Noir flavors of cherries, currants, mocha and cola. Doesn’t have the weight or density of the winery’s single-vineyard wines, but the price is right. 87 points.

    Siduri Winery makes a range of pinots, but one of its best values is the 2012 Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($22), which is bright and lively, with a lot of fruit and a drying finish.

    Siduri makes some of the best Pinots for around $20. This one is no exception. This dark ruby colored Pinot opens with a funky burnt oak and black raspberry bouquet. So be sure to decant or swirl the wine if that is an issue for you. Then upon tasting the wine you will find it to be rather tasty. It is medium bodied, balanced, and fruit forward. On the palate, this wine displays enjoyable strawberry and black raspberry flavors with a touch of gentle oak in the background. The finish is dry and its mild dusty oak flavors linger on after the wine is gone. This Pinot is one for readers who like lots of fruit flavors, yet do don't mind the presence of some integrated oak.

    Quite smokey, gamey, and rich. If you took beef jerky, pork, and salt-watered taffy, and you reduced it to a sauce, then this is what that would smell like. Interesting chalky, sweet tannins with cherry soda and Pete's coffee type flavors... some Cherry Mocha cappuccino action. Little hints of coconut too. Nice elegance. Finishes a hair flat which would be the wine's only shortcoming. Look for it to last over the next 5-10 years. 89 points.

For a Splurge

The range of possibilities is almost farcical. Here are a few to consider that stay on (for Pinot Noir) the decidedly low side of "splurge" (which, for PN, can run to hundreds of dollars a bottle).

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