Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the ten best wines in that category for the year.

February 2002

Over the last months, Wine & Spirits tasted 384 pinot noir. The following 10 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all pinot noir tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is included with subscription copies.

Pinot Noir
95 I Scherrer $35
1999 Russian River Valley Big Brother Pinot Noir

Though Fred Scherrer made some great pinots at Dehlinger, today his own label is better known for zinfandel. Perhaps the brawniness, the sturdiness of this wine comes from that background, taste or stylistic preference. But it's all pinot, all forest floor, earthiness and decay, all about complexity rather than fruit, and that complexity lasts. The extract and fruit is there, it's just packed in and muscular as a male dancer, with the sort of focused energy, grace and strength that combines in a soaring tour jete'. A wine to cellar, to drink with game or red meat. Scherrer Winery, Sebastopol, CA

95 I Williams Selyem $60
1999 Russian River Valley Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Rochioli vineyard produced some great pinots in '99, and this one looks to be one of the most dynamic. The fruit is huge but not overpowering, sensual in all its sweet cherry curves and raspberry prickers. There's a lush, giving feel to the wine, a spice that seems to be the corollary of chamomile in chardonnay, a burnt baguette aroma of oak. And then there's the beautiful color of the wine, you can almost see how supple and balanced it will taste just by tilting the glass. Complete and undeveloped, this is a wine to hold for a decade or more. Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg, CA

94 I Adea $35
1999 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

This pinot has a definite soil character, a rusty red iron taste possibly derived from the varied soils, predominantly Jory, in which it grows. On first blush, this is a brusque, bullying pinot, full of extract. Yet there's plenty of cherry fruit to fill in and balance all the tannin, leaving a lasting impression that's more delicate, smooth, healthy. With air, the complexity begins to develop with the scents of a walk in the woods, of leaves and berries and mushrooms. This is the best kind of young pinot, fresh and alive, one to cellar into the grand wine it will become. Adea Wine Company, Carlton, OR

94 I Au Bon Climat $45
1999 Santa Maria Valley Knox Alexander Pinot Noir

Drawn with the clean, sharp lines of the best Santa Maria pinots, this wine tastes of any number of foods. Dive into the lovely complex of aromas and you might find chocolate, cocoa, sassafras, red berry, plum, eucalyptus and molasses. The flavors have high tones of crab apple, bass notes of roasted lamb bones, all surrounding the fresh, chewy fruit in the middle. It holds impacted and frisky, asking for time to settle down, yet generous and ready to challenge dark-meated birds roasted in a wrap of pancetta. Jim Clendenen, Mind Behind, Santa Maria, CA

94 I Bethel Heights $30
1999 Willamette Valley Lewman Vineyard Pinot Noir

A tough young wine, this is hard as a brick when first poured, yielding bricky orange flavors of butternut squash. But give it some air and you'll find the fruit impacted within. That fruit emerges completely wrapped in tannins, in a basket weave of spice, a range of red fruits waiting to unfold. It's a powerful statement of Jory soil that should melt out of its hardness with age as it begins to do a day after first opened. Bethel Heights Vineyard, Salem, OR

94 I Davis Bynum $45
1999 Russian River Valley Bynum & Moshin Vineyards Pinot Noir

Grown to sumptuous maturity, there's a heart beating here in the aroma, a potent cherry ripeness without super-ripeness or rot, only a well of flavor that makes the structure feel smooth as satin for all its tarry tannins. Herbal touches give length, but the wine somehow remains all fruit nonetheless. Dramatic stuff, well worth the patience to age. Davis Bynum Winery, Healdsburg, CA

94 I Gary Farrell $34
1999 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

This '99 shows the richness that Russian River fruit can attain, while holding to a cool, foresty balance. Its layers of cherry flesh and fresh black raspberry bring a lusciousness to the wine that lasts for minutes, the fruit deeply ripe and finely balanced so that it's full without weight spot-on RRV. It's not yet complex, but that will come with time. Delicious. Gary Farrell, Healdsburg, CA

94 I Siduri $49
1999 Santa Lucia Highlands Garys' Vineyard Pinot Noir

Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni planted this vineyard in '97, and it's already producing beautiful pinot noir. All about rich, black raspberry fruit, jammed into the aroma, the berry flavors here pour into the finish with a purity that expresses everything great about this pocket of pinot noir on a hillside funneling in from Monterey. A lovely wine to drink young, though it may develop more complexity over the coming years. Siduri Wines, Santa Rosa, CA

94 I Testarossa $40
1998 Santa Lucia Highlands Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir

A great California pinot, restrained in youth yet packed with richness and delicious flavor, needing lots of air to go beyond an initial toughness, for the intense richness of the aroma to resolve. Air brings the ripe red and black fruit fruit forward, allowing it to shine through, Pommard-like in its soft richness, structured and distinctive. Complex and satisfying enough to convert the staunchest cabernet aficionado. Testarossa Vineyards, Los Gatos, CA

94 I Whitethorn $48
1998 Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Tasha McCorkle makes this wine from a selection of Hirsch's vines, a blend of the Mt. Eden clone (59 percent) and the Pommard clone (41 percent). Together, those grapes draw a robust power from the soil into their skins. But there's a gentleness to the wine for all its grandeur, an accessibility in spite of the firm, youthful wood and tannin. The length of flavor bodes well for long development, for anyone fortunate enough to get some. Whitethorn Winery, Whitethorn, CA