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

January/February 2004

Over the last twelve months, Wine & Spirits tasted 491 pinot noirs.

The following 14 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all pinot noir wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on

Pinot Noir
93 I Dehlinger $40
2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Tom Dehlinger started planting his 17-acre vineyard in 1975, pinot noir in sandy Gold Ridge soils as well as a more gravelly, red clay-loam. Those varied soils and expositions help build the graceful intensity of this wine, a balance of full ripeness and restraint. The scent is condensed to pressed flowers, the fresh berry flavors refined to a delicate raspberry jam. Neither flashy nor showy, this impressive 2000 should age well. (W&S 10/03) Dehlinger Winery, Sebastopol, CA

93 I J. Rochioli $38
2001 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Vibrant and rich from the color and aroma through to the end, this pinot is filled with the character of fresh fruit and coastal woodlands. The wine is generous rather than extractive, and reveals a lush, gentle rain of red fruit, the texture of coastal mists in a balance of delicacy and power. The Rochiolis grow some of the best pinot noir in the Russian River Valley, producing wines among the most beautiful in California. (W&S 2/04) J. Rochioli Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

93 I Whitethorn $50
2000 Sonoma Coast Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Smoky and black at first, this begins to unpack after long aeration, the black extract yielding a Chinese five-spice character. The wine's density expands, juicy with black cherry flavors that grow increasingly vivid. A powerful, generous wine, this needs five years to show its best, at the center of a meal with Scottish grouse. (W&S 2/04) Whitethorn Winery, Whitethorn, CA

93 I Williams Selyem $48
2001 Yorkville Highlands Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Yorkville Highlands form a new appellation in Mendocino County, just north of Sonoma's Alexander Valley. Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem started buying pinot noir from these gravelly hillsides in 1999. The vineyard grows an elegant wine, with spiciness that carries through the red fruit flavor toward scents of a forest floor by the sea. With air, the fruit brightens to cherry, the allspice and cumin scents growing bolder, the tannins supple. A gentle, refreshing red for spice-rubbed pork. (W&S 2/04) Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg, CA

92 I Acacia $60
2001 Napa Valley - Carneros District Beckstoffer Las Amigas Vineyard Pinot Noir

Bright cherry reverb. This is fully realized pinot noir, soulful in its depths, speaking a language of cherries and berries. The wine's warm richness slips down the throat like a raspberry candy, but it doesn't taste sweet, just deeply satisfying. For duck roasted with cherries, as the flavors are already right there in the wine. (556 cases) (W&S 10/03) Acacia Winery, Napa, CA

92 I Domaine Serene $30
2001 Willamette Valley Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir

Domaine Serene's entry-level Yamhill Cuvee leads with freshness, a sense of freshly turned earth, freshly crushed cherries, and a tinge of sweet oak. The texture has a grainy minerality, and though the fruit is ripe, still has a liveliness and an immediacy that's hard to resist. Enjoy on its own, or pair with pan-seared salmon. (3,133 cases) (W&S 2/04) Domaine Serene, Carlton, OR

92 I Flowers $ 42
2001 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

The Flowers blend this wine from grapes estate-grown at Camp Meeting Ridge and other vineyards on the far Sonoma Coast, along with purchased grapes. Deep and succulent, this tastes of the coast, the sea foam, the driftwood and salt spray mingling with the fruit. It's long and spicy; match its saltiness to the richness of long-cooked pork belly. (2,900 cases) (W&S 2/04) Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Cazadero, CA

92 I Iron Horse $60
2001 Sonoma County - Green Valley Thomas Road Pinot Noir

This wine bears the ocean influence in its scent and flavors, opening to freshness with the scent of tree fruits. Place that basket of fruit next to sprigs of herbs and crushed black pepper, and you'll have something close to the complex aromatics in this glass. The flavor is light yet persistent, an elegant wine lasting with red cherry and soft tannin, fresh and delicious. (400 cases) (W&S 12/03) Iron Horse Vineyards, Sebastopol, CA

92 I Navarro $20
2001 Anderson Valley Methode a L'Ancienne Pinot Noir

Delicate floral scents edge this pinot, its light but piercingly long flavors extended by the cool, coastal nights of the Anderson Valley. The texture is firm, the flavors are crisp as red apple and tart as tangerine. Dusty tannins in the end will focus those flavors on veal and mushrooms. (W&S 2/04) Navarro Vineyards, Philo, CA

92 I Patz & Hall $50
2002 Carneros Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir

There's a trend among certain California winemakers to see just how much power they can build into pinot, and this one reaches toward a syrah-like, blue fruit intensity. It's a huge wine, honeyed and bold, yet with pinot character in its rose and violet tones. This is spicy and long, a complex Carneros wine for the ages. (550 cases) (W&S 2/04) Patz & Hall Wine Co., Rutherford, CA

92 I Sanford $60
2001 Santa Rita Hills La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir

A tight weave of dark cherry and darker mineral character, this fragrant pinot develops with air as it will with age. It lengthens out of the powerful black-tea tannins, through flint and earthiness toward dark fruit. Even the deep color shows the brightness underneath. For the cellar. (W&S 2/04) Sanford Winery, Buellton, CA

92 I Sebastiani $15
2001 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Gentle scents of wild raspberries give this wine a delicate glow. It's a blend of pinot from the old vines at Sebastiani's Nebbione vineyard, complemented by other vineyards in Carneros, Sonoma Valley and Russian River. Sleeked by oak, with gingerbread scents providing form, the wine takes a bold stance, darkening to date and plum, decorative yet simple. (W&S 4/03) Sebastiani, Sonoma, CA

93 I Testarossa $50
2001 Santa Lucia Highlands Sleepy Hollow

Vineyard Pinot Noir This gracious, smooth wine from Sleepy Hollow starts out light, with a smoky tea scent and the pepperiness of fresh-pressed olive oil. Then it builds on ripe grape-skin tannin to raise the mild strawberry flavors into an extended finish. The flavors last, melding wood and fruit, ready now for roast arctic char, and suitable for several years of aging. (W&S 8/03) Testarossa Vineyards, Los Gatos, CA

92 I Willakenzie Estate $36
2001 Willamette Valley Pierre Leon Pinot Noir

Essence of pinot, in an Oregon style: a wine whose floral notes of dried rose petals, red cherry, spice and hints of cocoa are as ethereal as they are present. This nuance doesn't take away from the wine's fleshy, generous texture; there's heft in the middle, but it's feminine, generous and delicate. A beauty. (1,684 cases) (W&S 2/04) Willakenzie Estate, Yamhill, OR