Focus on US Pinot Noir: California – Wine & Spirits Magazine

Focus on US Pinot Noir:
California


BEST BUYS

93 | Buttonwood | $32

2018 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of smoke and tar give this pinot noir a rasher of depth and gravitas. Those more brooding elements tether exuberant, dark red-fruit flavors. Sleek and full, this is a fresh, well-priced wine for chicken thighs seasoned with za'atar. —P.J.C. (200 cases) 


93 | Long Meadow Ranch | $33

2017 Anderson Valley Farmstead Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This wine's scent is tied to the ocean and the woods, saline and earthy in its bright red berry flavors. It feels fully mature, and yet it only improves with air, developing layers of flavor and a clean red glow to the fruit as it lasts. —J.G. 


93 | Lucas & Lewellen | $35

2017 Santa Maria Valley High 9 Goodchild Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Time in the bottle has rendered this Santa Maria benchland wine lean, light, and exposed to its essence, which is savory, smelling of miso, plum sauce, smoke and tart raspberry. This wine's delicate grace presents the best reasons to drink older pinot, for the finesse of its evolved texture, for the umami thrills it can produce. —P.J.C. (1,782 cases) 


93 | Truchard | $35

2019 Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Anthony Truchard and his family farm 400 acres of vines in the northeastern corner of Carneros, rising into the hills below Mount Veeder. They planted pinot noir on their east-facing slopes, the vines for their estate bottling now between 22 and 42 years old, the wine made by Sal De Ianni since 1998. That long-established team of vines and their tenders produced a dynamic 2019, a deep red with coriander spice racing through the tannins, the wine's concentration, intensity and energy remembered on the breath long after each taste. This would be delicious with grilled fennel sausages, or with the coriander-rubbed crown roast of pork in Judy Rodgers's Zuni Café Cookbook. —J.G. (2,932 cases) 


93 | Cambria | $45

2019 Santa Maria Valley Mesa Terrace Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Cambria's Mesa Terrace brings together the winery's best block selections from the benchland vineyard that composes much of the estate. This is a wine that took several days to open, starting off slightly sleepy and simple, with scents of cocoa nibs and candied cherry. After two days open it displays astonishing poise and seamless elegance, with a kind of mineral grip to the dark cherry flavors that suggests the fog from the nearby surf as it settles over the benchlands. —P.J.C. (200 cases) 


93 | Hirsch | $48

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview The Family Blend Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Finesse and fortitude are two words that would describe this wine, and they could describe the Hirsch family as well—David, who shifted from a successful career in the clothing trade to farm 1,000 acres of forests, planting vines on two ridgetops within view of the Pacific; his wife, Marie, who designs the labels when she's not driving hours into civilization to teach yoga; and daughter Jasmine, who took over winemaking with the 2019 vintage. This is a selection of eight barrels offered as a step up from the Hirsches' Bohan-Dillon bottling, packed with vibrant cherry and bright-pink thimbleberry flavors. Its ping of fresh acidity will take on grilled abalone. —J.G. (197 cases) 


92 | Lucas & Lewellen | $24

2018 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

From Los Alamos Valley and Goodchild Vineyards, this estate blend has softened with a few years in the bottle. It leads with scents of cherry, caramel and tar, nicely integrated oak character that carries through the wine, with dark cherry flavors that are still lush, but have taken on a burnished sheen. At $24, this is a steal for a bottle-aged wine. —P.J.C. (3,921 cases) 


92 | Hirsch | $38

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview The Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This is the Hirsches' neighborhood wine, named for the road that leads to their far corner of the coast. It includes fruit from the Hellenthal Vineyard, adjacent to Hirsch (only 3 percent in this vintage). Even if the Hirsches took the best away for their top bottlings, what's left is pretty righteous—a transparent ruby-red color, an equally transparent cherry flavor darkening to black currant and morels. Vibrant and light, with a powerful tannic spice that adds some machismo, this is a great vintage of Bohan-Dillon. —J.G. (3,750 cases) 


92 | Talley | $42

2019 Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Cool and perfumed, this wine has less structure than the other Talley wines reviewed here but the region's flavors remain, with brushy strawberry aromas, the whiff of coastal, hillside herbs tinged with caramel barrel notes; the oak component gives the wine its contour of plush elegance. Decant it for salmon. —P.J.C. 


91 | Fess Parker | $30

2020 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Exuding youthful energy and tension, this Sta. Rita Hills pinot has a scent of freshly crushed berries offset by a mild whiff of reduction. It's a delicious combination, blackberries and minerals lifted by electric acidity, well-priced, crunchy and crushable. —P.J.C. 


91 | Au Bon Climat | $35

2018 Santa Maria Valley La Bauge Au-dessus Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of plush cherry fruit and sumptuous oak lead in this wine, sourced mainly from Bien Nacido, with a small contribution from Le Bon Climat Vineyard. In 2018 it has a lavish structure and rich wood accents, of the sort that will keep this wine sturdy and intact for years in the cellar. —P.J.C. (1,633 cases) 


91 | Cru | $35

2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Not shy, this wine wears the broad contours common to Santa Lucia pinots like a loud dinner jacket. A modest red fruited top note frames the broad texture giving all that lushness some structure. It's a crowd-pleaser, well-priced for pan-roasted quail. —P.J.C. (882 cases) 


91 | Gainey | $35

2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

There's a pleasing red-fruited clarity to this wine, framed by spicy sumptuous oak. The flavors are deep black cherry, caramel and cinnamon, with a modest sour cherry tartness that playfully intersects with the dark fruit. Decant it for smoked chicken. —P.J.C. (1,403 cases) 


91 | Tatomer | $35

2020 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Like the 2020 Melville this shows great promise in its youthful state, leading with smoke and redwood bark, dark cherry flavors that grow rounder and more elegant with air, but its fruit needs to find its groove within the smoke and savor. Priced to cellar and to watch as it evolves. —P.J.C. (500 cases) 


91 | Melville | $40

2020 Sta. Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

A young wine with youthful dark fruit and tension, and a strident expression of whole-cluster spice, this is exceedingly savory in its aromatics, with scents of olive and olive leaf, smoldering tobacco and gorse. Its fruit is flavorful and dark, and shows some integration after three days open, but it needs age to merge with the savory elements. Cellar. —P.J.C. 


91 | Red Car | $40

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Sunny and bright, this wine has a cool fruit tone, like lingonberries, along with lasting red-cherry-fruit-skin tannins. It's warm and spicy in the end, where the tannins would pick up on bay leaf and allspice in a rich fish stew. —J.G. (600 cases) 


90 | Stephen Ross | $25

2019 San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Tart and bright, with scents of red cherry and cranberry, there's a minty top note to the flavors here that's charming and refreshing, with a hunger-inducing snap to the acidity. For cured salmon. —P.J.C. (368 cases) 


90 | La Crema | $25

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Light red berry flavors of raspberries and thimbleberries meet the woody herb scent of rosemary, coming together in a creamy, ripe and supple pinot noir. The gentle spice of the tannins will add depth to roast beef. —J.G. 


90 | Thirty-Seven | $30

2019 Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Floral, with spicy scents of the bark in a eucalyptus grove, this wine has cool, generous black cherry flavors underneath. The fruit is bold and potent, a little tanky at first, the edges settling into a rosier note with air. —J.G. (410 cases) 


90 | Baileyana | $38

2019 Edna Valley El Pico Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of smoke and black cherry lend this wine some unexpected richness; the flavors feel balanced and correct, with a leathery plum accent that needs food to sing, like shaking beef. —P.J.C. (181 cases) 


90 | Morgan | $38

2019 Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of raspberry and deeper, warm cherry flavors have a wind-carved heft accented by a caramel oak warmth. A generous, juicy red, richly expressed and complex. For lamb. —P.J.C. 


90 | Ampelos | $39

2018 Sta. Rita Hills Lambda: The Magnitude Ampelos Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This whole-cluster pinot is spicy and floral, with a eucalyptus note that's mildly green and bracing. It's got the lean tension for olive-braised chicken. —P.J.C. (629 cases) 


88 | Angels Ink | $17

2020 Central Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Bright and leesy, this pinot leads with plum and plum-blossom scents accented by a wheaty savor. It's clean and acid-driven. Chill slightly for an aperitif. —P.J.C. 


88 | B Side | $20

2018 North Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Greg Kitchens makes this wine for the Sebastiani family, blending fruit from three vineyards—Beckstoffer in Napa–Carneros, Pauli Ranch in Mendocino County and Sangiacomo in the Petaluma Gap. It's a North Coast pinot with spice and depth to its cranberry and mushroom flavors, cool and gentle. —J.G. 


88 | St. Francis | $22

2020 Sonoma County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Bright Bing-cherry red, this wine has a simple, creamy lushness, ready to bridge the richness of poached salmon or the smoky grilled notes of Hamachi kama. —J.G. (1,500 cases) 


88 | Balletto | $32

2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This wine's concentrated fruit has a conifer-sap sweetness and high-toned scents of mint. It offers Russian River ripeness even as it follows a clean line, easy to drink on its own. —J.G. (4,618 cases) 


87 | Castle Rock | $12

2019 California Cuvée Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This pinot feels lively and bright, its cherry and cranberry-juice flavors tart against firm, smoky tannins. Chill it slightly and pour with canapes. —P.J.C. 

CALIFORNIA AVA

93 | Kosta Browne | $220

2019 California 4-Barrel Pinot Noir

This barrel selection comes from three Sonoma County vineyard sites—Gap's Crown, Giusti Ranch and Treehouse Vineyard—and one from the Sta. Rita Hills, Rita's Crown. It is a heady wine, with scents of cinnamon and clove, and a dark, plummy core of fruit laced with a luscious oak complement. The flavors are lavish but not without a kind of muscular warmth, while oak guides the experience with a stylish certitude. It's built for aging, some five years or more. —P.J.C. (94 cases) 

CENTRAL COAST

94 | Calera | $80

2018 Mt. Harlan Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir

Small yields and moderate to warm weather resulted in a Mills that's generous in 2018, with a richness that's delicious and satisfying. Mike Waller has managed to retain a wild savor here that gives the wine completeness and intricacy, a complex spice of dust and herb oils, sundried tomato and an earthy, rooty depth, all woven seamlessly around the fruit. It should age beautifully. —P.J.C. (584 cases) 


94 | Calera | $80

2018 Mt. Harlan Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir

From a relatively small parcel of old vines, planted in 1975, this is suave and exotic when first poured, smelling of turned earth, beetroot, clay and sandalwood spice. Its dark fruit flavors support all the savor in a broad structure, the texture fine and graceful, with silky tannins for thinly sliced tenderloin. —P.J.C. (245 cases) 


94 | Calera | $100

2018 Mt. Harlan Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir

The 2018 Selleck starts off with scents of tar and plum and a broad, dark, richness that gives up little contour until a day later, when, suddenly, the wine starts to sing. It yields pipe tobacco accents in a black cherry frame, jammed with flavor, needing years to unpack. Cellar. —P.J.C. (74 cases) 


94 | Talley | $150

2019 Arroyo Grande Valley The Adobe Pinot Noir

This is a four-barrel pinot noir blend with two barrels each of Block 7 from Rosemary's Vineyard and Block 2 from East Rincon; they are two of the property's oldest blocks, planted in 1984. The cool 2019 vintage makes this a slightly more subdued wine than the 2018, but what starts out quietly blossoms into a magnificent wine, with scents of strawberry, tobacco, kid leather and cherry. It's warm and elegant, finely weighted, but hardly lacking flesh and succulence. A balancing act of exceptional beauty and grace. —P.J.C. 


93 | Au Bon Climat | $50

2018 Santa Maria Valley Runway Vineyard Pinot Noir

This 16-acre site just south of Bien Nacido catches the front line of ocean fog as it rushes into the Santa Maria Valley. Jim Clendenen clearly had an affinity for this cool site, teasing gorgeous, haunting savor from the fruit, along with raspberry and bramble notes. Those fruit flavors brighten with air, toward spiced red cherry, with lovely dusty mineral notes and vibrant acids. For duck sausages. —P.J.C. (290 cases) 


93 | Au Bon Climat | $50

2019 Santa Ynez Valley Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict, one of the last Jim Clendenen made in his life, is a beauty, with an old-vine composure and spice that renders the wine sturdy and graceful. It has a mildly smoky, vinous aroma, brown-sugar sweetness that lends fleshiness and a soft succulence and curvy amplitude. Very much of a piece. For roast chicken. —P.J.C. (927 cases) 


93 | Au Bon Climat | $100

2018 Sta. Rita Hills Larmes de Grappe Pinot Noir

Exceedingly well built and clearly designed to age, this wine comes from Sanford & Benedict's old-vine blocks, which can absorb a 100% whole-cluster ferment and an assertive oak regime, two years in Francois Frères 350-liter barrels. It has a formidable oak imprint, with Dr. Pepper and cola scents, but not so much as to mask a coastal, sea-wrack savor on the palate. The texture is rich and round, the wine's dark plum notes sumptuous and fleshy. For braised beef. —P.J.C. (100 cases) 


93 | Buttonwood | $32

2018 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of smoke and tar give this pinot noir a rasher of depth and gravitas. Those more brooding elements tether exuberant, dark red-fruit flavors. Sleek and full, this is a fresh, well-priced wine for chicken thighs seasoned with za'atar. —P.J.C. (200 cases) 


93 | Calera | $80

2018 Mt. Harlan Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir

Calera’s highest-elevation vineyard on Mt. Harlan, Ryan produced a powerful wine in 2018—rich, flavorful, broad in structure—all of it delivered with a compact texture that’s a marvel of control. It leads with scents of chocolate mint, black plum and beeswax, glossy, vinous and firm, the dark fruit flavors brushing up against sage-scented mountain scrub. A big wine, with all of its weight is in the right place for skirt steak. —P.J.C. (752 cases) 


93 | Calera | $80

2018 Mt. Harlan de Villiers Vineyard Pinot Noir

De Villiers, planted in 1997, faces east toward an inland valley, where the vines take in the morning warmth. This wine is dark and robust when first poured—like all the Mt. Harlan 2018s, it’s initially burly. Over the course of three days tasted, this became increasingly elegant, and surprisingly streamlined. Its pipe tobacco and wooly cherry scents become more refined as it settles into itself; built to age. —P.J.C. (491 cases) 


94 | Calera | $100

2018 Mt. Harlan Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir

Calera’s oldest and most established vineyard produced its darkest pinot noir in 2018: Jensen feels lean, controlled and so full of internal tension that I wrote ‘disciplined’ in my notes. Wines can’t have discipline, can they? In this case, the structure is built around clove- and olive-scented tannins, which act like girders in the wine. With air, the tannins turn lighter, toward Christmas spices, suggesting layers of complexity and depth that one tasting can’t yet plumb. For the cellar. —P.J.C. (535 cases) 


93 | Cambria | $45

2019 Santa Maria Valley Mesa Terrace Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Cambria's Mesa Terrace brings together the winery's best block selections from the benchland vineyard that constitutes much of the estate. This is a wine that took several days to open, starting off slightly sleepy and simple, with scents of cocoa nibs and candied cherry. After two days open it displays astonishing poise and seamless elegance, with a kind of mineral grip to the dark cherry flavors that suggests the fog from the nearby surf as it settles over the benchlands. —P.J.C. (200 cases) 


93 | Fess Parker | $60

2019 Sta. Rita Hills Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir

There's nothing terribly complex in this Sta. Rita Hills wine—but it still delights. It's dark and spicy, with scents of cola and black raspberries, cinnamon, earth and a bit of sassafras. The flavors are broad and sumptuous, a concentrated, spicy succulence that's buoyed by robust acidity. Power chords, for thinly sliced tri-tip. —P.J.C. (532 cases) 


93 | Kosta Browne | $165

2019 Sta. Rita Hills Mt. Carmel Pinot Noir

From a windswept ridge on the northern end of the Sta. Rita hills appellation, this is not a shy wine. it's driven by brisk red fruits—raspberry and red cherry—and by a weighty rasher of oak. There's no denying its power and layering, or the full range of its flavors, but it needs years to integrate. Cellar. —P.J.C. (650 cases) 


93 | Lucas & Lewellen | $35

2017 Santa Maria Valley High 9 Goodchild Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Time in the bottle has rendered this Santa Maria benchland wine lean, light, and exposed to its essence, which is savory, smelling of miso, plum sauce, smoke and tart raspberry. This wine's delicate grace presents the best reasons to drink older pinot, for the finesse of its evolved texture, for the umami thrills it can produce. —P.J.C. (1,782 cases) 


93 | Talley | $80

2019 Arroyo Grande Valley Rincon Pinot Noir

Talley’s Rincon Vineyard wine offers a bit of a yang to contrast the yin of the Rosemary Vineyard’s pinot noir. In 2019, Rincon has more structure and more stuffing than its counterpart, a scent of sea-wrack and strawberry, tea and black cherry, generous but braced by mineral tannins. The wine’s structural underpinnings carry through from beginning to end, providing the bones for a cellar life of at least a decade. —P.J.C. 


92 | Au Bon Climat | $40

2019 Santa Barbara County Kick On Vineyard Pinot Noir

The second release of this vineyard designate, Kick On leads with scents of mentholated cherry and flavored tobacco, and an amaro bitterness that’s exceedingly pleasing and firm. The bright red cherry flavors lengthen out with air as the structure opens, the oak stalwart but not aggressive, the fruit comfortably situated in the middle palate, bringing lift and energy. —P.J.C. (200 cases) 


92 | Clendenen Family | $50

2018 Santa Barbara County Rancho La Cuna Pinot Noir

Always one of the Clendenen Family’s more exotic bottlings, this is all smoky and turfy savor when first poured, with hints of pipe tobacco and black cherry, all gathered in a firm but restrained oak frame. The wine spent two years in barrel and is built to age. —P.J.C. (100 cases) 


92 | Fess Parker | $60

2019 Sta. Rita Hills Ashley’s Pinot Noir

Beneath the dark spice of a whole-cluster fermentation, with its olive, black tea and gingerbread scents, there’s a pleasing red-fruited lift to the flavors, taut and lively. Give the wine time in the cellar for the fruit and the spice to knit. —P.J.C. (1,330 cases) 


92 | Kosta Browne | $165

2019 Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir

As rich as a raspberry torte, this wine is extravagant in its black-cherry sweetness and extract. It’s Kosta Browne’s style extrapolated upon Rosella’s red-fruited lift, held together by a salty savor, with a persistent acidity tethering all that crowd-pleasing richness. —P.J.C. (525 cases) 


92 | Kosta Browne | $165

2019 Santa Lucia Highlands Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir

Impressive just for the feats of balance it pulls off, this wine teeters toward excess only for its ripe flavors to right themselves. It starts off dark and fleshy, the flavors fully extracted and yet not without definition. The texture feels like fruit in a padded cell, wildly rich, with just enough linear acidity to hold it in check. —P.J.C. (675 cases) 


92 | Lucas & Lewellen | $24

2018 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

From Los Alamos Valley and Goodchild Vineyards, this estate blend has softened with a few years in the bottle. It leads with scents of cherry, caramel and tar, nicely integrated oak character that carries through the wine, with dark cherry flavors that are still lush, but have taken on a burnished sheen. At $24, this is a steal for a bottle-aged wine. —P.J.C. (3,921 cases) 


92 | Talley | $42

2019 Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Cool and perfumed, this wine has less structure than the other Talley wines reviewed here but the region's flavors remain, with brushy strawberry aromas, the whiff of coastal, hillside herbs tinged with caramel barrel notes; the oak component gives the wine its contour of plush elegance. Decant it for salmon. —P.J.C. 


92 | Tatomer | $50

2020 Santa Barbara County Kick-on Ranch Pinot Noir

Wonderfully light and translucent, this wine’s bergamot-petal scent and red-fruited cranberry flavor carry the smoky spice of a whole-cluster fermentation. The finish is savory and bracing, with pleasing sour-apple acidity for choucroute. —P.J.C. (75 cases) 


91 | Au Bon Climat | $35

2018 Santa Maria Valley La Bauge Au-dessus Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of plush cherry fruit and sumptuous oak lead in this wine, sourced mainly from Bien Nacido, with a small contribution from Le Bon Climat Vineyard. In 2018 it has a lavish structure and rich wood accents, of the sort that will keep this wine sturdy and intact for years in the cellar. —P.J.C. (1,633 cases) 


91 | Cru | $35

2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Not shy, this wine wears the broad contours common to Santa Lucia pinots like a loud dinner jacket. A modest red-fruited top note frames the broad texture giving all that lushness some structure. It's a crowd-pleaser, well-priced for pan-roasted quail. —P.J.C. (882 cases) 


91 | Fess Parker | $30

2020 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Exuding youthful energy and tension, this Sta. Rita Hills pinot has a scent of freshly crushed berries offset by a mild whiff of reduction. It's a delicious combination, blackberries and minerals lifted by electric acidity, well-priced, crunchy and crushable. —P.J.C. 


91 | Gainey | $35

2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

There's a pleasing red-fruited clarity to this wine, framed by spicy sumptuous oak. The flavors are deep black cherry, caramel and cinnamon, with a modest sour-cherry tartness that playfully intersects with the dark fruit. Decant it for smoked chicken. —P.J.C. (1,403 cases) 


91 | Melville | $40

2020 Sta. Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

A young wine with youthful dark fruit and tension, and a strident expression of whole-cluster spice, this is exceedingly savory in its aromatics, with scents of olive and olive leaf, smoldering tobacco and gorse. Its fruit is flavorful and dark, and shows some integration after three days open, but it needs age to merge with the savory elements. Cellar. —P.J.C. 


91 | Tatomer | $35

2020 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Like the 2020 Melville this shows great promise in its youthful state, leading with smoke and redwood bark, dark cherry flavors that grow rounder and more elegant with air, but its fruit needs to find its groove within the smoke and savor. Priced to cellar and to watch as it evolves. —P.J.C. (500 cases) 


90 | Ampelos | $39

2018 Sta. Rita Hills Lambda: The Magnitude Ampelos Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This whole-cluster pinot is spicy and floral, with a eucalyptus note that's mildly green and bracing. It's got the lean tension for olive-braised chicken. —P.J.C. (629 cases) 


90 | Baileyana | $38

2019 Edna Valley El Pico Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of smoke and black cherry lend this wine some unexpected richness; the flavors feel balanced and correct, with a leathery plum accent that needs food to sing, like shaking beef. —P.J.C. (181 cases) 


90 | Morgan | $38

2019 Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Scents of raspberry and deeper, warm cherry flavors have a wind-carved heft accented by a caramel oak warmth. A generous, juicy red, richly expressed and complex. For lamb. —P.J.C. 


90 | Stephen Ross | $25

2019 San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Tart and bright, with scents of red cherry and cranberry, there's a minty top note to the flavors here that's charming and refreshing, with a hunger-inducing snap to the acidity. For cured salmon. —P.J.C. (368 cases) 


88 | Angels Ink | $17

2020 Central Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Bright and leesy, this pinot leads with plum and plum-blossom scents accented by a wheaty savor. It's clean and acid driven. Chill slightly for an aperitif. —P.J.C. 

NORTH COAST

98 | Cobb | $80

2018 Sonoma Coast Pommard Selection Doc's Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir

As a taster fascinated by connections with where a wine grows, I have developed a kind of emotional obsession with certain pinot noirs that filter the climate and soils of Sonoma's far coast through the Pommard clone. To me, Pommard-clone pinot, grown in the right spot, produces some of the most transparent-to-place wines in California. Ross Cobb farms several parcels with various clones of pinot noir in Occidental, including Coastlands, which he planted with his parents, marine biologists who settled on a hillside facing the Pacific in 1988. Doc's Ranch is on the leeward side of that same ridge, where Cobb first bottled two clonal blocks separately in 2018—Calera and Pommard. The site faces inland, raising what once were sediments on the ocean floor to 1,000 feet above the contemporary Pacific. The vines responded to that marginal protection from the coast in 2018, preserving summer in their fruit. It might give you the high of walking through a grassy meadow, the rush of the scent of a rose as it opens to the sun, the cool of an evening in July when wild raspberries and cherries provide the most satisfying and simple dessert. What ties it back to the coast is the texture of the wine, an idealized take on the supple tannins of the stems and the skins of the grapes, a detailed pattern that pinot noir can achieve in close proximity to the Pacific. —J.G. (229 cases) 


96 | Hirsch | $95

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview Block 8 Pinot Noir

The 2019 vintage, made by Jasmine Hirsch, marks the second time Block 8 has earned 96 points from this magazine, following the 2015, the last vintage made by Ross Cobb. Jasmine's father, David, planted this block in 1993, a parcel on the western ridge of his property, close to its northern boundary. He propagated cuttings from his original 1980 planting, material he'd sourced from Jim Beauregard at Felton Empire in Santa Cruz, later identified as Pommard and Wädenswil material that likely came from Oregon. Settled into a ridge high above the Pacific, those vines produced a sunny 2019 ripened to golden strawberry, cool cranberry and luxurious fresh cherry fullness. That said, it's less about fruit than the gentleness of the herbal tannins and their oceanic sandstone embrace. David Hirsch describes this parcel as growing in reddish rock, high in iron oxide and with exceptional drainage. Between that and the heritage of the vines, when Block 8 hits, it can be brilliant. —J.G. (340 cases) 


95 | Hirsch | $85

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview Raschen Ridge Pinot Noir

This selection from the highest ridges at Hirsch is named for Henry Raschen, an artist who lived on the property in the early 20th century. It is among the most finely integrated of Hirsch's 2019s, its power in precise alignment with the scents of spring-meadow herbs and the transparency of its wild berry length of flavor. It's rare to find a California wine with such depths of character presented in this light, harmonious way. —J.G. (315 cases) 


95 | Radio-Coteau | $68

2019 Anderson Valley Savoy Pinot Noir

Richard Savoy planted this vineyard in the early 1990s, on pastureland at the meeting of Gowan Creek and the Navarro River, deep into northeastern Anderson Valley. Cliff Lede purchased the site in 2011 and farms it organically. A parcel with three clones—Martini, 115 and Pommard—goes into Eric Sussman's 2019, which shows the complexity of the mixed plant material in the spice of plump rosehips, the richness of fresh figs, the scent of a coastal redwood forest in its salty length. Meaty and ripe, this wine has direction and a tight focus, suited to age and delicious now if you decant it for partridge or other dark meat game birds. —J.G. (190 cases) 


94 | Cobb | $80

2018 Sonoma Coast Swan & Calera Selection Doc's Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir

This wine shows the relative ripeness of an east-facing ridge in the relative cool of Occidental. Ross Cobb farms on both sides, his own Coastlands Vineyard facing the ocean, while Doc's Ranch, where this wine grows, is more protected from the winds off the coast. The ripeness is there when you open the bottle, in black cherry density and cherry-pit tannins. But however broad the strokes may seem at first, a day later, the wine is tightening up, as it continues to do for several days, gaining focus, its rose and high-toned sour-cherry notes deliciously fresh. Tannins enrich the finish, making the wine meaty enough for an herb-roasted saddle of veal. —J.G. (277 cases) 


94 | Drew | $120

2019 Mendocino Ridge Estate Mid-Slope Pinot Noir

Jason and Molly Drew planted eight acres of pinot noir at their Faîte De Mer Farm, an organically farmed apple orchard three miles inland from, and 1,250 feet above the Pacific, in Elk. Their choice of a wide range of heritage clones, planted as a field selection, produces complex wines like this 2019. The young vines invest it with power—not in terms of alcohol, but in the impact of its dark-fruit beauty, layered with earthy details of forest floor and thyme and wood smoke. In fact, that youthful exuberance would best be tamed by several years of patient cellaring. —J.G. (48 cases) 


94 | Dutton-Goldfield | $74

2019 Green Valley of Russian River Valley Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir

Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield planted this 8-acre vineyard for Ed and Sue Smith in 2002, at their home on a ridge near Occidental, in the western corner of the Green Valley. The sandy Goldridge soils, remnants of an ancient seabed, reduce vigor in the vines, which, in turn, produce the kind of fruit that speaks of the grandeur of the Pacific in the wine's velvet waves of flavor. It captures the shifting fog in its freshness, the sun in the warm tones of earth. Bright floral scents and dark green plum play in and out of the oak (55 percent of the wine aged in new barrels). This is pretty righteous wine from the coast. —J.G. (436 cases) 


94 | MacRostie | $58

2019 Anderson Valley Day Ranch Pinot Noir

This is MacRostie's second release from Day Ranch, an alluvial terrace in the Deep End of the Anderson Valley. It builds on the success of the 2018 with a beautiful color, a musky scent of black currants, a flourish of bold and juicy flavor that lasts on ripe and stemmy blackberries, the flavor persistence lithe and delicate in the end. —J.G. (200 cases) 


94 | Tongue Dancer | $49

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

"Bright and carnal, the flavors persist in memory, in the throaty jazz trumpet solo at the end." That's what the wine has to say in a blind tasting, a pinot noir with cherry drive, lifted, fragrant spice and a lot of energy. Tongue Dancer is a project from James MacPhail, who makes wine under his family name, as well as consulting for others, such as the Sangiacomos. For this vintage of his Sonoma Coast wine, MacPhail blended from two vineyards in Annapolis, owned by the Putnam family, with fruit from the Karren family's Terra de Promissio Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. It's a seductive far-coast pinot noir, especially impressive at the price. —J.G. (182 cases) 


93 | Copain | $70

2019 Anderson Valley Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir

Planted in 2000 on a steep slope in the Deep End of the valley, the vines at Maggy Hawk grow in decomposed sandstone soils. Their fruit in 2019 produced a rich and lithe pinot noir, its austerity leavened by a silken texture and red-fruit transparency. Delicate, mouthwatering, as refreshing as rainwater in summer, this draws you back for another taste. —J.G. (341 cases) 


93 | Domaine Anderson | $70

2018 Anderson Valley Pinoli Vineyard Pinot Noir

Darrin Low makes this wine from a vineyard in the Deep End of Anderson Valley, on a south-facing slope 20 miles from the sea. He allows the wine to spontaneously ferment, then ages it in French oak barrels (eight percent new). It has a cool coastal-forest scent of eucalyptus over deep reserves of cherry-scented fruit. Firm and delicious, this is focused by earthy tannins with the numbing spice of Szechuan peppercorns. A racy pinot noir for roast duck. —J.G. (74 cases)  


93 | Fort Ross | $80

2018 Fort Ross-Seaview Stagecoach Road Pinot Noir

This grows at the westernmost blocks of Lester and Linda Schwartz's vineyard, on coastal ridges less than a mile from the Pacific. Powered by coastal energy, this is musky and intense. Its skin tannins bring to mind cranberries and blackberries, with the high-toned lift of roses. It's enriched by the tannins of new oak, big in scale and lasting in flavor, a wine that would stand its ground in the wind on the beach as you grill wild salmon. —J.G. (260 cases) 


93 | Hirsch | $48

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview The Family Blend Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Finesse and fortitude are two words that would describe this wine, and they could describe the Hirsch family as well—David, who shifted from a successful career in the clothing trade to farm 1,000 acres of forests, planting vines on two ridgetops within view of the Pacific; his wife, Marie, who designs the labels when she's not driving hours into civilization to teach yoga; and daughter Jasmine, who took over winemaking with the 2019 vintage. This is a selection of eight barrels offered as a step up from the Hirsches' Bohan-Dillon bottling, packed with vibrant cherry and bright-pink thimbleberry flavors. Its ping of fresh acidity will take on grilled abalone. —J.G. (197 cases) 


93 | Hirsch | $75

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview Maritime Pinot Noir

David Hirsch replanted this block when the original vines had succumbed to phylloxera. This is the second vintage from the young vines, a wine with vibrant cherry fruit and lush exuberance. The tannins are a little hard, their herbal and sandstone edges butting up edge against the richness, needing a few years to integrate with the fruit. If you open this now, decant it for salumi. —J.G. (195 cases) 


93 | Iron Horse | $87

2019 Green Valley of Russian River Valley North Block Pinot Noir

This is an east-facing block on the hill below Iron Horse's tasting room where the land drops off to a creek. The three acres of pinot noir were replanted in 2007 and as those vines settle into maturity, they produced a sexy 2019, rosy and vibrant right down to the tannins. When the morning sky is clear at Iron Horse, the sun whisks away the fog, giving the air a cool-warm contrast you can feel in this wine. Then the sweet red fruit-energy leaves a lasting impression. —J.G. (360 cases) 


93 | Long Meadow Ranch | $33

2017 Anderson Valley Farmstead Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This wine's scent is tied to the ocean and the woods, saline and earthy in its bright red berry flavors. It feels fully mature, and yet it only improves with air, developing layers of flavor and a clean red glow to the fruit as it lasts. —J.G. 


93 | Radio-Coteau | $68

2019 Sonoma Coast Dierke Pinot Noir

John Dierke planted his vineyard west of Sebastopol in 2006, farming it organically. Eric Sussman made this wine without any stems, focusing it on the expansive layers of fruit, from sour cherry to depths of black fruit-skin tannins. Those tannins are weighty, even as they hold a fresh, mineral-inflected tension, matching the coastal energy of the fruit. There’s complexity to develop here, or you can enjoy that youthful energy now with meaty game fish. —J.G. (140 cases) 


93 | Truchard | $35

2019 Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Anthony Truchard and his family farm 400 acres of vines in the northeastern corner of Carneros, rising into the hills below Mount Veeder. They planted pinot noir on their east-facing slopes, the vines for their estate bottling now between 22 and 42 years old, the wine made by Sal De Ianni since 1998. That long-established team of vines and their tenders produced a dynamic 2019, a deep red with coriander spice racing through the tannins, the wine's concentration, intensity and energy remembered on the breath long after each taste. This would be delicious with grilled fennel sausages, or with the coriander-rubbed crown roast of pork in Judy Rodgers's Zuni Café Cookbook. —J.G. (2,932 cases) 


93 | WindRacer | $75

2019 Russian River Valley Bloomfield Vineyard Pinot Noir

Nikki Weerts makes this wine from a vineyard near Sebastopol, a cool site taken to luscious ripeness, a style of wine that has become a hallmark of Jackson Family Wines portfolio under Barbara Banke's tenure at the helm. WindRacer is Banke's outside partnership with Peggy Furth, whose wine career was centered at Chalk Hill Estate, the 1,400-acre property she helped develop with her then-husband Fred Furth. So, it's no surprise this should be a luxury wine—my notes in the blind tasting describe its "powerglide, '50s Cadillac richness, a Detroit beauty." This is satisfying pinot noir with persimmon-red hues to the fruit, tinged with apricot and smoky oak. —J.G. (200 cases) 


92 | Balletto | $52

2019 Russian River Valley Cider Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Planted in 2010, this vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills is 10 miles from the Pacific, on an east-facing ridge. The foggy site grew a cool pinot noir in 2019, its crunchy red fruit scented with roses and green peppercorn spice. The tannins are soft enough to enjoy now, though they provide enough structure to sustain the wine for a few years of aging. —J.G. (489 cases) 


92 | Hirsch | $38

2019 Fort Ross-Seaview The Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This is the Hirsches' neighborhood wine, named for the road that leads to their far corner of the coast. It includes fruit from the Hellenthal Vineyard, adjacent to Hirsch (only 3 percent in this vintage). Even if the Hirsches took the best away for their top bottlings, what's left is pretty righteous—a transparent ruby-red color, an equally transparent cherry flavor darkening to black currant and morels. Vibrant and light, with a powerful tannic spice that adds some machismo, this is a great vintage of Bohan-Dillon. —J.G. (3,750 cases) 


92 | Kosta Browne | $115

2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

This is blend from nine vineyards, including 22 percent from the Bootlegger’s Hill estate parcel. All the vines grow on Goldridge soils, their fruit fermented mostly in stainless steel. Past the spice and luxurious texture, the wine developed aging in French oak barrels (45 percent new), there’s substantial depth of red cherry flavor, layered and integrated into the sweet tannins, lasting with cool and generous ripeness. —J.G. 


92 | Kosta Browne | $200

2018 Russian River Valley Treehouse Vineyard Pinot Noir

This estate vineyard rises above the fog eight miles inland from the Pacific. Julien Howsepian ferments it in a combination of casks, concrete and stainless steel, then ages it for 16 months in French oak barrels (40 percent new). Immediately generous, the wine’s cool red cherry flavors are held by brisk, black-cherry-skin tannins. Juicy, ripe and inviting, this is a rich Russian River pinot with freshness. —J.G. (930 cases) 


92 | Merry Edwards | $73

2019 Russian River Valley Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir

Heidi von der Mehden began assisting founder Merry Edwards in 2015, then became the lead winemaker in 2018, the first to take this role after Edwards’ long tenure. She works with Ted Klopp for this fruit from a site overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the vineyard planted in 1989 using selections of Swan and Pommard from Tom Dehlinger, later adding Dijon clones. The 2019 has the silken strawberry delicacy of the Pommard clone when it hits its most expressive notes, emboldened here by time in oak, taking on richness and power, but still sustaining grace in its persistent fruit flavors. Finely structured to handle some age, it would ready itself for grilled salmon right now if decanted. —J.G. (340 cases) 


92 | Williams Selyem | $110

2019 Russian River Valley Williams Seylem Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir

Three years after purchasing Williams Selyem in 1998, John Dyson acquired 51 acres on Westside Road, planting 30 of them and building an estate winery on the site. The rocky hillside consistently produces one of the winery’s most compelling pinot noirs, a ripe Russian River Valley wine in 2019 with a cool, zesty feel to its sweet red cherry flavors. There’s finesse in its crisp lines and bright floral highlights, lasting on red fruit. —J.G. (629 cases) 


91 | Red Car | $40

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Sunny and bright, this wine has a cool fruit tone, like lingonberries, along with lasting red-cherry-fruit-skin tannins. It's warm and spicy in the end, where the tannins would pick up on bay leaf and allspice in a rich fish stew. —J.G. (600 cases) 


90 | La Crema | $25

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Light red berry flavors of raspberries and thimbleberries meet the woody herb scent of rosemary, coming together in a creamy, ripe and supple pinot noir. The gentle spice of the tannins will add depth to roast beef. —J.G. 


90 | Thirty-Seven | $30

2019 Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Floral, with spicy scents of the bark in a eucalyptus grove, this wine has cool, generous black cherry flavors underneath. The fruit is bold and potent, a little tanky at first, the edges settling into a rosier note with air. —J.G. (410 cases) 


88 | B Side | $20

2018 North Coast Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Greg Kitchens makes this wine for the Sebastiani family, blending fruit from three vineyards—Beckstoffer in Napa–Carneros, Pauli Ranch in Mendocino County and Sangiacomo in the Petaluma Gap. It's a North Coast pinot with spice and depth to its cranberry and mushroom flavors, cool and gentle. —J.G. 


88 | Balletto | $32

2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

This wine's concentrated fruit has a conifer-sap sweetness and high-toned scents of mint. It offers Russian River ripeness even as it follows a clean line, easy to drink on its own. —J.G. (4,618 cases) 


88 | St. Francis | $22

2020 Sonoma County Pinot Noir (Best Buy)

Bright Bing-cherry red, this wine has a simple, creamy lushness, ready to bridge the richness of poached salmon or the smoky grilled notes of Hamachi kama. —J.G. (1,500 cases) 



These tasting notes have been published as part of our Regional Tasting Report on US Pinot Noir.

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