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Sweet Spots for Pinot Noirs

Sweet Spots for Pinot Noirs

From Santa Barbara to Anderson Valley, pinot makers stake their claims

Many California coastal regions have good growing climates for pinot noir.

Unlike with cabernet sauvignon (Napa Valley) or syrah (Paso Robles), no one region of California has claimed dominance as the best pinot noir producer, although several have staked out that claim.

The Carneros region of Sonoma and Napa was among the first to show the combination of climate and soil that suited pinot. But over the past few decades, Santa Barbara County has shown its suitability for making great wines, as has Russias River, Sonoma Coast, and Anderson Valley. In fact, there are very good pinot producers all along the Pacific Coast from just north of Los Angeles to the Oregon state line.

Here is a small cross-section that reflects the variety of pinot noirs California can produce.

Inman Family “Endless Crush” Russian River rosé of pinot noir ($23). Lots of delicious tart apple and strawberry flavors, good structure, lots of minerality and a little creaminess. This would be a good pink for dinner.

Inman Family “Whole Buncha Love” Russian River pinot noir 2013 ($45). Very smooth with voluptuous, creamy cherry fruit.

Three Sticks “Bien Nacido” Santa Maria Valley pinot noir 2012 ($60). A classic, big-style pinot with lovely cherry and cola flavors and a rooty, gamy finish.

Steelhead Sonoma County pinot noir 2013 ($15). A pleasant wine with sweetish cherry fruit, but not a lot of structure or complexity.

Fulcrum Anderson Valley pinot noir 2012 ($54). Nice sweet cherry flavors with some good bitters notes and a hint of balsamic at the finish.

Martinelli “Bella Vigna” Russian River pinot noir 2012 ($41). An assertive pinot, though not a burly one, as are so many are coming out of Sonoma these days. The aggressiveness comes from the 14.9 alcohol, but the wine is notable for its complex flavors of cherry and garrigue and a pleasant, lean finish.

Why Pinot Noir Fans Should Consider Valpolicella’s Crushable Classicos

Reaching into the cooler at my local wine shop on a hot summer day, the last thing I expected to pull out was a Valpolicella. Intrigued, I bought the bottle. Surprise: It was light and low alcohol, a refreshing revelation. But where were all the other Valpolicellas in my life?

It turns out there are plenty out there, but the lithe wines — which are also a great value, often selling for $15 or less — seem to be getting pushed aside by the burlier-styled Valpolicella Ripasso. This made me wonder whether the future of the region’s reds is on an unstoppable march toward the heavier Valpolicellas dubbed “Baby Amarone.”

The numbers, provided by the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Valpolicella, aren’t glowing for the lighter styles I loved, labelled as “Valpolicella Classico” or simply “Valpolicella.” The volume of these wines bottled in 2019 is 19 percent lower than a decade ago. (Valpolicella Superiore, which has a higher potential alcohol and requires longer aging, is part of this category.) Ripasso, on the other hand, has grown 55 percent in bottle volume over a decade, comparing numbers from 2019 versus 2009.

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

But who can be mad at Ripasso’s success? As Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW says, it’s much easier to sell a “Baby Amarone,” which is a “nice sound bite and talking point.” This phrase “implies that it has more power than Valpolicella, which it does, and is less expensive than Amarone, which it is,” she says.

Simonetti-Bryan’s logic is echoed by Meg Posey Scott, manager and wine director at the Seattle restaurant How to Cook a Wolf, who asked her team about Ripasso. “They observe that people seem to gravitate to the Ripassos as they are the ‘just right’ option in a Goldilocks lineup between a young, inexpensive Valpolicella and an expensive and intense Amarone. At the $60 to $80 dollar restaurant price point, and easy to pronounce, it’s a sweet spot. Zenato did a great job on this front, essentially trademarking the name ‘Ripassa,’ i.e., ‘I’ll have the Ripassa.’ Done.”

Armando Castagnedi, co-owner and co-founder of Tenuta Sant’Antonio, has seen this phenomenon firsthand. “When people think about Valpolicella, they tend to think of a richer-style wine,” he says. If that sounds a bit reserved, Castagnedi continues, “The power of the word Ripasso may be stronger than Valpolicella.”

But fear not, fans of lighter-style Valpolicella. While Tenuta Sant’Antonio makes a “Baby Amarone,” the winery also produces Nanfrè. This Valpolicella sees no oak and is under 13 percent alcohol. “This lighter style is the traditional way that Valpolicella was made at the beginning,” Castagnedi says. “Over a period of 20 to 30 years producers gradually made the wine richer because the market demanded it.”

While production trends are not encouraging for “regular” Valpolicella, there is a heartening global kinship with the wines. “We have a new generation that has learned to drink lighter wines like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais,” Castagnedi says.

Interestingly, Rebecca Travaglini, a representative for Azienda Agricola Graziano Prà, mentioned Pinot Noir as well when discussing the perception of Valpolicella. “Because it’s grown at 500 meters in altitude, our Valpolicella often reminds people of Pinot Noir in blind tastings,” Travaglini says.

Secondo Marco owner and winemaker Marco Speri, a producer of a wide range of Valpolicellas, also has a soft spot for the lighter expressions. He is optimistic in the face of Ripasso’s reign for a broader future across the Valpolicella spectrum. “The trend will move toward the search for lightness and finesse, not volume,” he says. But Speri doesn’t see these wines as one-dimensional refreshers, noting that moderate bottle aging benefits these humble wines.

Education is a big part of turning this sentiment into reality. Dustin Chaubert, a sommelier at Chicago’s Spiaggia, steers fans of “super-rich Napa Valley reds” toward Amarone. Conversely, he’ll suggest customers looking for something Pinot Noir-esque branch out to a Valpolicella Superiore. “Oftentimes, people have this ‘a-ha’ moment when being introduced to some of the lighter styles of Valpolicella where they start to understand that there’s more out there than big, beefy Amarone,” he says.

Another facet that makes Valpolicella intriguing is the wine offers unexpected food pairings. While you can’t go wrong pairing it with pizza, Valpolicella is a wine with rule-breaking qualities. Seafood is a consensus must-try: Simonetti-Bryan likes it with prosciutto-wrapped scallops Travaglini suggests a spicy fish stew fritti misti is among Spiri’s recommendations. And, most surprising of all, Castagnedi recalls one sommelier’s bold choice: raw oysters.

Of course, one of the chief pleasures of Valpolicella is that it’s a no-food-required kind of red. Set aside the stemware, pour a generous splash into a short tumbler, and stick that open bottle back in the fridge, or put it on ice for a bit. While there’s always a time and a place for more brooding levels of Valpolicella, discovering a daily red that’s been hidden in plain sight is something worth celebrating — often and with gusto.

5 Valpolicellas to Try

Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico

A bottling from an iconic Veneto producer, the Bonacosta is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara and is Simonetti-Bryan’s pick. Musing on Valpolicella in general, she says, “I think it is underrated and gets overlooked because basic Chianti is a bigger ‘brand’ for Italian wine here and less intimidating to say than Valpolicella.” Average price: $15

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Nanfrè Valpolicella

This 70 percent Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella is stainless-steel-fermented and aged. “We always speak about Nanfrè as a Pinot Noir style because of the lighter style, the color, and the spicy notes,” says Castagnedi. “It puts this wine in context.” Average price: $14

Secondo Marco Valpolicella Classico

Corvina (70 percent), Corvinone (15 percent), and Rondinella (10 percent), plus a small amount of native grapes, are blended to create the Secondo Marco Valpolicella Classico. Aged six months in concrete, six in barrel, it’s a richer, yet still fresh, Valpolicella. Speri’s comments about short-term aging make it tempting to stash some bottles away. Average price: $21

Prà Morandina Valpolicella

Start exploring Valpolicella’s lighter side with Prà’s Morandina. I was surprised to discover the grapes for this wine (organically grown Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Oseleta) are lightly dried before pressing. But make no mistake: This translucent wine is a chillable delight. Average price: $25

Speri Valpolicella Classico

Travaglini mentioned Speri as a producer to know. A seventh-generation family winery whose vineyards were certified organic in 2015, Speri’s Valpolicella is a blend of 60 percent Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella, and 10 percent Molinara. Marco Speri worked at his family’s winery for 25 years before starting Secondo Marco. Average price: $13

Giving thanks for Anderson Valley - a Pinot Noir sweet spot

Balo Suitcase 828 <137>(left) <137>and Copain Wendling are some of Mendocino County’s best Pinot Noirs.

I&rsquom asked with surprising frequency which wine region in California I&rsquom fondest of. Always, I demur out of professional courtesy and a dislike of outrunning angry mobs.

But in my heart, the answer hasn&rsquot shifted much for most of a decade: Anderson Valley.

It was the first spot I ventured to when I came west, looking for signs of hope amid the state&rsquos vineyards. Even today, with a boomlet of tasting rooms and a handful of ambitious new restaurants like Stone and Embers along Highway 128, this remote slice of western Mendocino remains a simulacrum of California wine in the pre-pretense days.

I&rsquom confessing because Mendocino wine has been struggling of late. Although the region has enjoyed a minor rally as Pinot Noir&rsquos fortunes have risen, its wines remain something of an insider&rsquos choice.

Right now is a perfect time to reaffirm my crush, though, thanks to the wines from the 2012 vintage &mdash many, if not all of them, from Anderson Valley. These are, quite simply, beautiful and timeless wines. They speak to the best California has to offer.

And what better time for this little disclosure than Thanksgiving? Pinot Noir remains the quintessential (but not only: wine for the holiday, with its shades of autumnal comfort. And here are wines that speak of bounty close to home.

As vintages go, 2012 was a lamb, if a rather fatted one. A dry winter, but no big heat spikes, no ill-timed rains, just steady and moderate weather and an oversize crop.

That sort of year could yield easygoing but snoozy wines. But the results in Anderson Valley, at least for Pinot Noir, found a charming middle ground &mdash ripe but not dull, savory but not thin. After three tricky years, 2012 was a godsend &mdash and not just for Anderson Valley. Great specimens could be found throughout Mendocino County.

After tasting several dozen wines, I&rsquod bet that its 2012s will be remembered as a return to its best qualities: evanescent fruit, clear mineral distinction, those elusive forest-like aromas that define the grape at its pinnacle.

In part, that&rsquos because many of these wines are increasingly coming from hillside sites. If you look at my current top roster, you&rsquoll recognize well-established names like Cerise and Morning Dew, Deer Meadows and Demuth, along with newer plantings like Wendling.

As in the past, the best wines aren&rsquot always being made in the region itself. In recent years, too many locally made wines have been clunky or chased an overwrought style.

That remains at least partly true, and some of Anderson Valley&rsquos best defenders, including Littorai and Copain, have cellars elsewhere. But the dance card of homegrown talent &mdash labels like Knez, Drew, Baxter and, lately, Balo &mdash is stronger than ever.

Together, they&rsquore upholding California&rsquos best traditions. It&rsquos precisely the sort of dedication for which we should all give thanks.

A Top 10 for Mendocino Pinot Noir

2012 Waits-Mast Deer Meadows Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($55 14% alcohol): Close students of the valley know Rich Savoy&rsquos Deer Meadows, a site high above Boonville that has been the source for wines like Littorai&rsquos One Acre. Jennifer Waits and Brian Mast reclaimed a single acre for themselves in 2012, and the vineyard&rsquos lineage is evident in the glass: Deep and rich with black cherry and boysenberry, accented both by opulent allspice and damp bark, and a profound mineral signature.

2012 Drew Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($55 13%): While Drew&rsquos Fog-Eater bottling is also a standout, this effort from the vineyard farmed by Pinot legend Burt Williams (Williams Selyem) is quintessential Anderson Valley &mdash packed with complex flavors, not showing an ounce of fat. Coppery mineral, orange, cucumber, thyme and conifer, damson plum and savory spice. Utterly pure flavors.

2012 Knez Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($32 13.5%): Winemaker Anthony Filiberti has crafted extraordinary bottlings from both of Peter Knez&rsquos vineyards, Cerise and Demuth, but this mix of the two sites is flat-out gulpable. Subtle, shaded in its flavors, with bright raspberry, mandarin peel, toasted cardamom and mineral intensity from the ripe vintage, a signature of the best hillside plantings.

2012 Copain Wendling Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($65, 13.6%): This debut from a younger planting across the road from Wells Guthrie&rsquos stellar Kiser planting is stunning &mdash brooding with damp earth and warm forest, and a mix of intense dark fruit and brilliant pomegranate highlights on the palate. It&rsquos taut, almost raw in its flavors, begging for some time to show its depth.

2012 Baxter Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir ($48 13.2%): One of two standouts from this 1,200-foot site near Greenwood Ridge, west of Anderson Valley, here handled by the two Phil Baxters (Jr. and Sr.). An innate tension, with the coppery iodine bite that seems to mark Valenti, plus chewy cherry skin, black currant and an herbal thyme-like side.

2012 Balo Vineyard Suitcase 828 Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($38 13.6%): Single-clone wines can be a boondoggle. They give up the complexity found in a diversity of vine material. But the Mullins family, with winemaker Jason Drew, pulls this one off, highlighting a little-known (unofficially &ldquoimported&rdquo via Oregon) selection of Pinot Droit vines. It&rsquos an unusual creature, with stiff tannins and a pronounced sanguine quality that ties together bright pomegranate, watermelon skin, bass tones of toasted clove and dark fruit.

2013 Folk Machine Vecino Vineyard Potter Valley Pinot Noir ($30 12%): Is Potter Valley truly a sweet spot for Pinot Noir? Kenny Likitprakong makes one of the strongest cases yet. He tapped this biodynamically farmed vineyard for his Folk Machine label. Soft-edged, juicy, with Douglas fir aromas, Santa Rosa plum, pomegranate and a dusty edge. Enjoy it in the moment.

2013 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($38 12.9%): A forthcoming release from Tracey and Jared Brand of Berkeley. Notably citrus-edged: kumquat and citron, with distinct spice from the use of whole clusters that bolsters its tart fruit. Its flavors are tightly wound, but there&rsquos enough ripeness to please partisans of the more austere, Loire-ish style.

2012 Comptche Ridge Vineyards Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($47 13.2%): A familiar vineyard to Anthill Farms fans, located outside the tiny town of Comptche, now in a different guise from owners John and Mark Weir. Profound bayberry, verbena and mint flavors, and an intense mineral core. Subtle, with a silken quality to the fruit.

2012 Skewis Wiley Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($50 14.4%): A new vineyard for Healdsburg&rsquos Skewis, one in the valley&rsquos deep northern end. A bigger footprint for Anderson Valley, happily balanced with brightness: candied plum, fenugreek, roasted thyme, deep cherry compote, and terrifically juicy all through.

Pairing Pinot Noir With Food

As one of the wine world's most versatile, food-friendly red wines, pinot noir brings the rich fruit flavors of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry to the glass often in a mix of warm spice and earthy undertones.

Pinot noir is often described as having a red-wine palate profile and a white-wine style, making it popular with both red-wine and white-wine enthusiasts. Without a doubt, pinot noir tends to be lighter bodied than many of its red-wine counterparts (although significant, delicious exceptions do occur) and enjoys a more subtle tannin structure due to the thinner skin of the pinot noir grape itself. However, it's the combination of great acidity, silky tannins, and distinct body that makes it so successful for pairing with a tremendous variety of foodie favorites.

We've rounded up recipes to showcase the exceptional food-pairing qualities that pinot noir offers to everything from cheese and chocolate to Peking duck and roasted beef tenderloin.

Spicy, Supple Pinot Noirs

For this issue, we invited members of the Cheers National Wine Panel to recommend some pinot noirs they’ve recently tasted. As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which varies from store to store and market to market). If you’re an on-premise or retail beverage professional who would like to participate in our panel, call Melissa Dowling at 203-855-8499 ext. 223, or email [email protected]

(97) Joseph Drouhin Nuits-Saint-Georges Damodes 1er Cru 2011 (France). From one of the most established and respected houses in Burgundy, this Premier Cru Burgundy wine exudes class and elegance. Brilliant ruby in the glass complex nose, with hints of red fruit, berries, along with subtle spicy notes on the palate, the elegance continues with tastes that echo the nose, along with a bright edge. ($111)

(96) Joseph Jewell Russian River Sonoma Pinot Noir 2011 (California). Very elegant wine from this young winery (established 2006) beautiful red hues, strong cherry notes, with a light touch of oak black tea and baking spice aromas dominate the nose. A perfect wine for the late spring and early summer months. ($60)

(95) Loveblock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011 (New Zealand). A bright ruby red color complex aromas include cherry, strawberry, violets, mushrooms and herbs on the palate, a rush of sweet/tart berry flavors meld with lightly toasted oak, truffles and a hint of earthiness. Firm tannins linger on the finish suggesting some cellar time would be most rewarding. ($35)

(95) Miner Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2011 (California). A bouquet of wildflowers and red raspberry lead to a viscous texture on the palate with flavors of red fruit, cherry, coffee, and spice supple tannins with a nuance of toasty oak balance the whole. ($70)

(95) Paul Hobbs Russian River Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Exceptional deep color aromas of black raspberries and cassis full-bodied, silky texture cellar worthy for at least five years. ($60)

(94) Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune du Château 1er Cru 2009 (France). A brilliant, medium ruby in color the nose is filled with a complex mix of red fruit, along with floral and spicy notes. In the mouth, the bright fruit leads the way, followed by a long and elegant finish. ($40)

(94) J Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A beautiful pinot noir with layers of deep fruit balanced with a pop of acidity. Rich and lingering flavors surround your mouth and keep giving up secret flavors long after the finish. ($36)

(94) La Follette Van der Kamp Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir 2011 (California). Brilliant ruby/garnet a rich wine, with the nose dominated by elegant red fruits, as well as hints of spice with floral notes the palate is rich and spicy, with great complexity and length. ($42)

(93) Cloisonne Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Aromas of red berries with full flavors of red cherries and spice soft, smooth and silky finish a great value. ($22)

(93) Dierberg, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2009 (California). An absolutely stunning pinot noir that is 100% estate grown elegant, well-integrated fruit and energetic acidity. ($35)

(93) En Route Les Pommiers Russian River Pinot Noir 2010 (California). From the Far Niente winery, beautiful and smooth generous notes of cherry, strawberry and hints of vanilla delightful and balanced. ($59)

(93) Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (California). Brilliant ruby/garnet in the glass the nose is dominated by red fruit, with notes of spice, and hints of cola. The palate is elegant, with red fruit, and high-toned spices the finish is very well balanced, with bright acidity contributing freshness. ($25)

(93) Michel Picard St. Aubin Rouge 1er Cru 2009 (France). The bouquet is light, but there are subtle yet exotic notes of fruit and spice in the background that keep you coming back. Beautiful structure, balance and mouthfeel, and like the palate, the fruit flavors are a bit subdued, but in the fashion of Burgundian pinot masters outstanding depth and complexity. ($30)

(93) Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir 2010 (California). A very pretty pinot noir with spices and dried cherries on the nose structured yet succulent fruit sourced from seven vineyards from four distinct regions. The finish is long, with a small hint of barrel spice a very enjoyable wine. ($36)

(93) Valdivieso Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 (Chile). Bright color with aromas of blackberries, casis and sweet oak. Full bodied with flavors of dark, rich berries, followed by a long lingering finish. ($27)

(92) Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (Oregon). A wonderful controlled explosion of fruit and textures on the palate bright Bing cherry complemented by savory plum. The flavors combine with some brightness on the mid-palate a satisfying finish. ($25)

(92) David Bruce Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (California). Aroma of cherries and blackberries, followed by flavors of cherries and blueberries moderate tannins with a long finish. ($40)

(92) Martin Ray Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Lush upfront red fruit mixes with baking spices, bramble and earth to produce this complex and charming wine. The knockout finish is smooth with a mouth-coating texture and an abundance of flavor. ($25)

(92) Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 (California). Hints of blackberry and oak on the nose with flavors of strawberry and black cherry long, full finish an outstanding wine. ($55)

(92) Peter Zemmer Rollütt Pinot Noir 2012 (Italy). From northern Italy, this is a great example of a wine produced in a region not known for pinot noir. The wine is a bright ruby/garnet, with lovely red fruit and berries on the nose in the mouth, the bright fruit and spice are in balance. An excellent value for its class and elegance. ($16)

(92) Sonoma Loeb Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A beautiful wine with impeccable flavors of raspberries, tea, bramble and spicy cedar that are woven together it finishes with great length, character and depth. ($50)

(92) Thomas George Estates Starr Ridge Vineyard Russian River Sonoma Pinot Noir 2011 (California). This medium- to full-bodied pinot noir is ripe and concentrated with gorgeous aromas of strawberry blossom and cherry pie. The tasty sweet spice flavors pirouette through a chorus of bold black cherry and strawberry flavors, before emerging in the lengthy finish. ($60)

(92) Willamette Valley Vineyards Eola-Amity Hills, Elton, Pinot Noir 2010 (Oregon). Earth and mineral notes drift in the bouquet, and there is an underlying layer of ripe red berry and sweet currant. That mineral note opens the palate, providing a firm frame, and then it gets quite expansive, with ripe currant, cassis and boysenberry flavors. Excellent balance and depth, a long finish and an aftertaste that is quite persistent an admirable food partner for sure. ($50)

(91) Banshee Sonoma Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A beautifully balanced, harmonious Sonoma Cost pinot with dark cherry and raspberry notes, along with a hint of cinnamon, new leather and wild flowers. ($23)

(91) Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A pinot noir with heady and powerful aromas of cocoa powder and dark fruit and really rich mouthfeel. ($40)

(91) Hartford Court, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A single-vineyard wine with bright raspberry and cherry fruit and packed with the right amount acidity to add complexity and a long, lingering finish. ($33)

(91) Hyland Estates McMinnville Pinot Noir 2010 (Oregon). Inviting aromas of raspberry, smoke and incense lead to ripe red fruit upfront that shows tremendous depth and richness. A wine of excellent volume, it nonetheless remains light on its feet and finishes with lovely notes of Asian spices and blossoms. ($35)

(91) Sextant Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2011 (California). An intense bouquet of dark fruit, cedar and incense the acidity provides excellent structure and elegantly balances the delicious flavors of dark cherries, spice and earth. ($30)

(91) Sonoma Cuvee Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Ripe cherry fruit is followed by highly expressive flavors of earth, cedar and baking spices an added layer of intensity and depth that provides fanastic lift in the clean, pepper-tinged finish. ($30)

(91) Sonoma Loeb Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Vibrant and supple exhibits stunningly pure aromas and flavors cherries, raspberries, smoke, tea and herbs. The layered upfront fruit is expertly balanced by the wine’s firm, generous acidity. This pinot noir offers the best of both the old and new world styles. ($30)

(91) Stoller Family Estates Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). Made in an elegant, approachable style ripe berries, floral notes and spicy oak are accompanied by bright acidity and fine tannins. ($24)

(91) Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir 2011 (Chile). Full and creamy, with light cherry on the palate and hints of cinnamon, spice and light oak. ($19)

(91) VinStrata Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008 (Oregon). Loaded with class and finesse, this wine displays captivating flavors of red berries, plum, forest floor, spice and earth. The texture, structure, and balance are expertly woven together, producing a wine whose energy and vitality are remarkable. ($50)

(91) Willamette Valley Vineyards Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir 2010 (Oregon). The bouquet is beautiful, with a subtle perfume mingling with almost-ripe red berry and blueberry aromas, followed by oak spice and a light touch of leather. Slightly tart on the entry but quite pleasant, staying lively across the palate where the flavors turn ripe and round. Crispness returns at the finish, which is quite long. ($50)

(90) 24 Knots Monterey Pinot Noir (California). Bright strawberries and black cherries on the nose with a toasty, earth continually balanced by the long, enjoyable finish. Pair this value-driven pinot noir with roasted vegetables or grilled salmon. ($15)

(90) Angeline Sonoma Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A refined pinot noir that possesses subtle flavors of raspberries, spice, and pepper that continues to gain in intensity all the way through to the lively, energetic finish. ($25)

(90) Bethel Heights Estate Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). This wine has a wonderful blackberry aroma and flavor with a hint of pepper, leading to a smooth finish with a nice acidity. ($32)

(90) Bodegas Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (Argentina). Nose of cherries and strawberries very refined and elegant mouthfeel with notes of bright red fruits smooth and delicate, but with enough body to balance the silkiness. ($20)

(90) Coelho Atracao Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). Vibrant flavors of red cherries, bramble, earth and cola medium bodied in mouthfeel, with a long, structured finish that harmoniously intertwines all the individual components. ($30)

(90) Corvallis Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). A highly polished pinot noir from start to finish with attractive notes of dark fruit, earth, spice and peppery cedar. There’s plenty of richness and texture in the wine’s layered, crisp finish. ($35)

(90) Domaine Loubejac Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (Oregon). Dominated by red currants, roasted herbs and forest floor, the Domaine Loubejac presents a focused, precise profile that is reminiscent of an Old World style, while still having plenty of New World flavor concentration. ($25)

(90) Joel Gott Sonoma County/Monterey County Pinot Noir 2012 (California). This is a bright and fresh pinot noir wonderfully balanced structure with layers of plum and cherry fruit great to pair with a variety of foods. ($20)

(90) Kudos Yamhill Carlton Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 (Oregon). The most striking thing about this wine is the fantastic interplay between the flavors of black cherries, earth and tobacco. Grainy tannins and a firm acidity provide excellent precision, making this wine edge more toward an Old World style while still providing plenty of New World fruit. ($30)

(90) LaPlaya Block Selection Block No. 16 Limari Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 (Chile). Lush, zesty, fruit-forward, and delightfully quaffable, with lovely aromas and flavors of cherry, cranberry, allspice and soft, toasted oak. Lively and crisp on the finish, it’s a delicious bistro style that’s also a great value. ($13)

(90) Liberty School Central Coast Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Pinots priced at less than $20 can be a little risky, but this one is a steal. Fresh floral nose, with flavors of juicy strawberry and cherry medium bodied with zippy acidity on the finish. ($18)

(90) Messmer Trocken Burrweiler Pfalz Pinot Noir 2011 (Germany). More robust than other Spatburgunders, this pinot noir has a floral, earthy nose that leads to flavors of currant, black cherry, mushroom and clove. It finishes with soft tannins and a hint of “terroir” that is almost Burgundian. ($17)

(90) Montoya Monterey Pinot Noir 2012 (California). This gentle and light-bodied wine has delicious aromas and flavors of raspberries, vanilla and spicy cedar. A prolonged, crisp finish provides great structure while allowing the pure flavors to linger. ($20)

(90) OFV Willamette Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). Layers of dark cherries, cola, tea and spice medium bodied with a firm, crisp finish that skillfully balances the upfront fruit and deposits additional notes of blossoms. ($25)

(90) Red Pony Ranch Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A smooth and soothing red with gentle flavors of spicy cherry, raspberries, cola and toasty oak the finish is persistent, plush and silky. ($20)

(90) Rock View Monterey Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Dense and layered flavors of black cherries, vanilla, and pomegranate are intricately woven together in this juicy, vibrant pinot noir. A crisp finish provides solid balance and makes this a great wine to pair with food. ($25)

(90) Soter North Valley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011 (Washington State). Aromas of sweet herbal tea, red raspberry and rose oil perfume seamless, with refined ripe tannins lengthy and classy. ($30)

(90) Testarossa Cuvee 107 Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Medium bodied with a fine grained tannins, this is layered with beautiful flavors of sweet spices, raspberries and fresh flowers. It finishes bright and focused with a fine, palate-cleansing acidity. ($25)

(90) Vistamar Sepia Reserva Pinot Noir 2012 (Chile). Fresh and focused with notes of raspberries, bramble, and spice. Finishes crisp and smooth with light tannins and pleasant hints of wild flowers. ($15)

(90) Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2011 (Oregon). Sourced from the winery’s vineyards around the Willamette Valley, this pinot noir delivers complex red and black cherry aromas and flavors, fine tannins and a long finish. ($30)

(89) Castle Rock Carneros Pinot Noir 2011 (California). A good basic pinot noir with balanced red raspberry fruit and easy acidity. Pair this wine with roast chicken or barbeque chicken. ($13)

(89) Fortant Mountain Grand Reserve Languedoc Pinot Noir 2011 (France). The subtle bouquet is lightly earthy—as pinot should be—and with time intensifies. A touch tart on the palate entry but maintains a smooth, elegant feel. There is some zip to its mild red cherry and strawberry flavors, with some cranberry arriving in the finish. ($20)

(89) Grafen Neipperg Spatburgunder 2010 (Germany). Nice hints of cherry and red fruits on the nose light and fruity with lean cherry, strawberry and herbal notes hint of smoke and wet stone. ($20)

(89) Lassalle Pays d’Oc Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 (France). This affordable pinot noir evokes the earthy scents of Burgundy while the palate brims with ripe, juicy fruit flavors that are more in line with the New World. Black cherry, juicy strawberry and faint cola notes are all present in this stylish, light-bodied red a terrific value. ($13)

(89) Mark West Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Easy to enjoy silky texture, cherry and raspberry flavors with a touch of oak and candied vanilla a good value. ($12)

(89) Meiomi Santa Barbara County, Monterey County and Somoma County Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Cherry and cola on the nose cherry, blackberry flavors moderate tannins with pleasant lingering finish. ($20)

(89) Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 (Oregon). Earth-driven, with scents of warmed strawberries and roses sleek yet mouth-filling at the same time. ($20)

(89) Point North Pinot Noir 2012 (Oregon). A medium-bodied Oregon pinot noir made by the Sean Mino Winery with strawberry, cherry and raspberry aromas. These flavors linger with the addition of spicy, earthy notes and cherry flavors throughout bright mouthfeel that embraces the soft round tannins. ($20)

(89) Red Pony Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir 2012 (California). A fresh and charming wine infused with flavors of strawberries, rhubarb and cola. The smooth finish has admirable length, with notes of tea and forest floor. ($15)

(89) Robertson Winery Pinot Noir 2012 (South Africa). A bit earthy in the nose medium bodied and beautifully soft and smooth on the palate, yet with pinpoint acidity juicy and fresh red berry, currant, blueberry and plum flavors. ($10)

(89) This Is Eleven Pinot Noir 2012 (California). From California’s Santa Maria Valley, a smooth, dry and flavorful pinot noir. ($16)

(88) Momo Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 (New Zealand). A certified organic wine made using fruit from three Marlborough vineyards. The nose shows earthy, herbal characters with hints of cedar and mushroom in the mouth there is dark fruit, smoky oak and fine tannins. ($17)

(88) Periodic Central Coast Pinot Noir 2011 (California) The bouquet is extremely light it is medium bodied and has a soft palate feel and a decent array of mild plum, blueberry and cranberry flavors. Nicely crisp acids near the pretty long finish. ($18)

(88) Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 2011 (California). Lovely nose, with sweet ripe cherry flavors and a nice smokey finish with herbal accents. ($23)

(88) Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (California). This is a luscious Russian River pinot noir with dark cherry, raspberry, tobacco and chocolate good acidity makes this especially food friendly. ($20)

(87) Domaine de Valmoissine Verdon Pinot Noir 2011 (France). This Louis Latour wine is ruby red in color, with an intense nose, cherry flavors, nice balance and a silky smooth finish. ($15)

(87) The Seeker Pinot Noir Vin de Pays du Puy de Dome 2012 (France). A French pinot noir that delivers good bang for the buck. ($12)

(86) Bluebird Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012 (California). Dark-fruit amoma of plum and black cherry plum and cherry flavors follow with strawberry notes medium tannins with a moderate finish good value. ($13)

Airlie Winery: Sweet Spot Pinot Noir

I am frequently asked to recommend a really good Pinot Noir under $30, the so-called sweet spot. Most consumers are not willing to pay over $30 for a wine they want to drink on a daily basis. I was pleasantly surprised with my first tasting of Airlie Winery Pinot Noirs and I can highly recommend them for their high quality at surprisingly reasonable prices.

The name of this winery is derived from the town name of Airlie that has a rich background dating back to the early 1800s. Once a Christmas tree farm, the original owners established and began planting Dunn Forest Vineyard in 1983 and founded Airlie Winery in 1986. Mary Olson bought Arlie Winery and the estate vineyard in 1997. Winemaker Elizabeth Clark joined the Airlie family in 2005.

The winery is nestled in the coastal mountain range on the western edge of the Willamette Valley, just a short distance from Corvallis and Monmouth. Thirty acres of estate vineyards are planted to 8 varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Muscat Ottonel and varietal wines are made from each. Estate grapes make up 65 percent of the grapes used in Airlie wines. The remaining grapes are sourced from BeckenRidge Vineyard, located 20 miles away west of Dallas, Oregon. The vineyards are certified sustainable by LIVE and Salmon Safe.

The Airlie wines are sold online through the website at A new label will appear on the release of the 2012 Airlie Pinot Noir in the fall of 2015. All the wines reviewed below are still available from the winery.

12.6% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.68, 571 cases, $25. 87% BeckenRidge Vineyard and 13% Lavender Hill Vineyard. Pommard and 115 clones. Harvest Brix 22.1º. Gently de-stemmed into 1.5-ton fermenters. 3 to 6-day cold soak, inoculated primary and secondary fermentations. Aged 10 months in 13% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. A little more richness and finish compared to the 2010 vintage. The nose leads with aromas of black cherry, underbrush and new oak. Intense attack of blueberry, black cherry and pomegranate fruits with pleasant oak seasoning. Nicely balanced with soft tannins, bright acidity and an assertive citrus-cranberry fueled finish. Score: 92

12% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.75, 371 cases, $25. Pommard clone from BeckenRidge Vineyard planted in 1978. Harvest Brix 21.9º. 100% de-stemmed into 1.5- ton fermenters with a high whole berry count. 2-day cold soak, inoculated yeasts fermentation and malolactic fermentation. Aged 11 months in 12% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Complex nose featuring aromas of black cherry, dark rose petal, bark, baking spice and white pepper. Bright and crisp, with mid weight flavors of fresh blueberry, black cherry and blackberry and a hint of dried herbs. Lovely balance, with peach skin tannins, a perfect touch of oak, and a persistent finish. Score: 91

13.1% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.75, 186 cases, $32. A barrel selection. Sourced from estate Dunn Forest Vineyard (70%) planted in 1983 and 1991, and BeckenRidge Vineyard (30%) planted in 1978. Pommard clone. Harvest Brix 23.2º. Gently destemmed into 1.5-ton fermenters, 3-day cold soak, inoculated primary and secondary fermentations, aged 23 months in French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Lovely aromatic mix of darker red cherries and berries. Very suave on the palate with a mid weight charge of black cherry fruit accented by a savory herb note. Wonderful balance with felt-like tannins folded in, juicy acidity, and a noticeably long finish. This wine has benefited from additional bottle age, but will drink well for many years. Score: 93-94

How many calories are in Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir is typically dry (see above). Of course, wine with little to no sugar doesn’t equate to wine without calories. Calories in Pinot Noir come from alcohol. Typically, a five-ounce serving of Pinot Noir has around 125 calories, or 625 calories in a 750 ml bottle. If a Pinot Noir has a touch of residual sugar, the wine will have carbohydrates, or carbs, but only a small amount. Dry wines usually range between zero and 4 grams of carbohydrates.

From California to the Finger Lakes, 10 American Pinot Noirs Under $40

Pinot Noir and pricey often go hand in hand. This is for good reason: T he notoriously finicky grape needs extra attention in the vineyard to yield quality results.

However, a number of domestic producers have found the sweet spot, d elivering bottlings that exhibit the hallmark velvety tannins and in tense fruit of the variety all within an accessible price. From California, Oregon and New York, here are ten Pinots priced $13 to $38.

Tatomer 2019 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) $35, 95 points. This countywide blend delivers tantalizing aromas of lightly poached cherry, hibiscus and wild sagebrush. The superfresh palate snaps with sizzling acidity and zesty red-fruit flavors that rush in and then hold tight into the finish, where an accent of tarragon adds nuance. Editors’ Choice. –Matt Kettmann

Chamisal 2019 Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo County) $22, 94 points. This fairly priced countywide blend offers elegant aromas of lavender, rose petal, tart cranberry skin, pomegranate and mint. Flavors of raspberry and more pomegranate grace the palate, with light touches of flowers, licorice and gamy meat completing the experience. Editors’ Choice. –M.K.

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Haden Fig 2018 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) $36, 94 points. Built upon 20-year-old Pommard vines, this opens with scents of plum, cocoa and cinnamon. Its rich and varied palate mixes cherries, plums and baking spices with a dash of fresh ground coffee. The length, detail and overall balance are exemplary. Editors’ Choice. –Paul Gregutt

Hirsch Vineyards 2018 The Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) $38, 94 points. Made in slightly higher amounts than many of the producer’s other estate wines, this is an outstanding value for the quality—a wildly delicious expression of the grape, region and vintage that is in cohesive harmony. Savory, rocky and textured, it blends 30% of its grapes from neighboring Hellenthal Vineyard, the combination exploding in red tangy fruit. Editors’ Choice. –Virginie Boone

Lingua Franca 2018 Avni Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills) $30, 92 points. Bursting open with blueberry and blackberry fruit, this well-balanced Avni integrates its savory notes perfectly. It’s aromatic and brings a light suggestion of mineral. Barrel aging included 20% new oak, and it responds well to a bit of extra breathing time. Editors’ Choice. –P.G.

Bravium 2018 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley) $34, 92 points. This elegant, tasty, medium-bodied wine offers a flinty but jammy aroma, a light, smooth texture and plenty of plump cherry and strawberry flavors. It shows a good, appetizing balance and persistent, layered fruit and baking spices. –Jim Gordon

Lange 2019 Classiqué Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) $25, 92 points. A fine value, this introduces itself with a beguiling nose of vanilla and violets. The flavors bring strawberries and cream to mind, with other red fruits, notably pomegranate. It’s a very pretty wine, smooth and lingering. Delicious already, it should drink well on through the next half decade. Editors’ Choice. –P.G.

Nathan K. 2018 Pinot Noir (Finger Lakes) $32, 92 points. A pleasantly brambly nose evokes aromas of wild strawberry and pomegranate, accented by rose, cinnamon and a hint of rooibos. Aged for one year in neutral French oak, it is silken in feel yet lifted by pulsing acidity. Tart red-berry fruit is properly filled out on the palate, with streaks of crunchy red apple peel and crushed velvet tannins adding a delightful texture. There’s purity and freshness to this wine that lingers long on the finish. –Alexander Peartree

The Best Pinot Noir Food Pairings Ideas

An enjoyable Pinot Noir food pairing is easy to achieve because Pinot Noir goes well with so many different types of cuisine. It’s one of the lightest red wines around, so it can match with lighter foods without overwhelming them. But because it is a red wine, Pinot Noir also compliments a number of meats, as long as they are not too fatty. If you are looking for a red wine pairing, Pinot Noir is a great option because of its lighter structure. Even richer seafood like lobster or crab that many people would commonly pair with white wine can be complimented by Pinot Noir.

When pairing Pinot Noir with food, it’s critical that it be served correctly. Pinot Noir, more than any other popular red wine, changes its taste depending on the temperature at which it’s served. We strongly recommend visiting the Pinot Noir page in our main site to learn how best to serve it so you get the most out of your Pinot Noir and food paring. Click here to learn how best to serve it, how long to age it and plenty of other useful tips to insure your food and wine pairing is it best.

For ideas on which types of food pair best with your Pinot Noir, read on …

Pinot Noir Food Pairing Suggestions

Need ideas for Pinot Noir food pairings? Look for the following types of meals:

  • Roasted or grilled pork with lighter marinades or dry rub
    Pork often goes well with Pinot Noir because its a leaner meat than beef. Just avoid the fattier cuts. Fattier meats need heavier tannins to “sweep” the fats off of your taste buds which Pinot Noir’s lighter structure doesn’t have. Try these simply grilled pork chops.
  • Duck, Pheasant or other “gamier” fowl
    The gamier meats like duck can overwhelm a lighter wine because of the stronger flavor and/or heavier fat content than chicken. Pairing duck with Pinot Noir is a great choice in particular because it has more fat than most other fowl (although still very light as compared to beef or lamb) and Pinot’s tannins, light though they may be, effectively compliment them. Roast duck is a perfect accompaniment.
  • Salmon or other stronger fish
    Pair salmon with Pinot Noir because of its strong, distinctive flavor and heavier oil content where white wines would often be overwhelmed. Other fish to pair with Pinot Noir are anchovies, herring, mackerel and mullet. Salmon with a mild butter sauce pairs well with Pinot Noir.
  • Lobster, shrimp or crab as long as it is not in a cream sauce
    Honestly, Pinot Noir is not the most natural wine pairing for these crustaceans, but if you really are not a fan of white wines but want something with your shellfish, Pinot Noir would be the best red to choose. Avoid the heavier cream sauces with Pinot Noir however because its tannins and particularly any acids it may have will react with the cream. Dishes like this simple spicy garlic shrimp recipe finished with just a touch of cream should be OK though. Dishes with a little more spice work best with Pinot Noir.
  • Pasta with pesto or lighter tomato cream sauces
    Pesto’s strong herbal flavor is complimented nicely by Pinot Noir as well as some of the refreshing white wines. Heavier tomato based sauce will overwhelm Pinot Noir’s lighter body but if it is cut with wine, broth or a touch of cream, Pinot will often work well. Mix your Pesto with a little tomato to give it a little more body to compliment the Pinot Noir. This recipe shows whole cherry tomatoes but I like to finely chop and sear them so the tomato flavor is blended throughout the pasta.
  • Mushrooms in a light wine sauce
    Mushrooms sautéed with red wine is a natural pairings. The delicate flavor of the mushroom pairs perfectly with Pinot Noir’s mild red flavor. Try this recipe.

Other General Guidelines and Classic Meals

Perhaps the classic food pairing with Pinot Noir is Beef Bourguignon, which is often cooked with Pinot Noir. Although beef is not a natural food pairing partner for Pinot Noir, lightly marinated beef tenderloin or Filet Mignon will work nicely because it is a lean meat. Pinot Noir’s lighter tannin structure pairs well because there is not a lot of fat marbled through the cuts but the flavor has enough substance to stand up to the stronger beef flavor.

If you wish to pair a wine with cheese, it’s not easy with Pinot Noir. But if you prefer red wines to white, softer cheeses like Brie or Camembert can be a nice compliment

Remember, the key to serving any wine is to serve it correctly. Too often wines are served too young, at the wrong temperature or in the wrong type of glass. To learn more about serving Pinot Noir, check our encyclopedia entry. You’ll find lots of useful information about aging and serving Pinot Noir.

Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2012

Courtesy of Stoller Family Estate

It's a Pinot Noir crafted from all estate-grown fruit. It features ripe plums, red currants, and black raspberries in the aromatic mix and spotlights a fruit-forward, earth-driven taste. Chocolate-covered strawberry notes sift through the silky tannins, engaging the senses with vibrant acidity and a plush, persistent finish.

Watch the video: Pinot Noir Programme (January 2022).