The following notes are from Pinot Noir wines tasted from the New World over the past six months and rated as good, very good and excellent.
For background on Pinot Noir in the New World, versus its home in Burgundy, France, which produces some of the world’s most cherished and expensive wines, we turned to The Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Established in 1969 for the UK wine trade, WSET has since grown to become the global industry leader devoted to the development and delivery of qualifications and courses in wines and spirits. Its educational products “offer impartial and sound learning on which individuals and businesses can build knowledge and expertise.”
Key facts from WSET on Pinot Noir: Black grape variety with a thin skin; requires a cool to moderate climate to produce good quality grapes; usually pale to medium ruby in color; on the palate, high in acidity with low to medium tannins; red fruit flavors (strawberry, raspberry, cherry); often matured in oak but needs subtle approaches so new oak doesn’t overwhelm the delicate Pinot Noir.
The best Pinot Noirs often have subtle oak derived aromas such as smoke and cloves that are balanced by the fruit flavors. As they age, they can develop tertiary flavors, such as forest floor and mushroom.
According to WSET, California Pinot Noirs tend to have ripe red fruit flavors, strawberry, and red cherry, and often flavors from oak, such as vanilla. In Oregon, the best wines have complex, fresh red fruit flavors, subtle oak flavors such as smoke and clove and can develop tertiary flavors with bottle age. In New Zealand, the Central Otago region produces the ripest and most powerfully flavored Pinot Noir, with pronounced red fruit flavors such as strawberry and red cherry, with medium to full body and medium tannins.
On the downside, demand has resulted in Pinot Noir being planted in regions that are far too warm for quality production, resulting in overly alcoholic wines that lack identifiable Pinot Noir fruit. “The quality difference between these wines and those from cool or moderate sites is notable and truly demonstrates the importance of matching a variety with its favored climate,” according to WSET. Please check out WSET for information on its different levels of wine education classes (highly recommended), from beginning to preparing for becoming a Master Sommelier or Master of Wine.
As detailed here, some of the lower-priced versions weren’t always true to the character of the grape, but still offered ways of calibrating one’s palate and appreciating the range of wines available. The wines are listed from lowest to highest price, with a few classics at the end to demonstrate how tertiary qualities can develop.
- California 2017 Acacia Pinot Noir Carneros, $12 (Costco). Sharp, mid-dark garnet (not Pinot-like); red fruit, cherry, prune nose (14.7 alc.); mid-body, depth; tight tannins; long hot chewy finish; more like a Syrah. w/pasta. 15 UC Davis scale, 88 other scales.
- Good value $15 California Pinot Noir 2018 Martin Ray Sonoma Coast. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherry, raspberry nose; mid-body, acids, tannins; fruit is opening up; long semi-tight hot (13.8 alc.) finish. w/cheeses, breads. 15.5 UC Davis scale; 89 other scales.
- Central Otago, NZ, 2018 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, $17. Light mid-ruby; strawberry, red fruit, cranberry nose; mid-body; mid-plus acids; good pinot fruit; long wood and cherry finish; nice style for the $$. 16 UC Davis scale, 90 other scales.
- 2018 Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon, $16. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherry, light wood nose; mid-body; balanced acids/tannins; long semi-crisp fruity finish. w/appetizers. 15.5-16 UC Davis scale, 89-90 other scales.
- Monterey County, California, 2019 San Simeon Pinot Noir, $18. Light-mid ruby; red fruit, floral, rose petal nose; mid-body; balanced; good acids, tannins; long fruity, hot (14.9 alc.) cherry finish. w/beef stew. 15.5 UC Davis scale, 89 other scales.
- Fine $20 Sonoma Pinot Noir 2018 Dutton Estate Pinot Noir Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch. Mid-ruby, viscous (14.5 alc.); ripe red fruit, raspberry, rose petal nose; mid-acids; balanced, good depth of fruit; long semi-hot fruit finish. w/roasted chicken. 16.5 UC Davis scale, 91 other scales.
- Monterey, Calif., Santa Lucia Highlands, 2018 Hahn Pinot Noir SLH, $20. Mid-dark ruby, viscous (14.5 alc.); red cherry, stemmy Pinot nose; mid-big body; long hot semi-chewy finish. w/burgers, grilled meats. 15.5 UC Davis scale, 89 other scales.
- $20 Oregon Pinot Noir 2019 Panther Creek Willamette Valley. Light-mid ruby; red fruit, cherry, floral, aromatic Pinot nose; mid-body; mid-plus acids; long semi-deep and tight fruity finish. w/ham. 16-16.5 UC Davis scale, 90-91 other scales.
- Carneros, Calif. 2016 Bouchaine Pinot Noir Crescendo, $20. Mid-ruby, brick edges, mid-viscosity (14.3 alc.); black fruit, cherries, stemmy, good Pinot nose; mid-body; balanced; long fruity finish. w/chicken marsala. 16.5 UC Davis scale, 91 other scales.
- $20 Oregon star, 2018 Maison L’Envoyé Pinot Noir Two Messengers Willamette Valley. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherries, light earthy undertones, wood nose; mid-plus acids, tannins; good fruit; long, deep, semi-tight finish. w/veal. 16.5-17 UC Davis scale; 91-92 other scales.
- Sonoma, Russian River Valley, 2018 Cuvee Sauvage Pinot Noir ($36 marked down to $20 at COSTCO). Mid-ruby, pink edges, viscous (14.5 alc.); cherries, raspberries, red fruit, wood nose; bigger style; medium plus body; high alcohol; dry; mid-plus tannins; pronounced fruit, but one-dimensional and not like Pinot Noir; long, hot finish. w/beef. 15.5 UC Davis, 89 other scales.
- Santa Rita Hills, Calif., 2017 Peake Ranch Pinot Noir, $23. Mid garnet/ruby; complex red fruit, cherries, stemmy and spice nose; mid-body; balanced; good Pinot fruit on the palate; mid-plus acids/tannins; long fruity finish (14.0 alc.). w/pork tenderloin. 16.5 UC Davis scale, 91 other scales.
- Anderson Valley, Calif., 2018 Bravium Pinot Noir, $23. Light-mid red; red fruit, strawberry, stemmy nose, red cherries; mid-body; mid-acids/tannins; good Pinot fruit; long fruity finish. w/veal. 16.5 UC Davis scale, 91 other scales.
- Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2018 Cristom Pinot Noir ($23.70 Garagiste, April 2020). Whole cluster, 50 barrels. Light-mid ruby; red fruit, cherries, cedar, Pinot Noir nose; mid-body; mid-plus fruit, depth; balanced; long semi-chewy tasty Pinot finish; slightly hot (14.0 alc.). 16-16.5 UC Davis scale, 90-91 other scales
- Santa Maria Valley, Calif., 2017 Ojai Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak Vineyard, $45. Mid-ruby; stemmy (open-top fermenters?), red fruit, raspberry nose; mid-big body; mid-plus acids; good Pinot on the palate; long fruity finish. 17 UC Davis scale, 92 other scales.
- Sonoma, Calif., 2017 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, $45. Light-mid ruby, viscous (14.5 alc.); red fruit, cherry, stemmy, light wood nose (45% new French oak); medium intensity; mid-plus acids; low-medium tannins; long semi-tight red fruit finish. w/pork loin. 16.0 UC Davis scale, 90 other scales.
- From the Cellar
- 2005 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Laurène (375 bottle; $35 at the winery in 2012). Consistent notes over the years. Mid-dark ruby, some sediment, brick edges; mid alcohol (13.9); pronounced red fruit nose; cherries and wood; dry; mid-body; balanced; mid-acids and tannins; pronounced Pinot fruit on the palate; red fruit, cherries; long finish. Some life left. 16.5-17 UC Davis scale, 91-92 other scales.
- Sonoma, Calif., 2009 Hanzell Pinot Noir ($86 in 2012). Improved with age. Light-mid ruby, viscous (13.9 alc.); mid-ruby, brick edges; complex red fruit, cherries, earthy, gamey, stemmy nose; mid-body; balanced; medium acids; softening tannins; nice structure; long fruity Pinot Noir finish. w/salmon. 17 UC Davis scale, 92 other scales.
- Central Otago, NZ, 2012 Amisfield Pinot Noir RKV Reserve (gift in 2015, $80 estimate). Mid-ruby, amber edges; viscous (14.0 alc.); red fruit Pinot nose; vanilla, cherries; medium-plus acids, tannins; balanced; long chewy Pinot finish; very good quality. w/filet. 17 UC Davis scale, 92 other scales.