In going through tasting notes looking for fine values in Pinot Noir, wines from these regions tended to shine: Willamette Valley, Oregon; Russian River Valley, Sonoma; Santa Lucia Highlands, in Monterey County; and further south, to Santa Barbara, and the Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. The regions have some similarities in climates and terroirs, with cooling coastal winds in valleys and corridors helping the grapes gain good acid structures and complexity. Check their websites for more details. We also enjoyed wines from Central Otago, New Zealand.

Notes are from youngest to oldest. We included notes from tasting a few older, evolving wines, as points of reference. Newer vintages can be found for most, from fine producers of consistent quality.

  • Russian River Valley, Sonoma, $22 find, Brian David Pinot Noir. Light-mid ruby; viscous (13.9 alc.); red fruit, cherry and wood nose; mid+ acids; medium tannins; some depth; long semi-hot cherry and wood finish. Opens with air. w/meat loaf. 16 UC Davis scale, 90 other scales. 
  • Good $28 Pinot Noir 2020 Dragonette Cellars Sta. Rita Hills. Light-mid ruby, viscous (14.1 alc.); red fruit, wood, pomegranate and cherry nose; mid-plus acids; mid-plus tannins; good depth of Pinot fruit; long cherry and wood finish. w/pork chops. 16.5/91.
  • $22 Central Otago, New Zealand, 2019 Misha’s Vineyard Wines Pinot Noir The High Note. Mid-ruby, some viscosity (14.0 alc.); red fruit, strawberry, stemmy Pinot nose; mid+ acids; medium tannins, fruit; semi-long tight, slightly hot Pinot finish. w/salmon. 16/90.

    Roar 2018 Pinot Noir

  • Santa Lucia Highlands, Calif., 2018 Roar Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard ($60 in May 2020). Mid-ruby, ruby edges, some viscosity (14.9 alc.); red fruit, cedar, raspberry, pomegranate nose; mid-plus acids; mid-plus tannins; full alcohol; long, deep red fruit and wood finish. w/veal saltimbocca. 17/92.
  • Willamette Valley, Oregon favorite 2018 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve ($81). Sharp mid-ruby, viscous (14.5 alc.); red fruit, cherry, strawberry jam, wood, light floral nose; mid-plus acids; medium-plus tannins; deep fruit; long red fruit and wood finish. 17/92.
  • Dundee Hills, Oregon, 2018 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noir Jory Hills Vineyard, $40. Mid-dark garnet (darker than most Pinots); viscous (14.5 alc.); red fruit, stemmy, Pinot nose; some floral, wood; mid+ acids; medium full tannins; bigger style Pinot; long hot chewy finish. 16-16.5/90-91.
  • Santa Lucia Highlands, 2018 Clarice Wine Company Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard, $75. Mid-ruby, ruby edges, viscous (14.1 alc.); not sharp; red fruit, cherry, wood, light stemmy nose; mid+ acids; medium tannins, body; long, chalky, jammy, semi-hot red fruit finish. 16.5-17/91-92.
  • $22 Chile Pinot Noir, 2017 Clos des Fous Pinot Noir Subsollum. Light ruby, amber edges, some viscosity (13.8 alc.); complex red fruit, raspberry, light wood nose; softening acids; low-medium tannins; balanced; good Pinot flavor; long red fruit finish. 16-16.5/90-91.
  • Oregon value 2017 Ribbon Ridge Winery Pinot Noir ($18, WTSO). Mid-garnet, ruby edges, some viscosity (13.8 alc.); red and black fruit, hyacinth, cherry nose; mid-plus acids; mid-plu tannins; some depth; bigger style; long red fruit and wood finish. 16-16.5/90-91.
  • Sta. Rita Hills, Calif., 2016 Melville Pinot Noir Estate ($26 in 2020). Set aside wines from this AVA to try over time, including values. Mid ruby, pink edges, viscous (14.0 alc.); red fruit, cherry, rose petal, Pinot nose, hint of wood; balanced; softening acids, tannins; long red fruit and wood finish. w/salmon. 16/90.
  • Sta. Rita Hills, Calif., 2013 Bonaccorsi Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard ($36 in 2016). Similar to other notes. Fun to try with a little more age. Light-mid ruby, brick-amber edges; red fruit, stemmy Pinot Noir nose; strawberries, light oak; low-mid acids; softening tannins; good Pinot fruit; long semi-lush semi-hot (13.8 alc.) finish. w/pork. 17/92.
  • Santa Maria Valley, Calif., 2013 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Block G Bien Nacido Vineyard, $26 (Jan. 2022 offering from local merchant). Light-mid ruby, brick edges, some viscosity (13.8 alc.); light red fruit nose, stemmy (whole cluster fermentation?), wood, rose petal, opens with air;  low-mid acids; softening tannins; balanced; elegant Pinot Noir finish. 16.5-17/91-92.
  • Nicely evolving Sonoma Valley Pinot 2012 Hanzell Pinot Noir. Pale brick, amber edges, viscous (14.5 alc.); red fruit, leather, dried leaves, rose petal nose; mid-plus acids; medium tannins and depth; long, balanced, slightly hot finish. 16.5-17/91-92.