2009 Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir Vintner's Reserve 13.5% $17

Fairly herbal on the nose. Not intensely but noticeably herbal before chocolate and blackberry notes become more obvious. This is smooth as silk in the mouth with integrated acidity and soft tannins embedded in rich yet not particularly intense blackberry, black cherry and currant fruit. There's a nice dollop of vanilla spice ice cream on the back end, then more black cherry and vanilla ice cream flavors on the modest finish. Lots of easy appeal. 87pts

2010 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir Mendocino 13.5% $18

Made with organic grapes

Smokey and sharp on the nose with some jammy raspberry fruit and floral top notes over an interesting base of perfumed wood and fragrant herb notes, with some juniper and pine nut accents. Lightweight and fresh on entry, this reveals juicy acidity and some tight grained tannins in the mouth to support slightly spicy, wood influenced flavors of cherry pie crust and dried herbs. There's a touch of heat here balanced by a gentle sweetness to the fruit, which finishes on a note of strawberry cream and allspice. 87pts

2009 Cambria Pinot Noir Julia's Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 14.5% $19

Slightly balsamic and beefy on the nose with juniper- and vanilla-topped sliced plum fruit. Rather smooth on entry and a little compact in the mouth with milk chocolate-framed red cherry and red plum fruits on the palate. There's a nice accent of wood spice adding some detail here, though it turns into a more assertive cedary overlay on the back end. The tannins pop a bit on the finish cutting it a bit short. This does show a hint of heat. 87pts

2010 Wine by Joe Pinot Noir Oregon 13.5% $17    

Sassafras, raspberry, almond shell and a bit of vanilla all come out on the nose to be joined by a little gardenia and some beetroot. This is lightweight and pretty in the mouth with early notes of waxy perfume and soft red fruits in the mouth. The tannins are airy and light, balanced by solid if integrated acidity. A pretty light weight wine with pure cherry and raspberry fruit that is awfully easy to drink. 86pts

2011 Napa Cellars Pinot Noir Napa Valley 13.9% $20    

Fresh lavender- and spice-framed blueberry aromas greet the nose with some toasty oak spiciness. This feels a touch sweet in the mouth with plump blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors on the palate that show flashes of floral and very gentle oak spices. More slightly syrupy blueberry fruit pops on the back end with some cedary wood edges, which clip the finish. Easy to drink, plump but simple. 86pts

2010 Carmel Road Pinot Noir 13.5% $17
Certified Sustainable Monterey

This smells a touch heavy with plums and forest floor aromas on the nose with a light dandelion green top note. A bit chunky in the mouth, this also seems a bit soft, which may make it appear sweeter than it is. The flavors of black cherry add complicating notes of black olive and toasted nuts on the mid-palate and then a hint of toasted marshmallow on the back end.The finish is a bit dry and shows some vanilla streaks over light sour cherry fruit. This lacks some energy and definition in the mouth and never really gets going in the glass. 85pts

2010 Wakefield Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills 14% $17    

Very floral and astringent on the nose with crazy aromas of sneaker rubber, yellow wild flowers, eucalyptus, bricky earth and oatmeal, all over exotic, pomegranate seed-inflected red berry fruit. This enters the mouth with some tension from the considerable tannin structure. The cherry fruit shows a slightly burnished quality with herbal background notes and brick red earth adding complexity. This really turns tannic on the finish, which is rustic and coarse and not fruity enough or intensely flavored enough to help handle all the drying tannins. To boot, there's a little heat here as well. 80pts

2010 Pali Pinot Noir Riviera Sonoma Coast 14.7%  $20    

This is a bit high toned with fine herb and floral aromas over strawberry fruit and fragrant French oak, though it does show some heat on the nose. There's a lot to this wine, too much for the lowish acidity and soft tannins to handle. The alcohol sticks out early in the mouth and the fruit lacks freshness and seems to be a bit cooked. The alcohol really becomes obtrusive on the back end and onto the short, bitter finish. 78pts