It’s the holiday season and everyone is recommending Pinot Noir again. What is it with folks, do they just like to take the path of least resistance? Will there come a day when Pinot is not the end all of holiday wine recommendations?
 
Probably not. Lambrusco and Blaufrankisch have a whole set of issues that will prevent them from ever garnering the type of slavish following Pinot Noir enjoys. In truth, there is good reason for that. People just enjoy Pinot more.
 
Why they enjoy Pinot is up for debate, but the bottom line is that well made Pinot Noir combines intensity of flavor with a lightness of being that is both intellectually stimulating for those who give a hoot and broadly appealing. I think the biggest issue with Pinot Noir tends to be acidity, as it is too high for some with certain wines yet too low for some in others.
 
Other than that, Pinot Noir tends to be a drinker’s dream as it is generally neither too tannic nor too alcoholic. On that second point, I am open to a debate. The wine has a generally fruity profile that is easy to appreciate yet that is often matched by nuanced, savory elements and in some cases, a real expression of terroir that is hard to match.
 
And it goes pretty well with food, too! That’s why when the holidays roll around, the Pinot recommendations roll out. Here’s a wine that most people have some familiarity with, that can be as party-friendly or geek-friendly as you might like, and that can pair at the table with everything from salmon to steak with some certainty that it will not ruin a holiday feast.

Pinot Noir image via ShutterstockI don’t know if I’m taking the path of least resistance here or just appealing to popular opinion, but I’m jumping in with both feet. On the following pages, you’ll find lists of the top recently tasted Pinot Noir wines at a variety of price points. If you’re looking for real value, check out the selection from last week, which features notes of wines priced at $15 and under. There’s something to like at each price point with surprises at all levels, so it’s worth taking a look at them all. You never know when a well-priced wine might knock your socks off and be just the right wine for the right time!

Pinot Noir Under $15

Pinot Noir $15-$20

Pinot Noir $20-$30

Pinot Noir $30-$40

Pinot Noir $40-$50

Top Value Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir $15-$20


2010 Praxis Pinot Noir Monterey County 13.5% $19

A touch dull on the nose with meaty base notes, spicy blackberry pie fruit and hints of pine and raspberry emerging with air. This enters the mouth with real polish and more freshness than the nose promises. The fruit has a lovely woodsy edge to it, slightly brambly blackberry with an undercurrent of strawberry and lovely, nuanced herb and spice notes. The oak becomes a touch more apparent with time but never dominates the palate, which shows complex flashes of cherry pit fruit, some slate minerality, a touch of blue fruit on the back end and a really nice fresh yet firm finish. 90pts

2009 Brophy Clark Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 13.5% $20


There's a lot going on in the glass here, with sweetness from candied black cherry fruit meeting a little beefy edge and showing off integrated notes of earth, white mushroom and candied citrus zest. Quite refined in the mouth, this doesn't show much in the way of acid or tannin, but it does fill the mouth with almost tactile intensity. The fruit is complex with a medicinal base note, some floral extract notes and bitter black cherry all coming together to deliver subtle complexity. The finish is a touch short but it does have a lovely melange of beetroot and medicinal spice notes. This is a little outside the box for Pinot as it is a bit tougher in some ways with an unusual flavor profile, but it is quite interesting and a pleasure to drink. 90pts

2010 Talbott Pinot Noir Kali Hart Monterey 14.2% $17    

Very fruity and fresh on the nose. Strong strawberry fruit is set off by hints of roasted rhubarb and raw beef, topped with a subtle hint of vanilla wood spice. Smooth in the mouth, this is well integrated and shows pretty intense flavors of blackberry and black cherry fruit that's full of nuanced, bitter and medicinal herb and vegetal notes. The back end firms up a bit and the structure adds nice energy to the moderately long finish, which shows wonderful sliced plum and blackberry fruit. There's a hint of heat here but it doesn't detract too much. 89pts

2010 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir Mendocino 14% $20
Made with organic grapes

Reticent on the nose with plug tobacco and forest floor notes that are joined by floral accents, a hint of truffle and lively red cherry, strawberry, lime and violet aromas. There's a touch of coffee early on the palate, then this pops open to reveal plenty of nuanced strawberry, blueberry and earth-inflected fruit flavors. This has an open knit yet transparent texture with a faint creaminess around the edges and gentle suggestions of lightly creamy oak spice. The finish shows a bit of heat but also reveals a light mineral nuance, some fine earthy herb base notes and slightly candied strawberry fruit. Lovely texture and restrain here. 89pts

2010 Valley of the Moon Pinot Noir Carneros 13.5% $20

A bit low key on the nose with layers of vanilla, berries, a bit of Bovril brothiness, and a base of black currant fruit. If it weren't for the fact that this has plenty of acid and its intense fruit isn't sweet, I might be tempted to call it a fruit bomb. There's a ton of fruit here, with dry wild blackberry and lightly gamy blueberry wrapped in a subtle layer of wood spice and dried mushrooms. The tannins show themselves on the finish and while they are noticeable, they really aren't pronounced, allowing the dried mushroom and huckleberry fruit to extend over the modest finish. The texture is the most appealing part: focused, a bit edgy and with palate-saturating flavor yet no sticky weight. This just needs a bit more elegance to make it complete. 89pts

2010 Don & Sons Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 13.9% $17

Tight on the nose and vaguely chalky early on with emerging notes of used briarwood pipe, beetroot and strawberry rhubarb pie. Rather well behaved in the mouth, this shows nice restraint to the medicinal-toned black cherry and dusty beetroot flavors. There's a bit of mineral that pops on the back end, along with hints of strawberry pie and dried herbs that gain a bit of root beer on the moderately long and very gently spicy finish. There's a nice purity to this. The fruit flavor profile is not typical Pinot, being more minty and medicinal, but it is well presented. 88pts

2009 Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast 14.3% $20
    

Nicely stemmy and lightly vegetal on the nose with aromas that recall strawberry and carrot tops. There's a lovely hint of spicy wood here that really sets off the lightly smoky raspberry and strawberry fruit. A bit chunky early on, this is soft and broad in the mouth with faint mocha accents to the rather intense blackberry and black plum skin fruit of the mid-palate. There's impressive intensity to the fruit and the wine remains firm and focused in the mouth with nice cut on the back end and right through the lightly mineral, dry fruited finish. Not complex but intense and decisive in the mouth, with lovely freshness to the tannins. 88pts

2010 Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 13.5% $20

This is oaky and spicy on the nose with a deep nutty element and steely accents to the wooly, wild berry frutti del bosco core. This is deceptively structured. It is nicely lightweight yet bright and tannic. There's a lovely streak of wild cherry and strawberry fruit early on the palate that's joined by well measured wood spice on the mid-palate. The tannin builds up a bit on the finish, cutting it a bit short. There's a bit too much oak on the nose and finish, but the texture and underlying wine are lovely. A year in the cellar might be rewarding. 88pts

2010 Kramer Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Yamhill-Carlton District 13.5% $20

Not very aromatic, this builds up in the glass with classic raspberry and sage aromas associated with Oregon Pinot. It's fairly spicy in a floral/herbal way and has a lovely note of arugula at its core. This enters the mouth showing excellent integration with a sweet edged ribbon of black cherry and lingonberry fruit opening on the mid-palate, but then the tannins become more obvious and a touch aggressive. The fruit is lovely and has hints of stones, earth and blueberries adding complexity before the tannins add a touch of woodiness to the earthy finish. This could come around nicely with another year in the bottle, but today it needs some fatty food. 88pts



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


Pinot Noir $20-$30


2010 Nautilus Pinot Noir Marlborough 14% $28    

Lightly smoky and stemmy, this shows hints of oak and dried herbs over red berry fruit. Fruity on entry with mineral-laced red cherry flavors that pick up some nutty oak on the mid-palate and hints of herbs and a touch of beetroot on the back end. This is rather vivid and decidedly fruit driven, though it does pick up a touch of noticeable oak on the long finish along with a wash of savory tannins that serve as contrast to the fruit of the palate. That fruit, succulent and bright sour cherries and raspberries, does outlast the oak right through to the bright finale. Yummy. 92pts    

2010 Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir Grand Assemblage Willamette Valley 13.5% $24

Sandy soil and lightly loamy aromas greet the nose followed by hints of sage and cardamom over light yet fragrant wild berry fruits. This is deceptively lightweight in the mouth with terrific intensity of flavors that are supported by vibrant acids and soft, ripe tannins. The flavors are intense yet somehow a touch ephemeral with layers of blueberry skins, wild raspberry, cranberry, licorice, violet extract, a touch of India ink and some lovely mineral and pollen notes on the moderately long, zesty finish. This really lovely and would probably show even better with the right food. I love the structure here, firm but not intrusive in any way. 91pts

2010 Lange Estate Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 13.2% $24

Woodsy, autumnal and lightly chalky on the nose with hints of woodsmoke, hung game and herbs wrapping a core of raspberry and black raspberry fruit. This is fairly zesty with acidity on entry, then the fruit quickly fills out on the palate with lightly gamy edges and handfuls of earthy herb mixed in with a core of pure and lively raspberry and sour cherry fruit. This is ripe yet dry and a bit nervy with a long, apricot-laced raspberry coulis finish that ends with a pop of spice on the finale. Lovely complexity and balance. 91pts

2010 Carabella Winery Pinot Noir Plowbuster Willamette Valley 13% $ 22

Mineral and rusty notes greet the nose followed by gently spicy nettle notes and fine raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, all topped with a hint of woodsmoke. This enters the mouth with a fine combination of elegant richness and vibrancy. The fruit is shaded towards the black end of the spectrum; lightly black cherry and black raspberry are underpinned by nice mineral notes and slightly savory tannins. A real mineral note on the back end drives onto the intense finish with layers of fresh berry fruit and subtle shavings of bitter chocolate with a hint of cinnamon spice on the finale. This throws a party in your mouth, the kind of Pinot a smokey salmon might love. 90pts

2010 Pali Pinot Noir Huntington Santa Barbara County 14.6% $22


Herbal, spicy and gently astringent on the nose, this offers up cedary oak with spicy plum fruit topped with violet notes. Round and a bit plummy yet firm in the mouth, there's a lot of flavor to be found here. Rich, earthy blueberry and blackcurrant fruit flavors cover herb, mushroom and cola flavors. The wine turns really focused and quite tight on the back end and through the long finish, which shows lovely intensity and freshness to the fruit. The oak adds nice perfumes in the mouth but otherwise is quite discrete. A rather sophisticated Pinot that will benefit from a year or two in the cellar. 89pts

2010 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 14.5% $25

This is a little tight on the nose with clean, focused oak aromas balanced by cut plum and black cherry fruit. There's a lot of wine here, though it's not at all heavy. Gentle mocha shadings greet the palate with a nicely integrated structural elements supporting the black cherry and lightly plummy fruit on the palate. There are some strawberry yogurt notes on the back end along with some peppery wood spice that draws out the strawberry candy and black cherry-toned finish. Not rustic but perhaps a bit of a throw back style. Has its appeal, though. 89pts

2010 Stoller Pinot Noir JV Estate Dundee Hills $25    

This is lovely on the nose with perfumes of candied raspberries and light background spice notes all wrapped up in a lightly earthy blanket, with flashes of subtle wood spice adding further detail. This has a nice roundness to it in the mouth, though it remains vibrant and fairly tense. The cherry fruit has a lovely bitter/sweet thing going on and gains nuances of older wood, earth and gentle spice notes with air. This turns more tender in the mouth with a bit more oak on the back end and through the finish, where the fruit shows off beetroot and cranberry notes. This is a real crowd pleaser, novices and enthusiasts alike will enjoy it. 89pts

2011 Decoy Pinot Noir Sonoma County 13.9% $22    

This shows off a little cherry Lifesaver on the nose over attractive blueberry, roasted herb and well judged cedar wood spice aromas. Round and lush in the mouth, this offers up bitter chocolate and licorice-nuanced bitter black cherry fruit on the palate. The texture is rather fine and supple, certainly very attractive, and the fruit is well presented if a little simple. This does drop a bit on the finish. 88pts

2010 Pali Pinot Noir Alphabets Willamette Valley 13.5%    $22


Fragrant notes of raspberry fruit, chalk, astringent root vegetables and minty green herb greet the nose. This enters the mouth with lovely herbal nuances followed by fresh, tart raspberry flavors and a gentle hint of old wood. This is tense and nervous in the mouth yet with an incipient smoothness. It's a classic blend of ripe fruit and herbal complexity in a lightly spicy, medium-bodied package. 88pts

2009 Brophy Clark Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 14.2% $23


A little tight on the nose, this shows a fairly significant oak influence though the wood isn't spicy or particularly toasty. There's some lurking black fruit and licorice base notes as well. Supple and broad in the mouth, this retains nice transparency on the palate without being particularly bright and delivers a nice blend of blackberry, cherry, mint and licorice flavors that pick up more green herb and light woody notes on the back end. The finish shows a nice sweetness to the black cherry fruit, balancing out the slightly bitter, licorice flavors and wood tannins. Would be better with food. 88pts



2010 Darcie Kent Vineyards Pinot Noir Rava Blackjack Vineyard Monterey 14.5% $24


This is pungent and focused if a bit on the candied side of the aromatic spectrum, with sweet vanilla and creme caramel notes wrapped in spicy oak, candied cherry and wild blackberry fruit. Round and intense on entry, this delivers terrific blueberry fruit right up front with a nice base of spicy wood and tannins that remain mostly covered in the mouth. There's some strawberry vanilla ice cream notes on the back end that lead into a somewhat spicy finish, which shows a touch of heat. A pretty big wine that remains fairly fresh with intense flavors that are ultimately a bit simple. 88pts

2010 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 14.5% $27

This is fairly oaky on the nose and obviously so, with nice cherry fruit under the oak along with a hint of river stone and some vanilla bean. Smooth and understated, though with a certain richness in the mouth. This builds quickly, showing off dark cherry fruit backed up with noticeable tannins and creamy, toasty oak. The fruit takes on flashes of raspberry on the mid-palate and the spice integrates well then returns along with a wash of wood tannin on the moderately long, slightly sticky and hot finish. This will prove to be very popular but it's a touch clumsy with the oak for me. 88pts

2009 Torii Mor Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Select Dundee Hills OR 13.9% $27

Earth and forest floor on the nose with a nuance of oak and some small, red berry fruit. Rather light on entry, this is smooth with a nice underlay of dusty if fine grained tannins. The fruit is a bit shy, earthy and raspberry toned with a nice rusty edge. The finish is quite mineral-driven with minty inner mouth perfumes and decent length. This is subtle and rather elegant with good freshness and perfumes in the mouth, though it is a bit shy in the fruit department today. 88pts

2010 Schug Pinot Noir Carneros 13.5% $28

Oaky and herbal on the nose with attractive bitter almond nuances and some smokey, almost meaty top notes over stony cranberry and raspberry fruit. Very smooth and supple in the mouth, this is soft and round with lovely cherry, red currant and raspberry fruit flavors backed up by well judged oak spice and a nice hint of wild herbs. The finish reveals a hint of tannin adding a touch of texture, but is otherwise long and driven by cranberry, apple and raspberry fruit that shows a hint of minerality. Finishes with a bit of spice and sweet red cherry fruit. 88pts

2010 La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey County 13.5% $21    

Lightly briary blackberry fruits greet the nose along with hints of flowers, blueberries and some cigar wrapper tobacco. This is a plump little wine with earthy and bacon fat-framed flavors of raspberry and plum on the palate. The tannins are fine grained and offer gentle support to the fruit, which turns earthier and a little spicy on the back end before finishing with a wash of plum skin and charcoal. Shows a little heat on the finish. 87pts

2010 Pali Pinot Noir Bluffs Russian River Valley 15.3% $22


Fairly intense aromatic of balsamic- and cola-tinted blackberry and blueberry fruits dominates the nose early on, joined by milk chocolate and toasty oak aromas with some air. This is velvety smooth in the mouth with integrated structural elements that support chocolate- and mocha-toned blackberry fruits on the palate. This is a fairly big wine and the acidity is a touch low, making it a little matte in the mouth. There's also some noticeable heat on the finish, but this does have nice, ripe flavors of chocolate and black fruit with a hint of ivy. 87pts

2010 Talbott Pinot Noir Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Ca 14.9% $22


A touch of tobacco adds a fragrant top note over notes of shaved chocolate, lightly peppery spice, plum and wild strawberry fruit. Light and a bit soft in the mouth, this offers up a smooth, easy going texture that is broad on the palate and delivers deep plummy fruit with hints of wild blackberry and gentle wood spice tones. The fruit is a touch simple but nicely presented, fading a bit abruptly on the relatively modest finish. 87pts

2010 Ponzi Pinot Noir Tavola Willamette Valley 13.5% $24


Light if pure raspberry fruit greets the nose along with smoky hints of dried herbs, candied root vegetables and a hint of peppery spice. This is a touch chunky and shows some heft on its modest frame. There's actually a lot of fruit here that gives the impression of being slightly sweet, yet the bright acidity and gently raspy tannins keep this feeling dry and even a bit on the rustic side. The tannins pop a bit on the finish as well, with a woody dryness to them that accentuates the hint of spice on the fairly modest finish. 87pts

2009 Scott Family Estate Pinot Noir Dijon Clone Arroyo Seco 14.9% $25


Lots of crushed blackberries and clay greet the nose followed by some spicy oak and barbecue sauce nuances. Pretty bright and fresh on entry with very fine-grained, stiff tannins underpinning a rather big if slightly blousey core of blueberry fruit. This shows off a bit of spice on the mid-palate, which remains quite dry and firm. Gains some cashew nut nuances on the back end that melt into oak and red currant fruit on the moderately long, slightly hot finish. A big, fairly simple wine but a little hollow in the mouth. 87pts

2010 Pali Pinot Noir Summit Santa Rita Hills 15.5% $27


A bit inky on the nose with some earthy, oaky base notes and smoky herbs under hard mineral and black fruit aromas. This is intense. It's soft, creamy and a bit heavy in the mouth with a base of oak drenched in slightly tarry, raisin, black cherry and dried blackberry fruit. There's a nice brambly array of inner mouth perfumes here on the mid-palate along with late arriving strawberry preserves and herb flavors that bring a hint of heat as well. This is smooth and powerful but doesn't really have much of a finish other than a bit of alcoholic burn, with hints of clove and allspice. 87pts


Pinot Noir $30-$40


2009 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Russian River Selection 14.3% $37

Intensely perfumed and a bit unusual on the nose with a fresh leather base and gentle, sweet floral perfumes over a core of slightly meaty, black cherry/blackberry fruit. There's a hint of smoke and some underlying oak nuances but they are very well integrated. This has fantastic depth of flavor with flavors that mimic the nose: rich dark berry fruits, black cherry skins, a hint of herb and some slightly creamy, lightly toasted and nutty almond ice cream, nutty oak notes in a rather aromatic package. There's an exotic pomegranate edge to the fruit in the mouth and violet pastilles on the back end. The finish shows more wood and wood spice and the fruit shades a bit redder but this is long and deep. Already delicious, there is notable potential for this to improve. Elegant, complex and complete. 93pts  

2009 Lange Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Reserve 13.6% $32    

A hint of nutty smokiness greets the nose followed by a handful of dirty, freshly dug herbs. This smells powerful and savory with a slightly roasted base note of strawberries with a hint of pomegranate seed and orange pith. This enters the mouth with deceptive focus and then slowly unfurls across the palate with vibrant layers of mineral, wild blueberry, wild strawberry and slightly minty dried herb flavors. There's perfectly integrated acidity along with a base of slightly angular tannins that work as the perfect counterpoint to the sweet impression of fruit this delivers on the palate. On the back end, the wine regains focus, bringing back the herbal elements, bay leaf and sage from the nose. The finish whipsaws back to a remarkably focused presentation with taut red berry fruit that shows a refreshing hint of astringency and austere, mineral-laden length. 92pts

2010 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 14.9% $35

Tight, almost rosebud-like notes greet the nose along with hints of melon, roasting coffee beans and briary wood, all over some lightly jammy raspberry fruit. This is very intense in the mouth with saturating flavors of cherry, carob, nutty oak and macerated herbs. There's a real energy to this, but it's full of New World style. Plenty of oak and wood tannins are balanced by decent acidity, intense wild raspberry and creamy, vanilla-laced black cherry fruit. The finish is long and powerful with tannins and some stickiness contributing to the length, ending with some spicy, almost beefy notes. This is a powerhouse of a wine. Love it or hate it, it does what it does quite well. 92pts

2009 Trione Pinot Noir River Road Ranch Russian River Valley Ca 14.2% $35

Tight and subdued on the nose with hints of leather, pork fat, hoisin and sandy soil that are replaced by more familiar raspberry, vanilla and cola with hickory nut oak and floral top notes. Still very complex and intriguing. Very smooth on entry with good structural elements underpinning the juicy tart cherry and strawberry fruit. Air brings out some leathery nuances and a good bit of spice as well. Violets, green anise seed and something vaguely citric add detail to the palate. This tightens up on the back end to turn a touch tannic and hard on the long, cranberry/raspberry finish that shows a nicely integrated veneer of fresh oak. This is a lot of wine but it's very well balanced and long. Fruit driven for sure but there's plenty of detail as well. 92pts

2009 Claiborne & Churchill Pinot Noir Edna Valley 13.5% $30

Very pretty on the nose with a fine blend of herbal notes, a veneer of coffee oak and fine wild red berry fruit. Air brings out more of the oak, which gets a touch heavy handed. A fine balance of acidity and slightly woody tannins lends this a bit of tension in the mouth, with very pretty herb-inflected red cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate. The wood is a touch more obvious than I would prefer, obscuring some of the detail of the fruit, but this fruit is so lively, fresh and aromatic in the mouth that I don't mind it too much. This shows very precise and fresh herbal nuances in the mouth as the fruit gains more of a cranberry tone to it. A little chocolate and cream pop on the back end. The tangy, tart fruit returns on the moderately long finish, though you can sense the oak under the fruit. A very happy wine. 91pts

2010 Cornerstone Oregon Pinot Noir Stepping Stone Willamette Valley OR 13.5% $30

Fragrant on the nose with gently spicy and milky notes of wood popping over hints of black raspberry and red cherry fruit that shows a touch of a camphor, minty edge. Bright and a bit spiky on entry, this shows some lovely ripe fruit tannins in the mouth along with firm if well integrated acidity. The fruit is fresh and deep though it shows admirable restraint in the mouth, picking up nuanced earth, oak and herbal notes across the palate. The finish shows a bit more wood as the tannins shift to the back of the palate and this picks up a hint of licorice to go along with the tart red cherry and raspberry fruit. Subtle and elegant, this is a rather refined Pinot in need of the right cuisine to show its best. I'm thinking veal and morels in cream sauce. 91pts

2009 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley OR 14.2% $30

Candied and a bit toasty on the nose with hints of root beer and beetroot along with vanilla over a base of lightly peachy, candied bitter cherry fruit. This is light and tense on the palate with very transparent flavors of bitter cherry fruit over dried herbs, chalky soil tones, a touch of rust and stones and a bit of beetroot. Almost beefy on the mid-palate, this remains taut and underpinned by stiff little tannins. There's a strong savory, dried herb, dried mushroomy overlay to the flavors here which lends this a Burgundian quality. This finishes with snap, focus and good length to boot. Not going to be a crowd pleaser but this is really well put together if this is your style. 90pts



2010 Hop Kiln Pinot Noir HK Russian River Valley Ca 14.4% $34

This is decidedly tight on the nose with a base of earthy oak, upon which are layered notes of pollen, beetroot, black cherry fruit, burnt toast and violet floral top notes. Lush on entry and fairly large scaled, if well balanced and not heavy. There's a rush of sweetness from oak here along with caramel and coffee undertones to the black cherry fruit of the palate. The tannins build up a bit to add some density and the flavors get more complex on the back end, showing off hints of vanilla and slightly minty medicinal spice. Yields to black cherry and toasty oak-laden finish that's pretty long. Well done in its style. 90pts

2010 Willakenzie Pinot Noir Estate Cuvee Willamette Valley 13.5% $30

Very aromatic if a bit on the stemmy side with light Rainier cherry aromas and a hint of Vosne-like spice. This dances across the palate. Lightweight and wonderfully balanced, it delivers sweet cherry fruit that's framed with hints of herbs and a gentle green spice note. The finish shows more cherry fruit, perhaps with a suggestion of vanilla. The acidity here refreshes the palate and the tannins float by like ghosts, making this joyously fun to drink. It's not terribly complex but it is pretty. And that texture, oh that texture! 89pts

2011 Cross Barn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.5% $35

Coffee bean, vanilla and smoky herb notes top the slightly oaky core of strawberry and tart cherry fruit that shows a hint of orange oil. This is smooth and polished in the mouth with nice tension. Even though the acidity and tannins are firm, the wine is rather soft and suave with a hint of sweetness, perhaps from the oak. That sweetness helps to buffer the structure and supports bright blackberry and cherry fruit on the palate. The finish tightens up a bit and becomes more tannic and sharp from the acidity as the fruit fades from center stage. This is young and tough today. While it's noticeably oaky, time should soften the edges and allow the core of fruit to become more expressive. Shows some heat on the finish. 88pts

2009 Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 13.6% $32

A hint of stem greets the nose along with peppery floral notes and flecks of almost flinty minerality. This is bright and juicy in the mouth with slightly creamy flavors of cranberry and raspberry that are streaked with sharp mineral notes and lightly stemmy tannins that add a bit of dried herb character. There's a real pop of fruit on the back end, with the tannins serving to keep everything balanced. The finish is long and slightly tacky with all the fruit. Very easy to drink but a bit simple. Still, this should be very popular. 88pts

2009 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Meredith Mitchell Vineyard McMinnville 14% $38


Crazy on the nose with early notes of horseradish, beetroot, sweet black raspberry fruit and loads of peppery spice along with intense green tea and chamomile aromas. This shows more fruit on the palate though it remains edged in an earthy, slightly spicy and almost vegetal filigree. The tannins are a bit aggressive on the mid-palate with juicy acidity helping the wild blackberry fruit to pop on the otherwise earthy mid-palate. Shows hints of mineral and shiitake on the back end and over onto the moderately long finish. The tannins are a bit forceful on the finish but the fruit sticks around. A divisive wine with funky aromas and a certain rusticity or honesty in the mouth. This is a love or hate wine. 88pts

2010 Talbott Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands CA 14.9% $35

A bit spicy and tarry on the nose with hints of poppy seeds and violets over deep plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruit. This is rather large scaled on entry, though it does expand in the mouth to gain a lighter feel. There's some chocolate and a vaguely toasty nuance early on the palate followed by jammy strawberry fruit. This is a bit simple and a touch tannic at the moment, but it does have some cut to it and finishes with decent length to the strawberry and cedar flavors. 87pts

2009 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, Mendocino Ca 14.1% $36


Fairly fragrant and yet steely on the nose with mineral, floral and gentle oak nuances framing red cherry fruit with a touch of framing spice. Smooth and small scaled on entry, this shows some nice richness on the mid-palate along with a touch of heat. The alcohol accentuates the spicy wood elements here, which help to frame the burnished cherry and raspberry fruit along with some chocolate edges. While fairly well integrated, this lacks some depth. Alcohol and spice notes dominate the fruit on the moderately long finish. Maybe this just needs some time, but it's certainly not doing it for me today. 86pts


Pinot Noir $40-$50


2009 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton OR 13.5% $42

Light and fresh on the nose with fresh wood base notes and gently sweet aromas of blackberry, huckleberry and candied wild cherry. With air, more perfumey oak emerges here but it's still quite subtle. This enters the mouth with decisive, bright and cutting acidity to the fore followed by a lovely and intense mouthful of dried herbs, orange rind, sour cherry and cranberry fruit. The tannins here have a bit of a raw feel to them and need some food or a year or two in the cellar to help them resolve a bit, but this is so fresh and unfettered in the mouth that it is already a pleasure to drink. The finish is dry, minerally and reminiscent of old wood spread with wild raspberry jam that pops on the finale. 93pts

2009 Alysian Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard Rock Hill Russian River Valley 13.9% $45

Very clear, lightly nutty and smoky wild cherry and raspberry fruit on the nose with emerging floral and wood spice tones. Super well balanced in the mouth with tart fruit flavors that mask some of the acidity. There are ripe tannins underpinning everything and wonderfully framed wild cherry and raspberry fruit that shows hints of orange oil and vanilla on the back end. This finishes with great intensity of flavor and length. Orange oil shows up again to top strawberry fruit with slow to emerge, almost nutty nuances. Maybe a touch of toasted almond from the oak but otherwise the wood plays very much of a supporting role here. 93pts

2010 Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 13.6% $45    

Intense and a bit meaty on the nose with a fruity and slightly jammy blend of vanilla,  strawberry cream and black cherry cola aromas, wrapped with notes of alderwood and candied violets. Zesty with bright acidity and a really well integrated, smooth texture in the mouth. This is light- to medium-bodied because of the brightness of the acidity, even though the fruit is explosively rich and perhaps a touch sticky on the palate. Red plums and candied cherry come together on the palate along with hints of vanilla and cranberry/rhubarb compote. This finishes with just as much energy and brightness as it displays on the palate and just enough tannin to keep it grounded and focused through the finish. This is damn fun to drink and delicious. 93pts

2009 Joseph Jewell Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley 13.8% $42

Lots of oak, cut plum and black raspberry fruit greet the nose with accents of hazelnuts and cocoa adding complexity. A touch soft on entry, this packs in plenty of fresh and intense flavor. The oak imprint promised by the nose never really develops and instead the fruit, with its cut plums, fine herb notes and slightly leathery, dried spice aspects, pretty much fills the mouth. On the mid-palate, there are flashes of black cherry and black raspberry wrapped in vanilla and dusted with a hint of allspice. The finish is a bit of a let down. It is clean and fresh with late arriving hints of wood tannin and spice accenting the plummy fruit, but it is a touch short. Scratch that, 30 minutes later and the finish is already much longer. Smooth, balanced and bright, this should prove to be quite popular. 92pts

2010 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.5% $40

Herby and leafy on the nose though with powerful base notes of dry soil, lightly toasted oak and meaty, spicy black fruit. Almost silken in the mouth, this is an iron fist in a velvet glove, though it is a dainty fist. This has wonderful depth and tension to it, very well balanced and wrapped with a deep yet fresh layer of cherry and ripe herb fruit. Everything is in balance and in proportion, at least if you don't mind a little extra dry extract in your Pinot. Still there is no heaviness here, just a hint of alcohol. This finishes with the same drive and purity it shows on the palate. This is delicious and refined. 92pts    

2009 Torii Mor Pinot Noir Deux Verres Reserve Willamette Valley 13.9% $40

This is lovely on the nose with a slightly roasted sweetness to otherwise fresh and bright red fruit. Shows a touch of plum in its profile along with engaging mineral, old wood and lightly smoky roasted herb accents and just a hint of a vanilla top note. This is seamless in the mouth with juicy acidity and polished tannins forming an invisible framework for the lightly burnished cherry and strawberry fruit. Slow to emerge hints of woodsy spice, faint floral tones and a touch of meatiness all come together to build excellent depth of flavor for a wine that doesn't feel massive but is mouth-filling and supple. The fruit lifts on the finish leaving a gauze of clear raspberry fruit through which you can make out suggestions of old wood, faint herbs, soil tones and a hint of spice. This is seductive. 92pts

2010 Dobbes Family Estate Pinot Noir Skipper's Cuvee Rogue Valley OR 14.1% $43

Mineral earth and a light underlayment of oak support a tart, cherry pie filling style of fruit with minty and blueberry top notes. This is pretty big in the mouth but remains fairly lightweight. I think the modestly high alcohol adds to the impression of richness here, but the intensity of the flavors are undeniable. While the nose shows quite subtle wood spice, it's more obvious in the mouth, coming together with gentle hints of herb, coffee and mineral to create real complexity. The dark berry fruits take on shadings of blueberries and watermelon. The finish shows more tension with fine-grained, dusty tannins and sapid acidity accenting a bit of espresso foam over astringent red fruits. This is intense and fairly elegant though for my palate, it shows a bit too much oak. 92pts

2010 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton 13% $43

Herbal and medicinal on the nose with sweetly nuanced, tight wild berry fruits and hints of juniper and sage. Round and soft in the mouth, but not from a lack of acidity. This just has a languid if juicy style that allows the subtly complex notes of dried herbs, candied cherry fruit, earth, old wood and almost floral fennel spice to drift across the palate before they hit the backstop of that acidity. The finish is much more lively, offering fine cut and lovely little nubby, sweet tannins for some textural diversity. There's a touch of bitterness and a hint of red apple peel on the moderately long finish that add some lovely detail here. This has soul. 92pts



2009 Stoller Pinot Noir SV Dundee Hills 14.5% $45    

Tight and mineral on the nose with an overlay of sweet, toasty oak and a base of red fruit framed with rose petals. This enters the mouth with terrific energy. The acidity really holds this up like a tent pole, allowing the transparent red fruit to cascade around the palate with nuanced notes of lightly nutty oak and a hint of caramel sweetness adding detail. The back end shows off more strawberry-toned fruit with the light earthy astringency of strawberry seeds and a hint of tar before the wine trails off on the clean, fresh finish. The tannins here are lovely, super fine grained and supportive, but you really don't even notice them. Suave stuff. 92pts

2009 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee Willamette Valley 14.3% $45

Tight on the nose with almond shell top notes and slow to emerge raspberry, sour cherry and cranberry fruit topped with hints of candied orange. Very elegant if a touch tight on entry, this quickly shows a bit of nutty oak along with a focused core of small, sour red fruits framed with dried spice notes. The wood tannins arrive on the mid-palate to tighten things up and accentuate a bit of wood spice that flows onto the finish, which is almost peppery and long with wild red berry fruits. The oak is a bit prominent here both texturally and in terms of flavor, but the underlying wine should emerge intact after a year or two in the cellar. 91pts

2008 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Pinot Noir Jordan McMinnville OR 14% $40

Sweet candied herbs, vanilla, bay leaf, chinato, wild cherry, sage and a little caramel all come together on this complex and pungent nose. That intensity carries over to the palate, which displays all sorts of bitter and ripe herb, accenting bright sour cherry and cranberry fruit. There's noticeable tannin here and vanilla with modest spice notes from the oak. The palate shows some nuances of funky, almost gamy dried herbs and some nuttiness which adds detail to the fairly tannic, long and tart fruit finish. Unusual yes, but attractive, super complex and very interesting. Will be divisive. 91pts

2010 V Sattui Winery Pinot Noir Henry Ranch Los Carneros Napa Valley 13.5% $40

Cola and earth pop on the nose followed by hints of fresh herbs and smoky hickory nuts. This is tight on the nose with a vague sweetness and a low note of blueberry. Nicely balanced in the mouth with a blend of freshness and body that should find many fans. The flavors recall herbs and old wood on the front end followed by blueberry fruit and some not inconsequential tannins that somehow peter out on the modest finish. This is understated, subdued even, but it does show hints of cherry fruit and a rather sophisticated texture. 89pts

2010 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Clark & Telephone Santa Barbara County 14.3% $42

Carob, licorice and herbs greet the nose along with creamy black cherry cola notes and a touch of juniper spice. Nicely put together on entry. Slighty larger scaled but well balanced, this delivers intense tart black cherry fruit on the palate with spicy oak framing notes. Creamy vanilla and licorice accents lead to a slightly sweet/dry type of finish with spicy tannins clipping the finale. There's a hint of heat here as well. I can see the appeal here: nice mouthfeel, big fruit, well-measured oak and it's well done, but it still leaves me a little flat. 89pts

2009 Freeman Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.1% $48    

Really lovely. A rush of herbs, sweet/tart red berry fruits, gently creamy oak notes and a mist of cola throughout. This has a light spicy aspect to the aromas but they are just so complex and lively that it doesn't seem to be too obvious. The palate is a bit of a let down after the fantastic nose. Smooth and seductive, it's got a lovely texture. In truth, there's plenty of nice burnished cherry fruit with a hint of peachiness, but the complex notes of herbs and even the oak accents seem to stay deep in the background.There's a tactile sense of wood tannin on the palate but it's covered by a sweet yet somehow rather bland body. I have to assume this is just in a weird phase today. The finish shows more oak and spice with good length and fruit that does pop out on the back end with cherry/cranberry and rhubarb. Easy to drink but today about 89pts (mostly for the nose and balance).

2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Taylor Lane Vineyard Sonoma Coast 14.5% $40

Dark and earthy on the nose with caramel and vanilla notes wrapping up the minty and tarry black fruit. Smells fairly medicinal. A bit chunky and foursquare on the palate with tannins that are quite obvious and which slightly obscure the fruit here. There's a Tootsie Roll quality on the palate along with red cherry fruit and licorice notes on the back end. There's lots of spicy wood accent notes and a bit of drying wood on the back end along with leather and vanilla. The tannins remain assertive on the finish, which also shows a bit of heat. Lighter bodied but reminds me of Zinfandel. 87pts