Wine Basics: How to Pick a Good Pinot Noir
At its best, Pinot Noir is like no other wine; both graceful and powerful at the same time. But how does one pick a good Pinot Noir?
Probably the most important variable to look for is the region the wine is from. Pinot is a finicky grape that requires a long growing season with sunny days and cool nights. France’s Burgundy region is the most famous Pinot Noir region in the world, but it is extremely complicated and inconsistent.
A smarter bet is one of the many California or Oregon Pinot Noirs that are available today. While they never reach the heights of the best Red Burgundy, they are also less likely to be corked or simply disappointing for what they are trying to be.
Within California, there are several regions to look for: Santa Rita Hills, Santa Lucia Highlands,Monterey, Sonoma, Russian River Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Because of their moderate climates, these are the top Pinot regions in the Golden State.
Oregon’s two best Pinot Noir regions are the Willamette Valley and the Dundee Hills. Both have cool, coastally influenced climates, and have established international reputations for producing the grape.
Another important variable is the alcohol level in the wine. There is an unfortunate trend in California producing this delicate grape at high alcohol levels (14.5% +). If the alcohol is this high, the grapes were probably picked when they were overripe. This can wreak havoc on the flavor profile, and may throw the balance of alcohol and acidity off.
In the end though, it is your personal tastes that should determine which Pinot Noir you pick. If you like big, jammy Pinots, then disregard the advice about balance between acidity and alcohol.
Along the same lines, many wine connoisseurs love the mystery of opening an expensive Red Burgundy and not knowing if it is going to be vile or beautiful. There is a saying in that region that, “there are no great wines, just great bottles of wine.” But if need a good, well-priced Pinot for your dinner party, California or Oregon is the way to go.
Some of my favorite Pinot Noir Producers include:
- Santa Lucia Highlands AVA: Rosella’s Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard, Paraiso Vineyards
- Santa Rita Hills AVA: Sanford Winery , Sea Smoke Cellars, Babcock Vineyards
- Russian River Valley AVA: Siduri, August West, Williams Selyem
- Carneros AVA: Etude,Acacia Winery, Truchard
- Sonoma Coast AVA: Freeman Vineyard, Flowers Vineyard, Kistler Vineyards
- Dundee Hills AVA: Lange Estate, The Four Graces, Archery Summit
- Willamette Valley AVA: Raptor Ridge Winery, Amity Sunnyside Vineyard