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30 Top Pinot Noirs

Despite its reputation as tough to grow, great Pinot Noir is being produced all over the world. Senior wine editor Ray Isle tasted nearly 150 bottles, and these came out on top.

Value Picks ($20 and Under)

Star Selection: Australia: 2006 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir ($20)

East of Melbourne, Australia’s Yarra Valley is largely considered the continent’s best region for Pinot Noir. This aromatic, surprisingly affordable bottling is a good introduction to Yarra Pinot.

California: 2006 Hayman & Hill Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Selection Pinot Noir ($15)

In the Santa Lucia Highlands, the source for this peppery, boysenberry-scented red, the ocean winds off Monterey Bay provide cool morning fogs that help to moderate daytime temperatures—which is exactly the kind of weather that Pinot Noir loves.

Italy: 2006 Kris Pinot Nero ($14)

Crisp and spicy, this appealing Pinot Nero (a.k.a. Pinot Noir) comes from Trentino winemaker Franz Haas, who sells wine under the Kris label with importer Leonardo LoCascio. Kris is a source for good-value Italian varietals.

Italy: 2005 Lechthaler Trentino Pinot Nero ($17)

The founders of Lechthaler moved from western Austria to what is now Italy’s Trentino region in the late 1800s and began supplying wines to many of the area’s best restaurants and hotels. Though the winery is no longer family-owned, it still makes graceful wines at modest prices, among them this light-bodied Pinot full of dried-cherry notes.

New Zealand: 2006 Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir ($18)

Full of gamey, grapey fruit, this bold red from the Martinborough region—one of the country’s premier Pinot Noir–growing areas—has a robust intensity that’s difficult not to like. Pencarrow is the less-expensive second label of Martinborough’s highly respected Palliser Estate.

New Zealand: 2006 Mt. Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir ($20)

This affordable wine from top Central Otago producer Mt. Difficulty is named after a local mountain; the lightly raspy tannins are a nice counterpoint to the sweet, deep black-raspberry fruit.



More Fantastic Bottles

Austria

Star Selection: 2005 Beck Burgenland Pinot Noir ($55)

This small, ambitious estate in Austria’s Burgenland region, run by third-generation winemaker Judith Beck, focuses on red wines, like this cherry-and-violet-scented Pinot.

Australia

2005 Sticks Yarra Valley Pinot Noir ($21)

Sticks—supertall winemaker Rob Dolan’s nickname when he played Australian football—produces a range of modestly priced, high-quality wines. Among them is this lightly earthy red full of raspberry fruit from the Yarra Valley.

2005 Henschke Giles Lenswood Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45)

Henschke makes one of the country’s greatest Shirazes—the amazingly complex Hill of Grace (at $450 a bottle, it’s also amazingly expensive)—as well as this spicy, softly generous Pinot from its estate vineyard in Lenswood, which is near Adelaide.

California

Star Selection: 2006 Toulouse Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($39)

Herbal spice and buoyant raspberry fruit characterize this red from a 17-acre vineyard in California’s Anderson Valley, owned by fire captain–turned–grape grower Vern Boltz.

2006 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Mendocino Ridge Estate Pinot Noir ($27)

A graceful, pretty wine, with spicy aromas and sweet strawberry fruit, this supple red comes from a 16-acre vineyard located on a ridgetop that overlooks Anderson Valley, which is a noted source for top Pinots.

2006 Clos LaChance Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($30)

Clos LaChance manages a number of small vineyards scattered throughout the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains; winemaker Stephen Tebb selects the best fruit from the vineyards for this lightly rosemary-scented Pinot that’s full of black cherry and cola notes.

2006 Holdredge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($34)

John Holdredge works as a lawyer by day and a winemaker by night, but given the quality of this aromatic Sonoma red, he could seriously consider leaving the day job behind. This is classic Russian River Pinot Noir, from its ripe cherry fruit right down to its silky, inviting texture.

2005 Talley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($34)

Brian Talley’s family has been farming in Central Coast’s Arroyo Grande Valley since 1948, long before they began growing wine grapes in 1982 and producing impressive wines in 1986. This violet-scented, polished bottling shows why the area is now considered one of California’s great sources for Pinot.

2006 Woodenhead Humboldt County Pinot Noir ($38)

Humboldt County isn’t known as one of the state’s top regions for wine grapes, but if Woodenhead’s bright, raspberry-rich bottling is any indication, perhaps there ought to be more vineyards there.

2006 Freeman Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($44)

After honing his skills at California boutique Pinot producer Testarossa, winemaker Ed Kurtzman joined this startup Sonoma-based winery in 2003. His experience is evident in this seductive, dark-fruited red; though it’s full-bodied and lush, it still shows classic Pinot Noir structure and elegance.

2005 Tandem Winery Sangiacomo Vineyards Pinot Noir ($48)

Winemaker Greg La Follette is one of the industry’s most sought-after consultants for Pinot Noir, having worked for top brands such as Flowers, Hartford Court and Londer. His own Tandem Winery creates this spicy, meaty bottling from a few top parcels of the sprawling Sangiacomo vineyard in Sonoma County.

Chile

2004 Casa Marín Lo Abarca Hills Pinot Noir ($65)

Casa Marín’s vineyards, located only two-and-a-half miles from the Pacific Ocean, produce some of the country’s best Pinot Noirs. Though 2004 was a difficult year in Chile, with a hot summer and a rainy fall, the Lo Abarca Hills bottling is very impressive, with earthy berry aromas; its flavors are dark and spicy, with sweet black-raspberry fruit and a dry tea-leaf note on the finish.

France

Star Selection: 2005 Vincent Girardin Santenay Les Charmes ($31)

The Burgundy village of Santenay is known for producing rustic, intense Pinots, and this powerful, cherry-rich bottling, from 55-year-old vines, is no exception.

2005 Château de Sancerre Rouge ($21)

Licorice notes float through the flavor of this lively red Sancerre from the Loire Valley. Although Château de Sancerre, a long-established producer in this largely Sauvignon Blanc–oriented region, has been making Pinot for almost 90 years, this vintage is the first one that’s available in the United States.

2005 Frédéric Magnien Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($23)

Exactly what good, affordable Burgundy ought to be, with floral aromas leading into precise black-raspberry fruit and hints of spice. Magnien, a star négociant (i.e., he owns almost no vineyards but buys all his fruit from growers), generates a wide range of wines from throughout Burgundy; this basic bottling gives a good sense of his style.

2005 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin ($40)

With skillful veteran winemaker Jacques Lardière at the helm, Jadot—one of the most well-known (and respected) producers in Burgundy—released a terrific Gevrey-Chambertin in the stellar 2005 vintage. Smoky and earthy at first, it opens into dark raspberry fruit that lasts.

2005 Taupenot-Merme Gevrey-Chambertin ($44)

The smoky scent of Lapsang souchong tea is the first distinctive note of Taupenot-Merme’s impressive Gevrey, followed by layers of Indian spices and dense wild-cherry fruit. It’s remarkably good for a village (i.e., basic) wine, thanks to talented seventh-generation winemaker Romain Taupenot.

Italy

2006 Tramin Alto Adige Pinot Nero ($23)

Like many Alto Adige wine producers, Tramin is a cooperative of independent grape growers—280 of them in this case—growing grapes on more than 550 acres of vineyards. This silky Pinot’s light hue is deceptive: It’s full of bright raspberry fruit, with fine tannins and a faint note of watermelon in the aroma.

2004 Alois Lageder Krafuss Alto Adige Pinot Nero ($40)

Alois Lageder may be better known for his superb Pinot Grigios, but he produces this formidable Pinot Nero from his high-altitude Krafuss estate vineyard as well. The cool climate of the Alto Adige region, Lageder’s talent as a winemaker and his devotion to growing grapes organically combine to create a refined kirsch-scented red.

New Zealand

2006 Amisfield Central Otago Pinot Noir ($39)

The Central Otago area is famous for its crisp, focused Pinots. Amisfield’s vineyards occupy a former high-country sheep farm, and it uses only indigenous yeasts for fermentation, giving this spicy red a complex floral scent.

2006 Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir ($41)

A scent of fennel, pepper and pomegranate wafts from this satiny Pinot, a bottling from one of the top wineries in the Canterbury region. Twenty months of aging in French oak barrels give the wild-berry flavors a spicy edge.

Oregon

2006 Ponzi Vineyards Tavola Pinot Noir ($25)

Produced solely from sustainably farmed grapes, this juicy, appealing Pinot reveals sweet berry aromas. Ponzi, a family-owned winery founded in 1970, has been a pioneer in the Willamette Valley.

2006 Stoller Vineyards JV Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($25)

Sweet cherry fruit and a touch of graham-crackery oak make this straightforward Pinot—sourced from younger vines at Stoller’s estate vineyard in the Dundee Hills— a pleasure to drink.

2006 Scott Paul Audrey Pinot Noir ($55)

All of Oregon winemaker Scott Paul Wright’s Pinots are very good, and his top wine, Audrey, is superlative. Named for Audrey Hepburn (her graceful beauty apparently reminds Wright of Pinot Noir), this creamy, raspberry-rich bottling comes from Maresh Vineyard, one of the state’s oldest vineyards.

Published May 2008
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