Pinot Noir has rapidly ascended into a starring role as America's sweetheart, when it comes to wine grapes. Sales are up so much in the past few years that stores can't keep top wines in stock, and wineries are having a hard time making enough Pinot to bottle (in other words, look for a wave of new Pinot Noir vineyards soon).
A thin-skinned grape variety that's unusually susceptible to various vineyard problemsmildew, rot, diseasePinot is also unusually demanding about the weather it prefers (cool nights, warm but not hot days) and how it is vinified. When conditions aren't exactly right, it produces weedy, green wines as thin as watered-down fruit juice. But when conditions are ideal and the winemaker's skill is superb, Pinot yields some of the most evocative, aromatic, seductive red wines on the planet.
Conveniently, great Pinot grows all over the worldthough only in very select regions. Here are six terrific Pinot Noirs from top areas around the globe. Taken together, they'd make for a fascinating tasting party; individually, any one of them would intensify the pleasure of a great meal.
2004 Heinrich Pinot Noir ($53)
Austria is mostly known for its minerally white wines, but it also has fine reds. In the eastern region of Burgenland, the climate is perfect for Pinot Noir. Heinrich, a red wine specialist, produces this top bottling, which has an ethereal scent of wild berries.
2003 Louis Jadot Pommard Clos de la Commaraine 1er Cru ($58)
Burgundy is the historical heart of Pinot Noir production and it still makes the greatest wines from this finicky grape. Jadot's bottling from the small, walled Clos de la Commaraine vineyard has a meaty depth and dark-berried intensity while maintaining Pinot's hallmark grace.
2002 J. Hofstätter Barthenau Pinot Nero ($75)
In Italy's Alto Adige, Pinot Noir is known as Pinot Nero. From its hillside vineyards, the region produces elegant floral reds, such as this single-vineyard bottling from top producer Hofstätter.
2006 Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir ($43)
New Zealand's Central Otago is the world's southernmost wine-growing region; its cool vineyards, walled in by dramatic mountains, are ideal Pinot territory. Felton Road is one of the region's top wineries and this wine, made from organically grown grapes, impresses with its succulent black-raspberry fruit and lightly earthy aromas.
2005 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir ($45)
Back in 1987, well-known Burgundy négociant firm Joseph Drouhin looked around the world for another great Pinot locale and lit upon Oregon's Willamette Valley. The company built a winery, started producing wine and now offers some of Oregon's top Pinots, like this suave, cherry-inflected bottling.
2005 Papapietro Perry Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48)
Sonoma's Russian River Valley is probably the most famous Pinot region in the United States; it's definitely one of the best. The defining characteristics of Russian River Valley Pinots are black cherry and cola notes and an incredibly silky textureall of which this single-vineyard bottling has in abundance.