Pinot Noir, the seductive, often temperamental grape of all great red Burgundy, is now planted—with varying success—almost everywhere. Although difficult to grow and delicate to handle, the grape continues to gain devotees for one reason: In the right vineyard and the right hands, it produces wines of unequaled elegance and beauty—albeit ones that are often quite expensive.

PINOT ZONES Pinot Noir achieves its greatest intensity in marginal (cool) climates: in Oregon and in California's Santa Barbara, Mendocino, Russian River and Carneros—to say nothing of Burgundy, in France. It's also grown successfully in Austria, South Africa and New Zealand.

FOOD FLEXIBILITY Pinot Noir is a great favorite of sommeliers; its supple tannins and refreshing acidity work well with everything from salmon to sirloin steak.

10 Top Bottles

2000 Bründlmayer Cécile ($43) This Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) from a star Austrian winemaker possesses an elegance that many in Burgundy would envy. It's a very pure translation of the grape.

2000 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-St.-Georges Les Chênes Carteaux ($45) Made by one of Burgundy's best-known domaines, this young premier cru has a piquant red-berry fruitiness, earthy notes and a lovely softness.

2000 Domaine Joblot Givry Clos du Cellier aux Moines ($28) This premier cru Burgundy is brought in by top importer Robert Kacher. Firm and medium-bodied, it's marked by earthy overtones and a ripe finish.

2001 Giant Steps Pinot Noir ($25) This fleshy, large-scale Pinot comes from a noted cool-climate vineyard in Australia's Yarra Valley.

2001 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir ($30) This is an impressively firm and harmonious wine, with distinctive aromas of smoky bacon and wild berries, that comes from South Africa's Walker Bay region.

2000 LinCourt Pinot Noir Santa Barbara ($16) If you're looking for a luscious Pinot at a sensational price, this up-and-coming winery (whose high-end bottlings can be found under the Foley Estates label) is a great source for characterful and mouthwateringly delicious wines.

2000 Louis Jadot Pinot Noir Bourgogne ($16) Jadot has long been one of the most reliable names in Burgundy. This entry-level wine shows its good breeding with pretty red-berry flavors and a firm backbone of acidity.

2001 Patricia Green Pinot Noir Oregon ($22) Patricia Green inspired a cult following when she was winemaker at Oregon's Torii Mor winery. Green now produces sought-after bottlings under her own name, including this rich, silky Pinot—a blend of grapes from several different Oregon vineyards.

2000 Wild Horse Pinot Noir Central Coast ($20) Ken Volk's California winery produces this Pinot Noir that's a pure, uncerebral pleasure—just juicy, plump and delicious.

2001 Firesteed Pinot Noir ($10) A bright, light bottling from Oregon, this Pinot Noir—redolent of ripe strawberries and cherries—is perenially one of the better wine buys around. Chill it for an hour, and it's the perfect wine to take on a picnic.