Of all the varieties of wine in the world the Pinot Noir grape is consistently a favorite. Finicky and difficult, requiring delicate care and judicious treatment, temperamental Pinot Noir is also one of the most refined, interesting, balanced and elegant wines produced in the world, each defining its individual character and definite personality. Robust and rich, they can be enjoyed on their own, but truly shine in pairings. In honor of Thanksgiving being around the corner, here are a few Pinot Noir wines that should make their way to your holiday table this year. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
I recently returned from the pristine region of Alto Adige in Northeast Italy. Though best known for their expressive white wines and robust, indigenous Lagrein and Schiava based red wines, the Pinot Noir in this region truly took my breath away, proving that the cool-climate was also ideal for producing distince Pinot Noir. One favorite in particular came from J. Hofstätter. We tried both a current release 2011 and 2005 Pinot Nero. The 2011 was filled with juicy red berry and floral notes, that when aged a bit gave way to more earthy, dried fruit and spice with a nicely rounded, rich palate. Both were special, but the slightly aged wine showed the true potential for this variety in the region as the warm days, cool nights and continual winds off of Lake Garda ensure that this difficult variety will thrive, producing wines with bright acidity, fresh fruit and rich character. J. Hofstätter Meczan Pinot Noir is available at Wine Poste for $24.
Willamette Valley continues to produce some of the finest Pinot Noir wine in the world. Blessed with warm days, cool nights and volcanic soils the region thrives producing earthy, interesting wines. Stoller Winery, in the Dundee Hills of Willamette, has built a consistent reputation on producing quality Pinot Noir, while maintaining a focused commitment to the environment. Vineyards are farmed sustainably, the winery and tasting room both operate with the environment in mind, earning the first LEED Gold Certification for a winery in the world. But the real story here is the wine, all made from their estate fruit by winemaker Melissa Burr. Her hands-off approach lets the earthy flavors of Dundee Hills Pinot Noir shine, especially in her Reserve Pinot Noir and very special Helen’s, Nancy’s and Cathy’s Reserve Pinot Noir wines, each named after influential women in the Stoller family. Cathy’s shines especially bright for me. Named after the matriarch of the Stoller winery family who sadly passed away just a few short years ago, Cathy’s Pinot Noir is a luxurious wine made from the best four barrels of fruit from the oldest Pommard and Clone 667 Pinot Noir vines on the property. Filled with roasted hazelnuts, ripe and dried black cherry, dark chocolate and spice this is a wine to be enjoyed on very special occasions celebrating those you love. The Stoller Reserve Pinot Noir, also made from their high quality estate fruit, is filled with red cherry, red berry and earthy mushroom flavors, is available locally at Pogo’s for $40 a bottle.
From a little bit further south in Willamette Valley near Salem, wines from the Amity-Eola Hills AVA continue to earn notoriety for their freshness and balance. One winery in particular benefits from cool Pacific breezes coming in from the coast through the Van Duzer Corridor to the interior of the valley, and has aptly named themselves Van Duzer. With a focus on sustainability and clean, green farming practices, owners Carl and Marilynn Thoma, along with winemaker Florent-Pierre Merlier, craft Burgundian style Pinot Noir with character. Their Van Duzer Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir blends richness with freshness, delivering floral, ripe fruit and spice notes, melding seamlessly together in one glass. Ripe cherry, juicy strawberry and sweet tea rose aromas lift from the glass, inviting you to enjoy each sip, again and again. $32 available locally at Total Wine and More.
When you think of Napa Valley’s Vineyard 29 your mind probably doesn’t think Pinot Noir, but in 2010 winemaker Keith Emerson set out to make a high quality Pinot Noir, sourcing fruit from one of the premier locations for the variety, Willamette Valley. Today, with the 2012 vintage, Vineyard 29 Cru Pinot Noir exceeds expectations, and showing just why Willamette is ideal for growing very distinct Pinot Noir filled with earthy, forest floor, mushroom, red and black berry and spice. Though you may not be able to tell exactly where a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley comes from, if it is the Dundee Hills or Carlton, Newberg or Eola Hills, you can always tell the distinct, identifying characteristics of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and this one shines with those special qualities. $55 available via their website.
For California Pinot Noir lovers there are a few areas that shine for the variety, most prominently Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara and of course, Carneros in Napa Valley.
I recently tried one from a familiar producer, however I hadn’t ever tried their Pinot Noir before. Pahlmeyer has a long reputation for producing high quality Cabernet Sauvginon from Napa Valley. However, they also have a stellar Pinot Noir in their portfolio that is a part of their Jayson brand. From Sonoma Coast the native yeast fermented 2012 Jayson Pinot Noir is filled with robust layers of black and blue berry, chocolate, spice and cola with balance and elegance, bringing both acidity and well integrated tannins to the palate. This is a true food wine. $60 available at Total Wine and More.
Another producer that continues to shine for their Napa Cabernet introduced their Russian River Pinot Noir a handful of years ago. Pillow Road, the sister winery to Howell Mountain’s Ladera Vineyards, sits in the heart of what was one of Russian River’s best agricultural areas for years, thriving with apple orchards, flowers and of course vineyards. Owners Pat and Anne Stotesbury found this location in the mid-2000’s and knew it was the ideal place to create their quality Pinot Noir. Pillow Road “S” Pinot Noir is produced from the best barrels of fruit grown on their Russian River estate, filling the glass with ripe cherry and berry flavors, enhanced with sweet baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, vanilla and toasted hazelnut. A special wine, perfect for any holiday occasion. $75 available via their website.
Gary Farrell celebrates their 30th year producing Russian River Pinot Noir with their 2012 vintage. It is also the first vintage with Theresa Heredia, formerly with Freestone, as winemaker, having joined the winery early in that vintage. Created from a blend of some of the finest Russian River vineyards, like Rochioli, Floodgate, Stephens, Hallberg and more, allowing fruit to benefit from all the region has to offer, including foggy mornings, hot and sunny afternoons, and cool, breezy evenings, all ideal conditions for growing stellar Pinot Noir. Subtle and elegant, the wine is filled with wild strawberry, cherry and cranberry notes with hints of cherry cola, nutmeg and just a touch of earthy truffle and mushroom notes. $40 at Spec’s.
Each year Siduri surprises me that much more with their expressive, personality filled Pinot Noir from some of the highest quality vineyards in California and Oregon. I recently poured their Siduri Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir at a dinner party, pairing it with a pumpkin soup, but topped off the glasses as the main course of short ribs was served. Intense and robust, a wine made by blending almost two dozen different barrels of Pinot Noir clones from various parts of the Russian River Keefer Vineyard. The result, a complex wine with layers of ripe black fruit, herbal notes, earthy mushroom and spice, balancing acidity and tannin structure for a well rounded wine that continued to impress as it opened up throughout the meal. $56 at Spec’s.
Sojourn Cellars focuses on high quality fruit grown at high elevations for their Sonoma Coast Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir. Ranging between 800 and 1200 feet in elevation, in a naturally cool micro-climate, the highly concentrated Gap’s Crown fruit reveals robust, complex characteristics filled with ripe and dried blackberry and blueberry notes, black plum and spice. To maintain the true flavor and elegance of the fruit the native yeast fermented wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, fully displaying the intensity of this special wine. $54 available via their website.
Santa Barbara County thrives as one of the top Pinot Noir producing regions in California. The Santa Maria Valley being one of the best parts of the county for the variety, and home of Byron Wines. When owner Ken Brown founded the winery in the 1980’s he had the goal to make great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay initially proved much easier, but with great care and time, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir eventually took hold, today producing some of the finest cool-climate wines in the world. Byron celebrates this with their Monument Pinot Noir. Produced from the best blocks of vines on the winery Nielson estate, the highly concentrated wine made from small berry Swan, 667 and Pommard Pinot Noir clones seamlessly integrates earthy, herbal notes with ripe fruit, sweet spice and leather notes. Bold and refined, a beautiful wine with character. $60 available via their website.
When we think of wineries like Domaine Carneros or Gloria Ferrer, our mind will likely go to a sparkling wine place as each of the Carneros properties produce quality traditional method sparkling wine. However, their still wines, produced from the same grapes that they make their bubbly from, are also quite special.
Domaine Carneros has begun highlighting the individuality of the various clones of Pinot Noir available to them on their expansive estate by making single clone Pinot Noir, like their Swan Pinot Noir, one of the main clones in their Famous Gate Pinot Noir. The Swan clone creates a wine filled with woody, earthy notes mingling in harmony with ripe red berry, red currant and pomegranate with hints of purple flowers and peppery spice. Aged 15 months in French oak, the small production wine is nicely balanced and concentrated, with a rich and smooth texture. $55 available via their website.
Gloria Ferrer utilizes the wide variety of soils and Pinot Noir clones available to them on their vast 335 acre estate to produce a well rounded, soft and silky Pinot Noir that is filled with floral notes, fresh berry, cola, and toasted oak, with nice acidity and freshness, making it a good wine to sip on its own or with food. $20, available at Goody-Goody stores.
Ca’ Momi blends Old World Italian heritage with New World, Napa Valley wine making, all with the goal to create wines that are perfect pairings for hearty Italian inspired cuisine. Their Ca’ Momi Reserve Pinot Noir from Carneros leaps from the glass with juicy ripe cherry, strawberry and cranberry notes with layers of vanilla, cedar and nutmeg. A great wine to pair with roasted salmon or pork tenderloin, or even a simple plate of cheese and charcuterie. $50 available via their website.
Frank Family Wines Carneros Pinot Noir layers bright acidity with concentrated aromas of wild flower, juicy berry and baking spice. The flavors sing with subtle umami notes of mushroom and balsamic mixing with the ripe blackberry and plum flavors. Aged 10 months in partially new French oak, adding enhanced structure for a well rounded, delicious wine that would be perfect for Thanksgiving, as well as pairing with heartier dishes like wild mushroom risotto. $35 at Total Wine and More.