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What To Drink Now: California Pinot Noir

Fresh and vibrant wines from The Golden State.

As summer draws to a close, and fall recipes start popping up on menus around town—like butternut squash ravioli, truffled mushroom ragù, and roasted quail, and duck—consider a medium-bodied Pinot Noir. Here are a few California selections sure to please. (Some  were sent for editorial consideration.)

Pinot Noir

I am continually excited by Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, north of Sonoma, stretching along the Pacific coastline. Texan Ali Smith Story and her hubby Erik agree, making Anderson Valley the home of their Smith-Story Wines. Their Helluva Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40, Central Market) vibrantly displays why Anderson Valley is today’s “it” place for stellar Pinot Noir. Bold yet delicate, exuberant yet refined, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Goldeneye Ten Degrees ($125) celebrates the cool climate of Anderson Valley, noting the often 10-degree temperature change from one end of the Valley to the other. With a true sense of place, Ten Degrees reveals power and strength, with a black fruit-driven palate and earthy finish.

Raspberry, cranberry, and pomegranate fill FEL Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($38), which blends with toasted vanilla and baking spice for a well-rounded, complex, character-filled wine.

Organically grown Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($40) is aromatic and expressive, highlighting floral violets and earthy herbal notes with blackberry and plum.

Carneros Pinot Noir

Blustery breezes from the San Francisco Bay keep delicate fruit dry and cool throughout California’s Carneros region. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, ZD Wines produces their juicy, red cherry filled Founder’s Reserve ($82) from their organically grown Carneros estate. The small-production wine (under 750 cases) is a grateful nod to ZD Wines’ founder Norman DeLeuze, the first vintner to put Carneros on a label.

Spicy Frank Family Carneros Pinot Noir ($38) melds toasted nutmeg and cinnamon with boysenberry and black cherry.

Vibrant, refreshing Cuvaison Carneros Pinot Noir ($42) celebrates the history of this almost 50-year-old Carneros estate with a wine that leaps from the glass with structure and freshness, showcasing expertly produced cool-climate fruit.

Similarly, winds wafting through vineyards of the Sonoma Coast and up the Russian River ensures Pinot Noir stays fresh and vibrant, while warm, sunshine filled days ripen fruit to perfection. Dutton Goldfield Redwood Ridge Pinot Noir ($62) from Sonoma Coast layers herbal notes, like wild sage and thyme, with fresh wildflowers.

Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48) highlights the vibrancy and elegance of well-made Pinot, creating a dense and structured wine, without being weighty, noting the smart use of oak used when aging the Sonoma beauty.

Concentrated and pronounced, while maintaining fresh, silky texture, Sonoma-Loeb Fredrick Lane Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir layers black fruit, cola and spice with hints of soft herbs and toasted vanilla.

Ladera Pillow Road Russian River Pinot Noir ($50) reveals an earthiness that I love in Pinot Noir, with black truffle melding with wild berry and sweet spice.

Masterful winemaker David Ramey expertly highlights classic Burgundian mushroom and forest floor earthiness with California fruit-filled influence in his Ramey Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir ($105) from Sonoma Coast.

Pinot Noir

Near Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills provides the ideal cool-climate backdrop for growing well structured, highly enjoyable Pinot Noir. Dreamy Sea Smoke Southing ($64) from their St. Rita Hills estate layers boysenberry, dried cherry, balsamic, and plum with complexity, and cool-climate acidity.

Slightly richer, yet still fresh and balanced, Dierberg Drum Canyon Vineyard ($52) showcases the earthiness and spiciness of the fruit, with woodsy herbs and a long, textured finish.

While Migration’s Drum Canyon Vineyard ($60) reveals more floral notes, layering wildflowers with red and black fruit and minerality.

Brambly fruit filled Siduri John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills ($50) begs for a pairing of grilled wild salmon or pasta with a brown butter sage sauce. Earthy and dense, while maintaining lush approachability.

Cherry cola and toasted spice filled Lloyd Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($50) is a fruit-forward option from the region, with a new world style and juicy red fruit flavors.