Tips for Finding the Best Pinot Noir

Brad Davis
Great taste and health benefits
Great taste and health benefits

A local newspaper in Sonoma County, California recently posted a blog discussion online about what people consider to be the best Pinot Noir from California.

What is the Best Pinot Noir?

It lit a firestorm of responses! Clearly, people are passionate about Pinot Noir, and it's been that way long before Sideways came about. Needless to say, it's difficult to pick out the one best-or even just a few best-Pinot Noirs. But we can talk about some crowd favorites, cult offerings and great values-and what exactly makes Pinot Noir so popular.

Red Wine Journey

To begin with, Pinot Noir is an enigma-it's where many people start their red wine journey after only drinking whites. It has subtle tannins and lighter body than almost any other red wine varietal out there. But, it's also where people end up after taking their red wine journey full circle. Weird-but why? Well, Pinot happens to also be a very complex wine-the aromas are subtle, complex and loaded with nuances at every sniff. It is the epitome of sensory evaluation and component tasting and takes practice and time to understand Pinot Noir as a wine.

Burgundy, France - Birthplace

Some of the best Pinot Noirs come from Burgundy, France-the birthplace of Pinot Noir. It's been grown there for centuries! Some of the most sought after (and some of the most expensive) Pinot Noirs come from this area. Stylistically these wines are acidic, full of mineral/chalk dust with slight dried fruit aromas-along with touches of forest floor, mushroom and leather. These wines typically need to age in the bottle before consumption. They are also not inexpensive wines-some of the entry level red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) starts around $25-$30.

Before you dive head-first into trying out Burgundy wine for the first time, consult your local wine shop specialists and talk with them. They can help you decide where to start and what you're looking for-after all, these folks have probably tasted it personally.

New Zealand

There are a few other locations around the world that Pinot Noir grows-but only a few since Pinot tends to like cooler climates with overall temperate growing seasons (no hot, hot days for this grape!). New Zealand has been getting more and more press for their Pinot Noirs. Most people think Sauvignon Blanc when they think of New Zealand, but lately there have been some reasonably priced and critically accepted Pinot Noirs coming out of the country. Check out the Central Otago and Marlborough regions when attempting to find some Pinot Noirs from down under.

California and Oregon

North American Pinot Noir tends to be the favored location for many American wine buyers. Oregon and California produce 99.9 percent of the Pinot Noir in the United States. There is also friendly competition between the two states and both produce some excellent Pinot's. Some of the best Pinot's come from the Willamette Valley and Red Hills areas of Oregon.

In California, Pinot Noir has a bit more history-it was planted early on in the 1960s and earlier in certain locations. Some of the premier growing regions include Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.

Price and Availability

Some of the frustration that comes along with purchasing Pinot Noir is price and availability. Let's face it, it's not cheap to drink the best Pinot Noir. The highest-rated, most critically acclaimed Pinot can start anywhere from $35-$50 and go all the way up to $150 or even $10,000+ for certain Burgundy. Pretty crazy! So, let's say you're ready to plop down $65 on one of those cult wines that are hard to find. Well, good-but where do you find them? Yeah, it's not that easy, unfortunately. Sometimes you have to wait for years to get onto a mailing list from the winery just to be able to purchase or if you're less patient, you can go out onto the market and buy them online or third party. The problem is, if you do this the markup can be anywhere from two to 10 times the list price, just because it's so scarce and everyone wants them.

Finding Pinot Noir

Thankfully not all good Pinot Noir is a cult wine and some of the best Pinot you can find right at your local wine stores or if you are lucky enough to live in wine country, at your local winery. Do your homework-talk to people who drink Pinot Noir and ask them for some recommendations. When you go to your wine shop talk to the specialist out on the floor for some help-they are a tool for you to use, so use them before blindly picking out a bottle because it has an animal on the label and looks cute!

Some Producer Recommendations

  • Rippon Vineyards - New Zealand
  • Ken Wright - Oregon
  • Chehalem - Oregon
  • Domaine Drouhin - Oregon
  • Verget - Burgundy, France
  • Groffier-Burgundy, France
  • Vogue - Burgundy, France (not cheap!)
  • Dehlinger - Russian River, California
  • Littorai - Sonoma Coast, California
  • Gary Farrell - Russian River, California

Whatever your choice, enjoy your journey in finding the best Pinot for you! Along your journey you will be sure to find a producer or an area that may be your next favorite-Cheers!

Tips for Finding the Best Pinot Noir