This time of year, just about every wine and food publication issues its take on what wines to drink with your holiday meals. Well, I’m no different. In this post, I focus on California Pinot Noir.


Pinot Noir at its best is all about expression of its source. Wine industry folks use terms like appellation and especially terroir to encapsulate the influence of all the factors – climate, soil, and humans – that contribute to the making of a wine. With Pinot Noir, these seem to be even more important than with other wines.


With producers identifying more appropriate growing sites (namely cooler climates with longer growing seasons that enable the grapes to ripen while retaining good acidity), matching better quality clones to particular sites, cultivating with extra care, and employing improved vinification techniques, there are countless good to outstanding wines now available for consumers.


There are typical characteristics attributable to the pinot noir grape and accented with the judicious use of oak: aromas and flavors centering on cherry and brown (baking) spices, earthy, mushroom notes, silky texture, and purity of fruit. In California, there are numerous appellations in a 500-mile stretch from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south where fine Pinot Noir is made. In my recent tastings, most of them were represented and produced wines I can recommend. It remains a challenge, though, to find a California Pinot Noir with a favorable price/quality relationship. Still, my tastings did turn up some good values for those of you on a tight budget.





 2011 La Crema Russian River Valley ($40) – layers of deep fruit, vanilla, floral notes, fine purity with a solid structure and an enticing, juicy finish


2010 Patz & Hall Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($85) – a big, ripe wine, juicy dark berries, sleek texture, high alcohol, still balances these contradictory qualities


2011 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($42) – pretty fruit, touches of earth, toasty oak, spice, lush but lively texture, lingering finish


2011 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros ($65) – complex mix of intense fruit, floral notes and spice, nice touch of lively acidity and dusty tannins


2010 Goldeneye Anderson Valley ($55) – deftly combines power and elegance, vibrant fruit with firm tannins and earthy notes


2011 Guarachi Family Sonoma Cost ($65) – bursting with pure cherry fruit offset with toasty oak


Very Good


2012 La Crema Sonoma Coast ($25) – concentrated and focused, nicely integrated red fruits, floral and licorice notes supple texture


2012 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast ($46) – tart red fruits, earth tones, touches of cola and toast lush texture


2010 Landmark Grand Detour Sonoma Coast ($35) – bursting with dark fruit, floral and herbal notes, toast, and a touch of anise, vibrant and balanced


2011 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley ($40) – layers of sweet black cherry and tart red plum, quite spicy, good acidity, and a full, sleek mouthfeel

2010 Alta Maria Santa Maria Valley ($28) – sweet, ripe fruit with floral notes, a hint of cocoa and an appealing freshness


2011 Cambria Bench Break Santa Maria Valley ($34) – red fruit with forest and floral notes, noticeable spice, big body and structure but silky texture


2011 Laetitia Resrve du Domaine Arroyo Grande Valley ($40) – pure red fruits, lively acidity, hints of oak and earth add intrigue


2011 Talbott “Logan” Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands ($25) – juicy, upfront red fruit, appealing spice with lush, lively texture


2011 Frank Family Carneros ($35) – deep, ripe black cherry with light oak and spice notes, fills out nicely, silky texture but firming acidity


2011 Byron Santa Maria Valley ($29) – very spicy with pretty fruit and subtle mushroom notes, supple and expressive, yet good structure and tasty


2011 J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Vineyard Arroyo Seco ($35) – fresh plum and cherry with herbs, anise and earthy nuances, firm acidity, spicy finish


2012 Artesa Carneros ($25) – ripe and bright red fruits, floral notes, toasty oak and a hint of spice come together nicely


2010 Clos du Val Carneros ($30) – made in Clos du Val’s classic, elegant style with pleasing red liqueur fruit, a sharp focus and a welcoming texture


2011 Rodney Strong Estate Russian River Valley ($25) – light but pretty and vibrant red fruit with hints of spice, mint and oak, finishing smooth and silky


2011 MacMurray Russian River Valley ($27) – straightforward red fruit character with a soft but refreshing palate




2011 Talbott Kali Hart ($21) – forward black cherry fruit, cinnamon accent, bright mouthfeel, and refreshing finish

2011 Carmel Road Arroyo Seco ($22) – earth and mushroom dominate fresh red fruit, touches of sweet oak and spice add interest

2012 Laetitia Estate Arroyo Grande Valley ($25) – an elegant vibrant rendition of the property’s fine quality fruit


2011 La Crema Monterey ($23) – lighter red cherry notes with touches of licorice and mushroom


2011 Cambria Julia’s Santa Maria ($25) – pleasantly juicy with nice plum fruit and spice lifted with good acidity


2012 McManis California ($11) – smooth, easy-drinking with cherry-vanilla layers from start to finish, a really excellent value


2011 Garnet Monterey ($15) – dark red and plum fruit, earthy notes, velvety texture, a very good value


2011 MacMurray Central Coast ($23) – light but tasty fruit with strong spice and a soft texture


2011 J. Lohr Falcon’s Perch Monterey County ($17) – simple and light but good, sweet fruit


2012 Murphy Goode California ($15) – basic, tasty cherry with a hint of smoke



About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.