Palate of Pinots

For me, spring is about pinot noir. Its range of colors and aromatic subtleties make it one of the most expressive red wines.

For me, spring is about pinot noir. Its range of colors and aromatic subtleties make it one of the most expressive red wines. Pinot is much like a blank canvas for winemakers, against which they can showcase both palate and palette.  

Pinot noir is a temperamental grape that is susceptible to rot and difficult to ripen correctly. It’s expensive to farm, expensive to vinify and has driven more than a few vignerons to distraction. But when pinot noir succeeds in the vineyard and in the bottle, it’s as transcendent as a perfect spring afternoon. 

Here are six examples of exquisite pinot noir to accompany you as you welcome the season. 


1. Bu by Bruliam, “Deer Meadows Vineyard” (Anderson Valley, CA – 2010)

Newcomer Bruliam, an amalgamation of the owners’ three kids’ names, is not just making great wine but making change too—100% of their profits are donated to charity (really). As physician-turned-winemaker Kerith Overstreet puts it, “If you’re lucky enough to live your dream, it’s most satisfying when everyone shares the harvest.” Their Anderson Valley bottling is intense yet balanced and one of my favorite new pinot discoveries this year.

SRP $46. 


2. Failla, “Keefer Ranch”  (Russian River Valley, CA – 2010)

Failla wines are beloved by sommeliers, primarily because winemaker Ehren Jordan excels in producing wines that are balanced expressions of fruit, wood, earth and alcohol.  They’re incredibly food-friendly too. A specialist in cool-climate grape sources, Jordan’s pinot from the Keefer Ranch vineyard offers dark berry, smoke and green herb aromas.

SRP $42.


3. Luminous Hills, “Lux” (Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon – 2010)

Oregon, New Zealand and Burgundy make up the three points that many professionals consider to be the sacred triangle of pinot noir … apologies to California! Unfortunately, Oregon pinot noirs have often been priced at the very top of the market. This wine from the Yamhill-Carlton district was amazing for both quality and price. It’s a symphony of cranberry, sandalwood and violet floral notes with a beautiful acid backbone that’s reminiscent of great Burgundies. Buy it while you can still afford it!  

SRP $35.


4. Kingston Family Vineyards, “Alazan” (Casablanca Valley, Chile – 2008)   

Made by Byron Kosuge, one of California’s most respected pinot noir artisans, this wine shows why the cool breezes and temperate climate of Chile’s Casablanca Valley are ideal for growing the grape. Aromas of blackberry, cherry blossoms and allspice present on the nose, followed by a surprisingly delicate finish—given the saturated color in the glass. 

SRP $29.


5. Greywacke (Marlborough, New Zealand – 2010)

Named for the grey, sedimentary rocks that crowd his vineyards, Greywacke is winemaker Kevin Judd’s personal passion project and is finally available in the U.S. While known for his skill with sauvignon blanc (Judd was the founding winemaker at Cloudy Bay), his pinot noir is also exceptional. This is a lighter style, with delicate red cherry, strawberry and anise notes—fantastic with fish.  

SRP $35.


6. Volnay 1er Cru, “Vendanges Sélectionnées,” Domaine Michel Lafarge (Burgundy, France – 2008)

The ancestral home of legendary pinot noir is Burgundy, and among producers within this Côte d’Or (“Golden Slope”), few are as respected as Domaine Lafarge. Sourced from premier cru vineyard sites in the commune of Volnay, Lafarge’s 2008 wines astound. A single glass of this wine offers what my friend Allen Meadows, a.k.a. the Burghound, aptly describes as a Zen-like experience. Savory herbal elements, hints of mint, rhubarb and morello cherry and dried roses evolve as the wine unfolds. 

SRP $56.