Pinot Noir – Burgundy, California and Oregon

Just to prove to all of the regular wine tasters at the Thursday Night tastings at Fine Wines of Stockton that he really does not dislike Pinot Noir, George did a Pinot tasting himself. Generally, we taste Pinot Noir on a Thursday night that George or Gail are unable to present the wine tasting.

It isn’t that George does not like Pinot Noir, he likes it very much. He tends to prefer Burgundy over California or Oregon, and also does not like to pay a lot for a good bottle. It frustrates him that in order to find a Pinot he likes he must taste through so many to find good ones. That does not sound unreasonable.

Pinot Noir is a challenging grape to grow. It prefers a cooler climate, or at least one with a cooling coastal influence. The berries are small and thin-skinned. They are susceptible to sunburn in too hot a climate and to mildew when too wet. Often the most interesting wines come from vines that have a reduced yield.

In general Burgundy produces a less fruit forward style of Pinot Noir with complex but under-stated flavors. It can age well and gain complexity with time, becoming earthy. California tends to produce a riper, more fruity style of Pinot Noir. Oregon produces a wine somewhere in the middle, generally less fruit-forward. Pinot usually has a light feel in the mouth and smooth tannins. The color is light ruby or garnet. Often the color in the glass gives it away as Pinot Noir.

So, George thought it would be interesting to see if he could find some lower priced, $25 to $35 per bottle, Pinot Noir from California, Oregon and Burgundy that we might find interesting. Our job was to decide which wine we liked the best. As usual, we tasted all of the wines blind.

2011 Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards Pinot Noir – earth and cherry flavors, smooth tannins. Good food wine.

2011 Forefront Pinot Noir2011 Forefront Pine Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir – 78% of the grapes are sourced from San Luis Obispo and 22% from Monterey County. Tart fruit dominates earthy flavors with smooth tannins. More complexity than the prior wine. Pine Ridge Vineyards (Napa Valley) is part of the Crimson Wine Group, as are Archery Summit (Willamette Valley) and Chamisal Vineyards (Edna Valley). This was Pete’s favorite wine of the group.

2010 Domaine Jean Tardy et Fils Hautes-Cotes de Nuits Cuvee Maelie – smoke and austere fruit flavors with smooth tannins.

2008 René Cacheux et Fils Bourgogne Les Champs d’Argent – again there was smoke or asphalt on the nose and with a bit of fruit. Tannins were surprisingly grippy in this wine.

2011 King Estates Oregon Pinot Noir – obvious fruit nose with berry and earthy flavors and lingering tannins. This is a bigger wine than the previous two wines.

2010 Erath Pinot Noir2010 Erath Oregon Pinot Noir – closed nose with layered fruit flavors and moderate tannins. Overall, a lighter wine with very pleasant, complex flavors. Erath was purchased in 2006 by Chateau Ste. Michelle, a Washington state winery. Gary Horner, the winemaker at Erath since 2003, has retained independent control of winemaking however. This was my favorite wine of the group.

2009 Paraiso Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir – very earthy nose and flavors with berries, more flavor over all and a longer finish with some heat. ABV is 14.2%.

2009 Mist Oaks Stuckagain Heights Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir – very ripe fruit flavors, pie spice and wood influence. Moderate tannins.

This was an interesting and diverse group of Pinot Noir wines. The two wines from Burgundy distinguished themselves in the nose and flavors; smoke and asphalt with austere, but complex flavors. Austere, but complex might sound like a contradiction. Maybe it is. What I am trying to communicate is that there is interesting flavor, just not up-front ripe fruit flavor.

Varying amounts of berry fruit and ripeness among the other wines in this group give you quite a range of tastes to choose from. To my palate, the King Estates, Misty Oaks and the Forefront Pine Ridge were the most fruit-forward.

And, don’t forget earthy flavors. It is a common element of Pinot Noir. Often, it is in the background behind the fruit. Earthy scents and flavors were most prominent in the Paraiso and Wild Horse wines.

Pinot Noir is among my very favorite wines. I love them because they are often light bodied, have complex fruit and earthy flavors with smooth tannins. It is the first varietal I remember really liking. My wine memory of Pinot Noir will always be linked to Jardinière, that wonderful San Francisco restaurant. At the suggestion of a waiter, I ordered a glass with dinner. That was nearly fifteen years ago and although I cannot remember the name or vintage of the wine, I remember its flavor very well. It was the beginning of a “beautiful friendship”.

Next week, we will be tasting Cabernet Franc, another of my very favorite varietals. Life is good.


Reference: Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz


  1. Peter, I don’t have your regular email address, so please forgive my ‘public’ fyi…
    another Riedel glass tasting coming up 4/18:

    yes, how many does one need to attend? it’s kind of like, how many rides on the wine train someone wants to take! Besides, one gets Riedel glasses…

    take care, see you soon.


    • Thanks Ron! I don’t know if we will make it but I appreciate the notice. No problem using the comment section for this if you want or you can email me at peter at this blog address.

      • the message sent with the notice says:
        “Do not reply to this email as it goes to an unmonitored mailbox”
        And is the that person.
        So? Maybe you do monitor your mail?
        Sorry I missed you last night, I was going to bring an Inkblock Cab Franc for everyone to taste.
        Enjoy your weekend.