This wonderful grape produces exceptional wines
when well-crafted in the right climate

Ken Wright Cellars
Photo courtesy of Ken Wright Cellars, Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
wayne crawford
Wayne Crawford
All wines depend on the grape varietal, the growing region and the winemaker’s craft for aroma, flavor and age-ability. The Pinot Noir (“Pee-n Nwar”) grape’s homeland has been Burgundy, France since A.D. 100 and is a good illustration of how a wine grape takes on the characteristics of the “terroir” of its indigenous growing region and the direct impacts on the wine’s characteristics.

Pinot Noir is a challenging grape to grow and needs cooler climates and good drainage to be successful. The best Pinot grows on hillsides. The standard for Pinot Noir is Burgundy, particularly the Côte d ’Ore “slopes of gold” where the grand cru vineyards are on higher slopes. This thin-skinned red grape with good acidity and low-to-moderate tannins is rather light red in color and its primary aromatic fruit flavors are cherry and strawberry with hints of raspberry. As a medium-to-full bodied wine, it remains an all-purpose elixir grown throughout many wine regions of the world.

In France more Pinot Noir is grown in the Champagne region than in Burgundy and a small percentage of Pinot Noir is produced in Alsace. In the United States significant Pinot Noir grapes are grown in California, Oregon and Washington State where, again, cool climates dominate. California accounted for 147,732 tons of Pinot Noir in 2010 (see The leading California counties for Pinot Noir acreage in 2010 were Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Napa. Following California in Pinot Noir acreage are Oregon, centered on the Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), and Washington State. New Zealand, South Africa, Germany and Chile all invest in Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir grapes
This wonderful grape produces exceptional wines when well-crafted in the right climate. This is not a grape that will grow well in Georgia. The best wine year in Burgundy over the past twenty years is 2005; in Sonoma, California 2009 is an exceptional year and should be a focus for wine lovers in their purchases. In Oregon 2008 is the best in ten years for Pinot Noir. The one recurring caution is the proliferation of poor quality “name only” Pinot Noir within California and other regions. Cheap Pinot grown on flat ground in warm climates significantly diminishes the wine.

The top Pinot Noirs from Côte d ’Ore will age 20 years and you can expect the top Santa Barbara grapes to satisfy for a dozen years. This wine pairs with lean and roasted beef, braised or roasted chicken and duck, sauces with mushrooms, pork loin, veal chops and broiled or grilled salmon and tuna. Keep in mind that less expensive Pinots tend to be light-bodied while the more expensive wines are fuller and more complex.  

Wines drinking well now
Belle Glos 2010 "Meiomi" Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, California priced at $31: Dark ruby red color with cherry and red berry aromas with hints of spices, cherry and raspberry flavors. This is a well-balanced wine with soft tannins and a polished lingering finish. This wine is produced by Caymus, one of the best wine producers in Napa. Rated the best wine in the January Blind Tasting of 12 Pinot Noir, Highly Recommended

Chalone Estate Vineyard 2005 Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California priced at $31: The wine has a deep ruby color, with aromas of ripe cherry and raspberry, with spice and vanilla notes. This wine has sweet fruit flavors, moderate acidity, fine tannins, and a smooth mouth-feel. This Pinot has flavors of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry and oak with soft tannins and a nice full finish. Highly Recommended

Ken Wright Cellars
Ken Wright Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir
Carter Vineyard Willamette Valley, Oregon priced at $47: The wine has a bright red color with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and spice with mineral overtones and some oak. On the palate the wine has flavors of cherry and red berry with firm tannins and a pleasing finish. One of the great Pinot Noir winemakers and the wine should improve with age. Highly Recommended

Ponzi 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon priced at $35: Bright and tangy, with a juicy feel loaded with wild cherry and plum berry fruit with floral notes. Black cherry and blueberry flavors on the palate with soft tannins and a nice lingering finish. This 40-year-old winery consistently produces Highly Recommended wines.

Chanson Pere et Fils 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin, Côte de Nuits, France priced at $50: This was the best year for red Burgundy production in the past 20 years and was reflected in higher prices. Ruby red colors showcase floral and black fruit aromas. On the palate medium tannins with plum and black cherry notes and a lingering finish. This wine house was established in 1750. Highly Recommended

Other Pinot Noirs drinking well: "Wine Spectator (WS) 2011" wine of the year is a Kosta Brown Sonoma Coast priced at $52; WS #5 is Dehlinger Russian River priced at $50; and Rex Hill Willamette Valley priced at $33.

Drink what you like!

Bordeaux Blends will highlight the February article. Although he calls Big Canoe home, Wayne is frequently on the road with his consulting practice. Wayne is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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