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"Every great pinot noir requires balance," says Ian Burch, winemaker at Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. "A well-balanced pinot noir should entice you aromatically, enter gracefully onto your palate, and leave a long, beautiful finish. Like Mark Tarlov who just recently left us used to say, pinot noir is like a ballerina. The dedication, muscle, practice, and form are all there, but the audience only sees a lovely display and performance. Pinot noir is the same way. Under all of the meticulous layers that winegrowers and winemakers hammer out, our consumer is left with a lacy, transformative wine experience.”
It’s easy to love and appreciate wine, but if pinot noir hasn’t been part of your wine-loving life, we're hoping you'll reconsider. It’s a much-desired grape, planted throughout the world, and an exceptionally brilliant one. Almost chameleon-like, it's capable of assuming the terroir of its surroundings and placing those aromas, flavors, and textures on full display in each sniff and sip. Pinot noir belongs in every wine lover’s cellar, cabinet, or glass. Many of them are good, but only so many of them are great. One such great is Kosta Browne Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, a well-received California vintage and our top pick.
Here, we’re celebrating this noble variety with some of the best pinot noirs to drink today. Don’t hesitate to try any of these selections, because there’s just no going wrong.
Best Overall: Kosta Browne Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Region: Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara), California | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Wild strawberry, Tangy black cherry, Cranberry
Kosta Browne is one of the treasured producers of exceptional, unabashedly California-style pinot noirs. This particular vintage has earned accolades across the board from noted wine critics. Although known for their cool-climate Sonoma County pinots, they’ve begun sourcing grapes from Central Coast’s Sta. Rita Hills in recent years. This region in Santa Barbara is home to exceptional vineyards and world-class wines, and this bottle bears the winery's unmistakable stamp, imbued with freshness, tremendous verve, and energy.
Vivid aromas of ripe wild strawberry, tangy black cherry, cranberry, and hints of blood orange, fleshy and delicious fruit flavors are supported by grippy tannins. Juicy acidity rounds out this wine of elegance, precision, tension, and finesse.
Best California: Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot Noir
Region: Russian River (Sonoma), California | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Blood orange, Clove
Gary Farrell Vineyards puts their best foot forward, representing California’s great state with this exquisite pinot. A blend of grapes from vineyards of varying climates, this cuvée features a balance of textures and flavors from renowned slices of the Russian River terroir.
The pinot is translucent ruby with cherry, blood orange, clove, and grapefruit zest. Gentle tannins met with sweet cedar unfurl in brown spices, cola, and cinnamon through a red berry-driven finish with elegant minerality.
Runner-Up, Best California: Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Region: Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara), California | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Strawberry, Pomegranate, Cola
Sommelier, author, and winemaker Rajat Parr runs the show at Sandhi Wines, combining his exceptional palate and unparalleled tasting experiences with Santa Barbara County’s growing Burgundy varieties. Sandhi’s vineyard sources are regularly met with cool blasts of ocean air, yielding fresh, balanced pinot grapes.
This wine lifts out of the glass with notes of red berries and hibiscus, delivering a medium-bodied mouthfeel. Expect flavors of strawberry, pomegranate, cola, and delicate black truffle amidst a juicy acid backbone and feathery tannins for a delightful texture.
Tip: If you can get your hands on Parr's Domaine de la Côte wines, you’ll understand what perfection tastes like in California-made pinot noir.
Best Oregon: Belle Pente Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Pepper
Over the past decades, Belle Pente’s pinots have been acclaimed as some of Oregon's best, and this vintage continues that tradition. They owe their classy blend to the cool-climate grapes hand-harvested from their 70-acre hillside vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Willamette Valley.
Expect red fruits like cherry and strawberry, as well as blackberry, earth, and pepper. The medium-bodied pinot dances on the palate and falls gently on the finish.
“Pinot Noir is known for [producing] the most expensive bottles in the world (from France), but the New World offers amazing quality and diversity at an affordable price,” says Pablo Navarette, National Sales Manager at Apollo Fine Wine & Spirits.
Runner-Up, Best Oregon: Johan Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Citrus zest, Gingerbread
Another divine treat from the Willamette Valley’s magic soils is the product of Johan’s certified-biodynamic estate vineyard led by winemaker Morgan Beck. This one is a classic pinot that’s good for the land as well as the palate.
Vanilla and cherry burst on the scene with a divine rush of citrus zest. A vibrant and delightful wine, expect delicate aromas of gingerbread spices with smooth tannins and bright acidity.
Related: The Best Red Wines
Best Splurge: Benjamin Leroux Gevrey-Chambertin
Region: Gevrey Chambertin, Burgundy, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Dried strawberries, Cedar, Smoke
After working for many years as the manager and winemaker at Domaine du Comte Armand in Pommard, Benjamin Leroux established his own négociant business back in 2007. Since then, Leroux has been making wine from some of Burgundy’s most renowned appellations, including Chassagne-Montrachet, Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin, and more.
This delicious and textured wine from Gevrey-Chambertin shows flavors of dried strawberries, cedar, potpourri, and a touch of smoke. Leroux sources his fruit from four separate lieux-dits within the village. Bright acid and elegant tannins ensure that this wine will taste delicious now, but will definitely soar to a new level within the next 4-5 years.
Best Under $30: Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir
Region: Central Coast, California | ABV: 14.1% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Sandalwood, Smoke
From California’s Central Coast, Laetitia Estate offers this bright pinot made from a blend of 10, home-grown pinot noir clones from vineyards that soak up the ocean air. You can treat yourself to this tasty, meticulously-made wine for just under $30.
You’re hit with full aromas of mulberry and cranberry off the bat, followed by smoke and nutmeg. Expect flavors of cherry, raspberry, sandalwood, and spice, along with crisp acidity and a lasting finish.
Best Under $50: Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir
Region: Carneros, California | ABV: 14.2% | Tasting Notes: Strawberry, Chocolate, Pomegranate
Operating out of Napa Valley, Domaine Carneros' founding winemaker Eileen Crane is best known for her landmark sparkling wines. Still, pinot noir is another trick up her sleeve. Whole berries for this pinot are cold-soaked for delicate flavor extraction, then barrel-aged for 10 months.
Intense and full-bodied with luscious tannins, this wine has notes of cherry, strawberry, chocolate, pomegranate, and plum. It's sweet and juicy with brilliant texture and a long finish. The pinot is great on its own or as a companion to New York strip steak, herb-dusted pork loin, or parmesan-crusted, pan-seared Dover sole.
Best Australian: Yering Station Village Pinot Noir
Region: Yarra Valley, Australia | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Black cherry, Violets, Cedar, vanilla
The Rathbone family brought Yering Station, a nearly two-centuries-old institution, to international fame as one of Australia’s top wineries. Victoria’s Yarra Valley, which is home to Yering Station, is known for its varying pinot noir-wine styles from its diverse microclimates.
This smooth, dark-fruited pinot has aromas of black and red cherry, earth, and undertones of spicy pepper. Smooth tannins form the base of a floral-accented pinot reminiscent of violets and lavender, tinged with rich vanilla, cherry, and cedar spices.
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“Look up a famous or expensive pinot you like, then google the winemaker and see if they make other wine on less prestigious land, or if they have a side project with négociant fruit (fruit they buy and make wine from but don’t own the land ). Also, if you like a sancerre producer, odds are they also make pinot noir.” - Jeff Harding, beverage director at New York’s Waverly Inn
Best New Zealand: Seresin Leah Pinot Noir
Region: Marlborough, New Zealand | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Wild berries, Plums, Black tea
Founded by Wellington native Michael Seresin, this eponymous New Zealand domaine focuses on organic and biodynamic farming, hand-picked fruit, and gentle winemaking. After spending much of his early life in Italy—and falling in love with its food and wine culture—Seresin returned to his native New Zealand, settled in Marlborough, and established his winery in 1996.
‘Leah’ Pinot Noir is named for Seresin’s daughter. The majority of the fruit for this wine comes from clay-rich soils in the Omaka Valley and was hand-picked, destemmed, and macerated prior to native yeast fermentation. After 11 months of aging in neutral French oak, the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Energetic flavors of ripe wild berries, plums, and black tea harmoniously weave together on the palate and lead to a spicy, mouth-filling finish.
Best French: Patrice Rion Nuits-St-Georges Clos Saint-Marc Premier Cru
Region: Nuits-St-Georges, Burgundy, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Red currant, Damp forest, Crushed stones
Representing a taste of France with great zeal, Patrice Rion is an expert winemaker, finely tuned to growing and harvesting grapes on his vineyards in Nuits-St-Georges. You can taste his decades of expertise with this delicious wine.
Beautiful delicate earth notes find black truffle, damp forest, and wild cherry. The pinot has remarkable layers of juicy cherry, red currant, and black raspberry, cut by sharp acidity, meaty tannins, crushed stone minerality, and a lengthy finish.
Best French (Runner-Up): Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Region: Burgundy, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Crushed raspberries, Cranberries, Black pepper, Sweet spice
The de Montille family is no stranger to Burgundian vineyards. The family’s regional roots date back to the 1730s, though it was really during the mid-20th century that the domaine took its viticultural focus on quality to a whole new level. Etienne de Montille officially took over from his father back in 1995. Since then, he converted all of the vineyards to organic and biodynamic farming; today, the estate is one of the rare few in Burgundy that is equally renowned for both its red and white wine production.
Today, de Montille vinifies his reds with a good amount of whole clusters (generally 50-100%) and implements 12-16 days of macerations with minimal punch-downs. Wines are aged in wood for about a year prior to release, most of which is used. This savory Bourgogne Rouge jumps with perfumed flavors of crushed raspberries, cranberries, black pepper, and a hint of sweet spice.
Best Argentinian: Domaine Nico Grand Mère Pinot Noir
Region: Uco Valley (Mendoza), Argentina | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Spiced red cherry, Dried roses, Baking spice
Domaine Nico is one of the New World’s most exciting pioneers of pinot noir. Founded by Laura Catena and named after her daughter and father, both Nicola Catena, this dynamic estate is one of South America’s biggest pioneers of high-altitude pinot noir. A Francophile since her teenage years, Laura has had a passion for pinot noir since she first got into wine.
Nico’s Grand Mère Pinot Noir comes from the Villa Bastias vineyard in the Uco Valley. The site was first planted to Dijon clones back in 1993 and sees more sunshine than the neighboring Grand Père block. The wine was fermented with native yeasts and 20% whole clusters in small vats, with punch downs executed by hand. Flavors of spiced red cherry, dried roses, and baking spice lead to a palate-coating finish.
Best Chilean: Ritual Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir
Region: Casablanca Valley, Chile | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Red fruit, Oak, Smoke, Black pepper
Swaddled by 6,000 acres of native forest and the Pacific Ocean’s cooling air, Ritual’s vineyards in Chile’s Casablanca Valley rest in an ideal terrain for growing outstanding grapes. They take a low-impact farming approach to their harvest, and grapes are gently picked by hand.
Full-bodied and decently textured, this pinot has notes of red fruit, earth, blackberry, oak, smoke, and pepper. Expect a sweet flavor with fresh herbal aromas and fine, svelte tannins.
Region and ABV all play into how a specific pinot noir will taste, though knowing a bit about the producer is also essential. When in doubt, ask your local wine shop/sommelier to tell you more about a producer’s style, as well as the overall climate conditions of a growing area. This should help lead you to a pinot noir that suits your palate best (and once you find a producer that you love, taste your way through their lineup to further explore the winery’s range of cuvées).
What to Look For
When seeking out a bottle of pinot noir, knowing your personal palate preferences is key. If you prefer wines with higher acidity and more earth-driven flavors, look for wines with lower ABVs, generally from Old World regions or cooler-climate New World areas. On the contrary, for riper and more fruit-driven expressions, wines from warmer growing areas and with higher ABVs are where it’s at. However, this is all producer specific too, as the ripeness level at which the grapes were picked and how the wines were vinified in the cellar can also reveal a lot about how a wine will taste.
Where is pinot noir mostly grown?
Although pinot noir is originally from France’s Burgundy region, the grape is now cultivated all over the world. Some of its most popular growing areas include the Willamette Valley (Oregon), Sonoma County and the Central Coast (California), Marlborough and Otago (New Zealand), Yarra Valley, Tasmania, and Mornington Peninsula (Australia), and beyond.
What are the distinctive qualities of pinot noir?
Pinot noir is known for being a rather finicky variety, meaning that it needs very specific conditions to grow. The grape has thin skins, which make it susceptible to disease, though when cultivated at the hands of talented growers, pinot noir-based wines are some of the best (and most expensive) in the entire world. On the palate, pinot noir-based wines generally have high acid, low levels of tannins, and show earthy flavors of cherries, strawberries, and other red fruits.
How long does pinot noir last after opening?
As with most wines, pinot noir is generally best consumed within the first few days of opening. Once open, keep the bottle refrigerated to help preserve the wine’s freshness.
What is the best way to store pinot noir?
Wines from all regions and varieties are best stored in conditions as close to a wine cellar as possible. This means around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and away from direct sunlight, and if the storage unit provides a bit of humidity (for the sake of keeping the wines’ corks moist), even better.
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager for Verve Wine, a bi-coastal retail operation (New York & San Francisco).
Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade, regularly tasting wines from around the globe. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.