By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Pinot noir is special for many reasons, but especially its clonal variety, its ability to stand on its own and its knack for reflecting the soil and weather more than any other grape variety. Cabernet sauvignon, for instance, can cover up imperfections by blending other grape varieties; rarely do you see pinot noir joined by other grapes. Yet pinot noir has its failings, particularly during rainy seasons when its thin skins open the way to disease.
Over the years we have developed an affection for pinot noir, particularly that from Burgundy. Pinot noir grown in the right climate is exquisite and more versatile with food than, say, cabernet sauvignon. But in its best form, pinot noir challenges the pocketbook for all but the rich. Prices continue to rise in California and Oregon – the great burgundies are out of range for most people, but surprisingly there are wines from this region that are better deals than most West Coast pinot noirs.
These are perfect wines to serve for that special Valentine’s dinner:
Cattleya Cuvee Number One Pinot Noir ($65). This wine represents the first appellation blend under Catteya Wines made by talented winemaker Bibiana Gonzalez Rave. Named as “Winemaker of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle, she continues to craft stunning pinot noirs. This one from the Russian River Valley is effusive in dark berry and spice aromas, rich and enduring cherry flavors and balanced acidity. Great texture and length.
Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Hill Elite Pinot Noir 2018 ($110). Maybe this wine is called elite because the selection comes from the Grand Cru La Romanee Vineyard in Burgundy. With a vineyard facing west, there is more sugar than that of the Emeritus Pinot Hill Cruz pinot noir, but acidity remains in balance because of a cool climate. The flavor profile embraces that of La Romanee with cassis and ripe black cherry and tobacco leaf notes and abundant floral aromas. This is a very special bottle of wine as is the Pinot Hill Cruz with a different profile.
Kosta Brown Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2020 ($115). This producer is one of the most respected in the pinot noir kingdom. It has several versions from Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and this one from Anderson Valley. Each of them reflects the unique terroir and climate of their appellations and will impress the pinot noir collector in your circle. This one, only in its third vintage, is a brassy, tannic wine with layered red and black fruit and a dash of spice.
Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2021 ($60). Violet, clove and other spices dominate the generous bouquet. Juicy black cherry fruit and more spice on the palate. Delicious.
Paul Hobbs Sonoma Coast Goldrock Estate Pinot Noir 2019 ($65-75). When we visited Annapolis, CA, several decades ago there were only a handful of wineries. Frankly, we didn’t find many good wines. Today, however, the likes of Paul Hobbs have found gold in a region that is only five miles from the ocean. The 550-foot elevation and the maritime climate optimizes conditions for dense, complex pinot noir. We found this version delightfully unusual in its profile. Spicy and floral aromas with wild cherry and raspberry flavors. Long in the finish, it’s one of the best pinot noirs we’ve tasted in a long time.
Lynmar Estate Quail Hill Pinot Noir 2018 ($71). Grown from the producer’s home ranch, the grapes for this stellar pinot noir combine to offer ripe blackberry and cocoa powder aromas and bright blueberry flavors.
Sosie Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast 2019 ($49). This beauty is for lovers of big bold California pinot noir. Very expressive berry and black cherry notes with a distinctive spice and vanilla element.
The sweet bubbly lambruscos of the 1980s have tainted this class wine, much like white zinfandel almost put dry roses out of business. Riunite and its cohort were all the rage in the late 20th century as Americans started to experiment with table wines. Like the white zins of the time, they were fruity, sweet and cheap, most selling for under $10 per bottle.
Times have thankfully changed. A recent tasting of two dry lambruscos from Italy opened a new chapter of learning for us.
These wines hail from either the Emilia Romagna or Lombardy regions of Italy that lie just to the north of Tuscany. Lambruscos range from dry to sweet and they utilize the bulk charmant process to provide carbonation. Unlike other dry red wines from Italy, lambrusco should be served chilled.
Lambruscos are crafted from the lambrusco grape of which 60 varieties exist. It can be blended with small amounts of other grapes. The dry lambruscos are packaged in sparkling wine bottles and can be vintage dated.
The two lambruscos we tasted presented a very youthful front with dry grapey flavors and notes of strawberry, cherry and plum. They are very refreshing to drink and can play a part in any traditional red wine pairings, especially as an accompaniment to charcuterie.
The Linni 910 Labrusca Rosso Non-Vintage ($16-18) exhibited bright berry notes with a dense purple color and refreshing effervescence. It is made in the Emilia-Romagna region from 85 percent lambrusco grapes.
Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco 2020 ($27) was our favorite of the two. It is sourced from a single, organically farmed vineyard. Very clean and bright with strawberry and cherry notes.
Casanova di Neri Il Rosso 2020 ($24). This mostly sangiovese wine from Tuscany is ready to drink. Red fruit and spice notes.
Tenuta di Capezzana Villa di Capezzana di Carmignano DOCG 2018 ($32). Now in its fifth generation, the Contini Bonacossi family is making consistently good wine in Carmignano. Twenty percent cabernet sauvignon is added to the sangiovese to give this wine some lift and depth. Dark fruit character with hints of herbs and mineral.
Garofoil “Farnio” Rosso Picano DOC 2021 ($13). A blend of montepulciano d’abruzzo and sangiovese, this wine is simple and refreshing to serve as an aperitif or with light fare. Bright red fruit flavors.