Wild West Wine

Two mavericks unlock the secrets to good Pinot Noir. Here's where to go for the very best.

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Saint Gregory

  • Saint Gregory


  • Alderbrook


Brick House

  • Brick House

Shopping Guide

Under $20

Lucas & Lewellen "Queen of Hearts" 2002 (Santa Barbara County; $10). Powerful ― almost masculine ― with notes of dried leaves and grenadine. Delivers for the price, and calls for meat (beef stew).
 Meridian 2003 (Central Coast, CA; $11). Thanksgiving wine on a budget. Its raspberry tea, dark cherries, and spice would match the whole meal (even the root vegetables).
 Pedroncelli Winery ― F. Johnson Vineyard 2003 (Sonoma County; $15). Cherry pie and strawberry jam framed with wonderful acidity. Lush and long.
 Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2004 (Central Coast; $11). Fresh and clean; a pleasant balance of cherry fruit with earth and spice.
 Saint Gregory 2002 (Mendocino; $16). Lush cranberry and cherry fruit with a touch of spicy oak. Rich enough for duck with cherry sauce.
 Sebastiani 2003 (Sonoma Coast; $15). Toasty oak balanced with black cherries and plums. Duck is your dish.

$20 to $35

Acacia 2003 (Carneros; $25). Well structured, with bright strawberries and cherries and hints of rose petals.
 Alderbrook 2002 (Russian River Valley; $24). A crowd-pleaser that would satisfy connoisseurs as well, with dark, ripe fruit; a texture of silk over bark; and pairing potential from pasta Bolognese to short ribs.
 Argyle Reserve 2003 (Willamette Valley; $30). Interesting aromas of dried cherries, cloves, cedar, and violets lead into bright red fruit ― especially raspberries.
 Clos LaChance 2002 (Santa Cruz Mountains, CA; $25). A lightly smoky Pinot full of strawberries and cranberries baked with fall spices. Pour with salmon, turkey, or roast chicken.
 Deerfield Ranch 2001 (Carneros; $25). They threw the spice rack into this one. The allspice, mushroom nose is followed by plush raspberries, cherries, and root beer.
 Domaine Carneros 2003 (Carneros; $28). Most of this winery's Pinot gets turned into bubbles. In this still version, interesting spices lurk under bright strawberry fruit, and a rich texture calls for wild salmon.
 Everett Ridge 2002 (Russian River Valley; $32). An amazing wine (look for Miles to have a heyday with this one in Sideways II). Soy sauce, cola, cherries, dried cranberries, dried leaves, and old library books crowd the nose. Flavors of all of the above ― plus grenadine and Turkish spices ― follow.
 Gloria Ferrer 2002 (Carneros; $26). Soft oak on the nose, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper, followed by juicy cherry, berry, and yellow peach flavors. A toasty, smoky Pinot; try with barbecued ribs.
 Husch 2003 (Anderson Valley; $21). A leaner-style wine, with plum, cherries, and cranberries. Pair with roast salmon or lamb chops.
 Lincourt 2003 (Santa Barbara County; $22). Bright and briary, with cherries, spice, and a dash of lemon. A Pinot with focused food cravings ― for chipotle-crusted pork roast or a Reuben sandwich.
 Masut Redwood Valley 2003 (Mendocino; $32). Deep, long flavors ― plum, cranberry, and berry fruit with vanilla and exotic spices. They would pair well with a gamut of rich cheeses, duck, or a lamb tagine.
 Navarro "Méthode à l'Ancienne" 2001 (Anderson Valley; $24). Earthy (a little smoky bacon), with cherries, plums, and spice.
 Navillus Birney 2003 (Sonoma Coast; $30). Earthy cedar and forest-floor aromas, with plums, Chinese five spice, and herbs. An elegant, Burgundian Pinot with a long, silky finish.
 Roederer Estate 2003 (Anderson Valley; $22). A still wine from a sparkling house. This Pinot would please a Cab drinker, with jammy fruit, dried cherries, chocolate, vanilla, and spices. A beef bourguignon wine.
 Sanford 2002 (Santa Rita Hills; $26). A tightly structured wine (give it two to four years), with layers of cola flavors, raspberries and black cherries, and spice.
 Sokol Blosser 2002 (Dundee Hills, OR; $25). Fresh and clean, with cherry, cola, and spice notes and a long, silky, toasty finish.
 Summerland Chamisal Vineyard 2003 (Edna Valley, CA; $33). This wine delivers on the promise of its interesting nose, with cinnamon, coriander, and berries in Burgundian balance. It calls to mind pasta with wild mushrooms.
 Williams Selyem 2003 (Central Coast, CA; $29). A poem of a Pinot Noir ― why people pay a gazillion bucks for a bottle (although this one costs slightly less). It's a seamless package of cranberry and cherry fruit with chocolate, vanilla, and potpourri.

$35 and over

Brick House "Les Dijonnais" 2003 (Willamette Valley; $45). Restrained and elegant, with bright acid carrying raspberry and dried-plum flavors.
 Erath Prince Hill 2002 (Willamette Valley; $40). Intense and earthy; dried leaves and herbs give way to subtle dried cherries and milk chocolate. For Burgundy lovers only.
 Esterlina 2002 Estate (Anderson Valley; $35). Slight herbal notes over blackberry, cherry, cassis, and black pepper. Chicken stew would make a match.
 Goldeneye 2002 (Anderson Valley; $52). Generous to a fault with oak, but loaded with great berries (cran- and blue-), chocolate, vanilla, violets, and spice. Will age well.
 Ken Wright Cellars Guadalupe Vineyard 2002 (Dundee Hills, OR; $40). Pleasant gamey, toasty nose, and wonderful fruit ― dark berries, cherries, and plums.
 Quail Cuvée 2002 (Russian River Valley; $40). Earthy nose of mushrooms, game, and leather gives way to rose petals, vanilla, chocolate, and a round, lively slate of plums, berries, and cola over minerals and silky tannins.
 Rutz Cellars Dutton Ranch 2003 (Russian River Valley; $38). An elegant Pinot, with pretty floral notes and a hint of earth with raspberry, cherry, and cranberry fruit over spice.
 Sanford, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 2002 (Santa Rita Hills; $43). Lush fruit up-front ― spicy raspberries and cherries ― with chocolate. Roast some duck, or stir some bacon and peas into pasta.
 Tandem Keefer Ranch 2003 (Green Valley, CA; $38). A charmer with a long finish. Smoke, vanilla, and cloves add layers of interest to big berry flavors. Try it with herb-roasted fish.

Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills

Here, Pinot vineyards flank golden California hills. Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association (805/688-0881)

Au Bon Climat Winery. The winery is not open to the public, but you can order its wines at www.aubonclimat.com or taste them at the Au Bon Climat Tasting Room (10-4 Thu-Mon; tasting $9; 3631 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; 805/688-8688).

Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery. A new winery and visitor center for Foley Estates' Burgundy-leaning Pinots is scheduled to open by Nov 1. 10-5 daily; tasting $5. 6121 State 246, Lompoc; 805/688-8554.

Foxen. Small farm shed is beyond rustic but houses finely crafted wines. 11-4 daily; tasting $5. 7200 Foxen Canyon Rd., Santa Maria; 805/937-4251.

Melville Vineyards and Winery. Taste estate-bottled Pinots at this gracious Mediterranean-style winery. 11-4 daily; tasting $5. 5185 E. State 246, Lompoc; 805/735-7030.

Sanford Winery & Vineyards. Rustic in the most beautiful sense. Total strangers compare opinions at the tasting table. 11-4 daily; tasting $5. 7250 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton; 800/426-9463.

Northern Willamette Valley

Vineyards in small swaths through the hills share space with other crops. Willamette Valley Wineries Association (503/646-2985)

Adelsheim Vineyard. Fortresslike structure with a beautiful new tasting room. 11-4 Wed-Sun; tasting $5. 16800 N.E. Calkins Lane, Newberg; 503/538-3652.

Anne Amie Vineyards. Formerly Chateau Benoit, and a longtime favorite tasting spot for its grand outlook, Anne Amie is now making some impressive expressions of single vineyards. 10-5 daily; tasting fee varies. 6580 N.E. Mineral Springs Rd., Carlton; 800/248-4835.

Archery Summit. Some of the most expensive Pinots in the valley, the most beautiful caves. 10-4:30 daily; tasting $10. 18599 N.E. Archery Summit Rd., Dayton; 800/732-8822.

Argyle Winery. Antithesis of Archery: Barrels are housed in a former hazelnut-processing plant; tastings take place in a Victorian farmhouse. 11-5 daily; tasting fee varies. 691 State 99W, Dundee; 503/538-8520.

Bethel Heights Vineyard. Airy tasting room opens to deck over the vineyards and 100-point views. Interesting lineup of small-block Pinots. 11-5 Sat-Sun; tasting free. 6060 Bethel Heights Rd. N.W., Salem; 503/581-2262.

Carlton Winemakers' Studio. Great place to taste the wares of multiple winemakers together. 11-5 daily; tasting fee varies. 801 N. Scott St., Carlton; 503/852-6100.

Cristom Vineyards. Mediterranean-feeling tasting room surrounded by beautiful gardens. 11-5 Wed-Sun; tasting free. 6905 Spring Valley Rd. N.W., Salem; 503/375-3068.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon. A prominent French winemaking family puts its stamp on Oregon Pinot in a sleek, simple Old World-New World structure. 11-4 Wed-Sun; tasting $5. 6750 N.E. Breyman Orchards Rd., Dayton; 503/864-2700.

Elk Cove Vineyards. Way the heck out there, where elk still might roam. Tasting room is perched on a knoll, where every view has a long finish. 10-5 daily; tasting free. 27751 N.W. Olson Rd., Gaston; 503/985-7760.

Ponzi Vineyards. Dick Ponzi personally put local stone and wood into this building. View the cellar while you taste (11-5 daily; tasting fee varies; 14665 S.W. Winery Lane, Beaverton; 503/628-1227). You can also taste Ponzi wines, and those from many other great local makers, at the Ponzi Wine Bar (11-5 Mon-Fri, 11-6 Sat-Sun; 100 S.W. Seventh St., Dundee; 503/554-1500).

Sokol Blosser Winery. Sustainably produced wines in a light, modern structure with a great deck. 11-5 daily; tasting from $5; or 503/864-2282.

WillaKenzie Estate. A drive, but worth it. Compare the intense, fruit-forward Pierre Léon Vineyard Pinot to the earthier, loamy Emery from higher up. 12-5 Fri-Sun and by appointment; tasting free. 19143 N.E. Laughlin Rd., Yamhill; 503/662-3280.

Anderson Valley

One of the most remote and beautiful ― yet civilized ― wine drives still to be had. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (707/895-9463)

Fife Vineyards. Best known for its Rhône reds, Fife has just opened a redwood tasting bungalow and will be releasing its first Pinot soon. 10-5:30 Thu-Mon; tasting free. 11201 Anderson Valley Way, Boonville; 707/895-2532.

Goldeneye. Practically Napa-esque sit-down tasting on a terrace looking across vineyard blocks to the redwoods. Napa is in fact moving in here ― Goldeneye is owned by the Duckhorn Wine Company. 11-4 daily; tasting $5. 9200 State 128, Philo; 707/895-3202.

Husch Vineyards. Small (very) tasting hut under the oaks. Two Pinot styles ― one lean and earthy, the other fruit-forward. 10-5 daily; tasting free. 4400 State 128, Philo; 800/664-8724.

Navarro Vineyards. The hub of wine-tasting traffic, and what Anderson Valley is all about ― well-made wines (in this case, available only at the winery and in restaurants) at reasonable prices, poured in casual, creative spaces. 10-6 daily; tasting free. 5601 State 128, Philo; 707/895-3686.

Roederer Estate. This French-owned sparkling-wine house has grand views through the windows behind the bar. Taste the still Pinot Noir. 11-5 daily; tasting $3. 4501 State 128, Philo; 707/895-2288.

Russian River Valley

Quintessential Northern California, with dense evergreen stands and gnarly oaked knolls hugging one rolling vineyard after another. Russian River Valley Winegrowers (707/521-2534)

Davis Bynum Winery. Fascinating comparisons to be had among Pinot bottlings from all over the region. 10-5 daily; tasting fee varies. 8075 Westside Rd., Healdsburg; 800/826-1073.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery. Tasting bar perched above the valley's wildest part. Region-wide and single-vineyard Pinots. 11-4 daily; tasting $5. 10701 Westside Rd., Healdsburg; 707/473-2900.

Hartford Family Winery. Grand-scale château (the family is part of the Kendall-Jackson clan) in the exciting Green Valley appellation. Compare high-end single-vineyard Russian River Pinots with some from other regions. 10-4:30 daily; tasting free. 8075 Martinelli Rd., Forestville; 707/887-1756.

Iron Horse Ranch & Vineyards. Stand at the "tasting plank" laid across barrels near the barn and take in the vistas with a glass of bubbly, then a still Pinot. 10-3:30 daily; tasting $5. 9786 Ross Station Rd., Sebastopol; 707/887-1508.

J. Rochioli Vineyard & Winery. Homelike redwood room overlooking Rochioli vineyards. (The family has been growing grapes for other great local winemakers for decades.) 11-4 daily; tasting free. 6192 Westside Rd., Healdsburg; 707/433-2305.

Los Carneros

Spanning southern Napa and Sonoma Counties, the region is interesting for its two big sparkling-wine houses that are leaving the bubbles out of some of their Pinot now. Carnernos Quality Alliance (or 707/253-2678)

Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Earth-covered structure that's light and airy. Modern art gallery and mini wine museum. 10-5 daily; tasting from $10. 1345 Henry Rd., Napa; 707/224-1668.

Carneros Creek ― Mahoney Vineyards. Homey, but a great Pinot education is to be had here. 10-5 daily; tasting $7. 1285 Dealy Lane, Napa; 707/253-9463.

Domaine Carneros. Still Pinot is a brilliant departure at this château owned by Champagne's Taittingers. 10-6 daily; tasting from $14. 1240 Duhig Rd., Napa; 707/257-0101.

Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. Compare Pinot-heavy sparklers with still Pinots at this Spanish-owned winery. 10:30-5:30 daily; tasting fee varies. 23555 Carneros Hwy./State 121, Sonoma; 707/996-7256.


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