Erik Neilson on February 28, 2017 0 Comments When most people think of great American wine, California tends to come to mind before any other state in the country. There’s plenty of reason for this bias, as California truly is home to some of the finest wine producers in the world. The state is known for many different grapes and styles, and Cabernet Sauvignon tends to gain the most attention when it comes to reds. Another grape that grows extremely well — particularly in California — is Pinot Noir, and there are some benchmark examples of the grape available if you know what to look for. Ready to try the best Pinot Noir in California? Here are a handful of bottles that serve as excellent starting points. 1. Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot California Pinot Noir can often start around $70 per bottle, which can be very off-putting for those who find themselves attempting to stick to a tight budget. This is where Navarro Winery’s Anderson Valley Pinot comes into play, available for only $20 and offering an excellent quality-to-price ratio. Since nearly 85% of the winery’s sales are direct to consumer, they’re able to keep prices low without having to sacrifice quality whatsoever. Dark ruby in color with a mild bouquet of plums, Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot is medium-bodied, with smooth tannins and hints of fresh blackberries and racy minerals. Perfect on its own, this Pinot also happens to be extremely food-friendly and a repeatable luxury given its price point. 2. Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast There are few wineries in California that represent cool-climate elegance quite like Freeman, owned and operated by Japan-born winemaker Akiko Freeman. All of Freeman’s wines are worth trying and are unique in their own right, but her Cuvée Sonoma Coast is a blend of the best barrels from each vintage that contains veritable universes within itself. Think lush violets, earthy forest floor and deep black cherry characteristics, and you’ll have an idea of what this wine brings to the table. Seek out the 2013 vintage for best results. 3. Sea Smoke Pinot Noir The film Sideways may have played a rather large role in the ever-increasing popularity of Sea Smoke wines, but that’s not to say that the quality here isn’t top-notch — it is. Known for wines that are extremely concentrated and rich in flavor, Sea Smoke’s three Pinots — ”Botella,” “Ten” and “Southing” — can fetch rather high prices at around $100 per bottle, give or take. Getting your hands on a bottle also requires ending up on a list, though doing so isn’t quite as difficult today as it was a decade ago. Just know that Sea Smoke’s examples of Pinot are far more concentrated than you’re likely used to, and you won’t be shocked upon first taste. 4. Joyce Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield Made with grapes harvested during the early morning hours, Joyce Winery’s Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield goes through fermentation in open-top containers before being aged on lees in oak for 13 months. The result? A stupendous example of what the Pinot Noir grape is capable of, and one that can be had for roughly $38. With an aroma of black cherry, hay, plums and cedar, this Pinot tastes of ripe strawberries and jammy dark fruits. Big, juicy and decidedly New World in style, the 2013 vintage of Joyce Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield is not to be overlooked. 5. Inman Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir “Whole-cluster fermentation” may not exactly be a household term, but for winemakers and enthusiasts alike, the simple mention of the term is enough to arouse some excitement. Native yeasts and carbonic maceration combine to create an extremely savory, soft wine with a long, berry-laden finish and juicy center. Aromatic and full of life, this is an excellent wine for those who are interested in experiencing firsthand the effects that whole-cluster fermentation can have on a wine. 6. Cuvaison Pinot Noir Estate Grown This is a unique Pinot Noir given how it comes together. A blend of Pinot Noir grapes from 20 different blocks in the winemaker’s Carneros estate, the wine is aged for 11 months in small French oak barrels, which lend it a tannic astringency and deep woody notes. Aromas of sour cherries fill the air upon opening the bottle, along with dried apricots and notes of black pepper. Deeply oaked on the palate, flavors of black cherry round-out this wine and feature elegant cranberry undertones upon each sip. 7. Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Belle Glos wines are some of the finest that California has to offer at their price points, and their Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir is an excellent bottle to start with. At around $55, it’s middle of the road pricing is superseded by its remarkable quality, making it an excellent option for those who don’t want to spend $100+ on a bottle but still want to drink great wine. With a deep scarlet color, the aroma of this wine is loaded with blackberries and sweet caramel, rounded out by flavors of strawberry jam and warm spices. Velvety tannins give this wine a smooth, long finish that makes it ideal for pairing with any holiday meal. As with many examples of Pinot Noir on this list, the 2013 vintage is the one to look for at the moment. 8. David Family Black Label Anderson Valley wines are very highly regarded, and for good reason. The David Family Black Label Pinot Noir is a great bottle to try if you’re unfamiliar with Anderson Valley wines, featuring strong earthy notes that bring with them flavors of black cherry and vibrant strawberry. This is a supple, concentrated Pinot Noir that benefits heavily from its extensive minerality and elegant finish. A must-try for fans of California Pinot, and not quite as difficult to track down as many other high-profile bottles found throughout the state. 9. Joel Gott Pinot Noir Created from grapes that are grown in Monterey and Santa Barbara, Joel Gott Pinot Noir is aged in multiple different types of barrels before being blended and bottled. Flavors of figs, black raspberry and lemon dominate, giving way to a chocolatey finish that makes this one of the more fun Pinots to try from California. At under $20, it’s an excellent option for those who are on a budget.