Old World vs. New World: Pinot Noir Part One

Pinot Noir . Oh yes. The esteemed. The renowned. The f*cking DRC. I had it once. Also the grape that got a major glow up from Sideways and unwittingly bullied California Merlot into obscurity sure as Macavity clawed Grizabella into the gutter. Oh wait Cats metaphors—too soon or too real? Also I loved Cats. Stage and movie versions. Also real life cats. My lord I need a kitty. Wait. Wine. Pinot Noir. Meow. If you are quarantining, I suggest stocking up and playing along as this article is gonna be a two-parter. This article comes with the disclaimer that for every country and region, heck, for individual vineyards of Pinot I could write a whole tome and not be done. Pinot is ever so nuanced. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to terroir, the clone of Pinot can make quite a difference. That could be another friggin’ book—did you realize that Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc are just clones of Pinot Noir? But let’s get the basics covered before we worry about dirt and clones. And drones. They also worry me but not today, Satan. Pinot Noir’s origins remain mysterious, as Jancis Robinson’s “Wine Grapes” points to many “dubious” origin stories. So we won’t dwell on that. Just know that “Pinot” is considered one of the three main grapes from whence came pretty much everything we drink now. The other two “founder” grapes are savagnin (also called traminer) and gouais blanc. The reason you mostly find Pinot Noir grown in cooler climates is that it ripens early, so it needs cool air to prolong the ripening process long enough for the grape to develop some complexity. Pinot Noir’s biggest tasting note to me—beyond gentler tannins—is cherries. Of all types. Red, black, bing, and so on, Pinot Noir almost always has something cherry about it. It partners well with oak, so you often will find telltale vanilla and baking spice. All of this adds up to it sometimes tasting like one of humanities biggest gifts to our taste buds: Cherry-Vanilla Coke. But give it some time and Pinot Noir gets enchanting herbs and—oooh baby! Earth. Truffles! But also dried flowers and suddenly (in your mind) you are dancing naked and barefoot on a dewy lawn drinking boozy Cherry-Vanilla Coke. Don’t wine-kink shame me. We all have our thing. I love this grape, fickle as it can be. In every region I tasted there were bland lightweights and/or cooked fake jammy examples. Pinot is at every level enjoyable, but unlike fries, which excel in the cheap versions, Pinot does not necessarily. That being said, I tried in these columns to find at least a couple more budget friendly ones. Here’s one more thing. Goodness, Pinot Noir needs a lot of disclaimers it seems. I felt it sacrilege to even try to give Burgundy a run for its money. Burgundy is one of the most beautiful things on earth. And don’t you ever forget it. So this week, off to the New World. Then we will explore Burgundy. Not only am I beginning with the New World but I’m starting in the southern hemisphere. Keeping it fresh in #quarantine2020. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ CHILE Chile has some delightful cooler southern regions like Bio Bio and Malleco where they are starting to make Pinot Noir. You’ll also find it up in Casablanca and the San Antonio Valley where proximity to ocean equals more even-keeled climes. In general? Chile has a knack for green-ness in wine. Well-handled, it is enchanting. I tasted a couple of cheap duds, but one cool thing about Chile is that even the higher quality wines don’t carry Burgundy or California price tags. 2018 Errazuriz “MAX” Pinot Noir Andddd this one is from Aconcagua. Up north! It needed a minute to open up. Not sure why it felt a bit reduced at first. Once I gave it a breather though, I got bright cherry fruit, cola and spicy spice somewhere around pink peppercorn. Long and lithe. 2017 Zonin Dos Almas Gran Reserva Pinot Noir A cab franc lover’s Pinot. Made by an Italian. It’s a small world, after all. Was there stem inclusion on this? I feel like there must have been. It has so much pepper but a smoothness. It feels modern and zesty, and I think would pair marvelously with much food. AUSTRALIA You wouldn’t think of Australia, land of big Shiraz, being a place for Pinot Noir, but Australia contains multitudes, don’t ya know. It is, after all, huge. And then the island of Tasmania is a whole new world as climate change has helped make it warm enough to grow wine-worthy grapes. And Australia is a bit of a trailblazer right now with regions like McLaren Vale really experimenting and getting into natural wine! Here I give you two of my most-est favoritest producers. At least of Pinot Noir. I could also throw props to Tolpuddle , Vasse Felix , and that little upstart Penfolds …but THESE are the producers that excel at Pinot. 2015 Handpicked Tasmania Pinot Noir Whoaa blinded I thought this to be a youthful Nebbiolo from Valtellina. And I LURVE Nebbiolo from Valtellina. Bright and fresh but powerful, this wine was. Earth, tannins higher than I expect of Pinot Noir but totes plush too. Purpley flowers and mushrooms were in the mix too. Fabu. 2017 Ochota Barrels “A Forest” Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir Adelaide hills where that altitude is key! Chard is a thing there too, so makes sense that Burgundy’s other main grape grows well. So much data they give you on this bottle: clones 777, 115, 114, and D5V12. There were 5268 bottles produced—mine was number 339! Oh and contains sulfites. Oh wait, so does every wine and also cheese. I routinely love Ochota—it’s a couple, Taras and Amber. It’s “natural”—they learned from all over and say the biodynamic producers in France influenced them. “A Forest” is lightly hazy to it, and it smells like it has a reputation too but in an intriguing way. What HAS that wine been up to? A bunch of red fruits of many kinds, pepper, and dry leaves add to the intrigue. NEW ZEALAND Central Otago is continental, but all that sunlight can cause thicker skins or so I have been told. And those grapes get ripe! And when I say ripe fruit woooo-eeee does that sunlight ripen it up. 2016 Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir From the Waipara Valley, a less exposed area with hills n such. “Meticulous in our vineyard where we practice environmental sustainability.” This is a delight. Waipara is south of Marlborough so this is not from Central Otago, which is where you might immediately think of when thinking NZ Pinot. But how does it taste? It is red and black cherry and white pepper and flowers abound. I picture….a violet screen tinting everything in the world this wine lives in. The food is hot, as in spice but not peppers, more like gingerbread. There is a black fruit character too. Or is it soil? It feels like winter sunshine. Warmth but it's chilly. Almost some smoke on it; someone dancing in the dark. That was far too many metaphors but hopefully one of them works for you. This wine will. 2016 Burn Cottage “Moonlight Rage” Pinot Noir Straight up moonlight magic. Another Pinot with a darker soul from a biodynamic producer. Fruit forward but there are black cherries and some black tea counter currents. And something uniquely—tropical? About this. I was having a hard time pinpointing it but it definitely felt like it must be made on an island in the sun. CALIFORNIA Omg it's Santa Barbera v Sonoma v Anderson Valley and then there are the Santa Lucia Highlands too! Honestly, I ought to write a Norcal v Socal article on Pinot Noir. Editors? You want? In the meantime, your generalized notes on the Californian wines are those from Sonoma, particularly Russian River will be richer and riper. Those from Santa Rita Hills also feel rich but to me a little less ripe and lighter on their feet. The Anderson Valley Pinots I’ve had seem more restrained and elegant. Santa Lucia Highlands, I honestly haven’t tried enough to give you consistent notes, but included a favorite here anyway. Oak usage varies greatly between all these and of course, producer style sometimes throws all these notes out the window because here in California, we do what we want. My metaphor is Sonoma is a Pinot to drink in the winter, Santa Rita is for autumn and Anderson Valley is for always but most of all summer. I limited myself to a favorite producer from each of those three but I should give honorable mention shout-outs to Dutcher Crossing , Poe , J Vineyards , Talbott , and AM/FM . Repping Anderson Valley: 2014 Domaine Anderson Anderson Valley Pinot Noir You guysssss, I called the 2013 vintage of this goth when I had the pleasure of tasting it with the winemaker on The Wine Situation podcast. My podcast cohost and I thought this had a dark side. The 2014 is at least goth-adjacent, and it is great. It has a dark ripe side. Like this wine will push you around and push back and—it is a wine with a great rhythm to it, which maybe doesn’t make exact sense but that’s the best I can explain. It is so very ripping of ripe cherries and…just get a bottle and tell me your thoughts. Repping Sonoma: 2018 Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir Memories…..of this being delightful cherry coke. That ripe richness. It so shows the Pinot Noir things I look forward to in Pinot but like, a jolly ripe Pinot. It veers closer to cherry jam with vanilla coke chaser. Does it challenge me? No. Does it pair with anything, even sushi? Yup. Representing Santa Lucia Highlands/Monterey: 2017 Talbott Vineyards Kali Hart Pinot Noir I consistently have enjoyed this wine, and it punches above its weight for the price. And “Kali Hart” is Robb Talbott’s daughter, so yay a woman-named wine. AND! I also love that some of the grapes come from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard so I kinda feel it is goth in its linear yet rich soul. It feels lighter and tastes heavier—just a wonderfully relaxing balance. It is a dancer who manages to do a lively jig despite a velvet costume threatening to weigh it down. Ripe cherries but not moving into jam. Pleasantly haunting oak. Love it. Representing Santa Rita Hills: 2017 Dragonette Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir Rich. Super-duper. Cherry cordial infused with mushrooms if that makes sense. Heck. A heady Pinot but like, intellectually, not overwhelmingly. Grounded when you expect frivolity. I actually recommend all the Dragonette Pinot bottlings…this one was just the latest I drank! PS check out their website to read about all the various vineyards they source from. OREGON Ah, Oregon, the Pinot Noir that can confound the blind taster for its tendency toward being Old World-ly. I had the good fortune to attend a dinner in honor of the (now canceled because Corona) Willamette Valley Wine Pinot Noir Auction. But don’t you babies worry, I tasted wines I selected of my own accord too, to curate my recommendations. Even just within the Willamette Valley there is a range of subregions with varied soils making a range of Pinot expressions. When I can travel again, it is at the top of my wine travel wishlist. I have to give honorable mentions here too, to Gothic and Eyrie —love them. Always will, but I wanted to give some new-to-me guys some love. 2017 Portland Wine Company “Love and Squalor” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir How I do love this! Not just for its mischievous drying laundry label, but…well the first time I tried it was when my boyfriend blinded me on it. By which I mean he poured it, and I tried to deduce what it was. I have a lot of kinks but losing my vision isn’t one of them. I found it indelibly Pinot Noir but was it Old World? New? I was confounded. Either which way it is damned delightful and a comparative bargain. Rich red fruits and pencil box. No, not pencil lead and cigar box but pencil box—that medley of pencils, crayons, erasers and cedar AND maybe a rebel student has a cigarette hidden in there. Would that be me? Not until 8th grade whoops. It is an excellent Pinot. 2016 Bergström Wines Bergström Vineyard Dundee Hills Pinot Noir A ruby wine in color it smells smoky and savory. And there is candied lilac and that is just the nose. The finish doesn’t quit. It was quite simply extraordinary. I had it in the aforementioned dinner of many Oregon Pinots and this, along with the next wine LEAPT at me as Oregon Pinot excellence. 2016 Antica Terra ‘Ceras’ Willamette Valley Pinot Noir This was in the flight at the Oregon wine dinner directly after the Bergström. It also captivated me, but its character was very different. A more subdued nose. But on the palate, oh my spice and acid! And a cherry vanilla coke someone added just a whiff of cocoa syrup to. Oh my. More earthy. Omigod I love this wine so much. I am sorry that it and the Bergström aren’t in my life on a regular basis. 2016 Beaux Freres Willamette Valley Pinot Noir A balanced wine in all respects. A respectful wine and silky luxury that I drank with someone who normally doesn’t really care about wine, and yet we finished the bottle. Typical high acid/cherry fruit Pinot notes, but the white pepper and baking spice note was high. And I think some new oak was in this. What a gem. That’s that for new world. But who accompanied me to the shower? My pick for that is the Ochota “A Forest” no doubt. First of all, I’d love to shower in a forest. In the rain. Secondly, this is a wine made with minimal intervention so to me is more…naked. And beautiful. Like me in the shower. And who was my overall winner? Guys, I am so torn. But I am throwing the award for favorite New World Pinot Noir to Anderson Valley. But maybe you figured that out when I said the wine was goth. Good job, Anderson Valley, now put on your gloves, you’ll be up against my Old World winner next week! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Quaran-wine Pastimes It's Okay to Like Pinotage Fast Food Slow Wine: THE Taco Bell Oscars Gold Wine Old World vs. New World Round Nine: Chardonnay! You can also listen to Ellen's podcast with Shaughn Buchholz, The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! With Punam Patel Wine Situation Final Five! With Ronnie Pessin

Viña Errazuriz

Max Reserva Valle de Aconcagua Pinot Noir 2018

Fun and fresh. Feels reductive upon pouring. Eek I dunno. Screams ripe cherries and such then...everything going nuts in the earth. I like but also GIVE IT TIME TO GET SOME FREAKING OXYGEN. Pert Pinot. — 2 months ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Jaime Parlade oh it is 💯 Pinot month in my home!
Jaime Parlade

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Nice! I hope you stay safe during all this craziness!
Ellen Clifford

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@Jaime Parlade doing my best! Hope all is well with you too!

Domaine Anderson

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2014

I may have a hard time writing a non-biased review—kinda like if I was reviewing a Nine Inch Nails album: FANGIRL. but I think I’m not alone. Is Domaine Anderson my Trent Reznor? Appropriate as for all the freshness and acid Anderson Valley lets in this wine has a heady darkness. It will take you down. It will take you. Interpret that however you will but all levels Domaine Anderson will price fabulous conversationalists. — 2 months ago

Serge, Severn and 16 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

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@Severn Goodwin i mean Trent Reznor is relevant forevvvvvvvwer tho. You don’t agree?
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I'm not in disagreement, I still remember when the first album dropped. Just saying being a fangirl is noting your experience level in this world, as we're likely close to the same vintage.
Ellen Clifford

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@Severn Goodwin hehe, understood:)

Love and Squalor

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2017

Love this one! It is all red fruit with this slight pencil box (not cigar box, it’s that box with your pencils, pens, crayons and gum erasers and maybe a sneaky piece of Bubbilicious). It feels studious and decorous but it likes to chill on a Sunday and day drink. — 3 months ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Paul T- Huntington Beach a) why do I need to wear red? B) okay I get it I’m always in black I have 5,000 black tank tops they are my uniform but I’ll try c)yes that’s my hand but perspective is making it look larger and more capable than my dainty lady hands...🧐
Sharon B

Sharon B

@Ellen Clifford @Paul T- Huntington Beach you two always make me laugh!! 😆
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@Sharon B glad to hear it, happy Valentines Day!


Dos Almas Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2017

Fresh and modern Pinot for Cab Franc lovers. Peppery and sassy. And it grew on me sip by sip. — 5 months ago

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Ochota Barrels

a forest Pinot Noir 2017

I’m a big huge mega fan of Ochota. This wine has attitude and sass and carries it all off like...I don’t know maybe it’s the “the forest” name but it is like if goth-punk-pop went royal. All the red things: cherry compote rhubarb stew and some cracked peppercorn and dried branches and bramble and a texture of earth. Love it. — 3 months ago

Bob, Severn and 18 others liked this
Bob McDonald

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@Ellen Clifford Interesting story a few years the Rolling Stones visited Ochota Barrels from Adelaide. As Taras Ochota tells the story 3 black 7 series BMWs came up his driveway. They stayed for lunch and had a singalong on his old piano. I
Ellen Clifford

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@Bob McDonald amazing! That sounds about right...


Kali Hart Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2017

Tonight’s actual quaranwine! If you aren’t wearing the same shirt you have all week/haven’t gained five stress-baking pounds you aren’t doing quarantine right. Also, ignoring this particular wine would be silly as it is reliable (needed in these times), scrumptious (needed always because yummy things make happy people) and yeah, I am a fan of Talbott’s work. You know those black and white pictures you see that if you look at one moment you see one thing and the next moment another? I feel like this wine is if paying attention to fruit—rich and heady! Then you think of acid, tannins and body and see something else. And all of that keeps you going through the glass. I’ve been lucky enough to have Talbott wines sent to me (yes this was a free sample but if you saw how many samples DIDN’T get written about...) and I feel lucky to be able to say both this and their Chardonnay have been dependably punching above their weight, price-wise. Yum. C’est tout. Ce soir. — 2 months ago

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Serge S

Serge S

Ellen Clifford

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@Serge S 🥂! I’ll take all the virtual cheers-omg I can get in these times of solitude!


Collection Tasmania Pinot Noir 2015

Whoaaa blindtasted I thought...either tannic Pinot Noir or Valtellini Nebbiolo. So much cherries and earth it is high in ever so many things. Tannins (but plush!), acid (but it’s so kickin’ good). I lurve this Pinot. Makes me want to try more Tasmanian wine. — 4 months ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Bob McDonald i have had Tolpuddle Chardonnay! It was fabulous.
Scott Rowe

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Hey guys,
You’ll find our Tolpuddle range in selected wine stores and on privileged wine lists throughout USA. Imported by Winebow based in NYC. Cheers.
Ellen Clifford

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@Scott Rowe good to know! If I’m remembering correctly I found it at K&L...


Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2018

I think this isn’t my favorite vintage but Banshee remains a delight. Cherry Vanilla Coke for the wine lover. Texture of silk weight of...let’s call it thin wool. Soothing. Just interesting enough to keep me going and effortless enough to pay attention to my date. — 3 months ago

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Dragonette Cellars

Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017

Dragonette, always and forever a best. They make slightly lighter Pinots but this one has some oomph. This is the wine of a Pinot grape that clawed it’s way to the top. Both structure and flavor-wise it’s a heavy hitter...for a Pinot. All of which to say dried cherries in vanilla essence and you went to a party and found out there would be a “conversation” about something serious as you dipped into the wine. It is not serious and also serious. Dragonette always has my heart. — 4 months ago

Neil, manyardo and 15 others liked this
Matt Perlman

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Love them

Bergström Wines

Bergström Vineyard Dundee Hills AVA Pinot Noir 2016

About three Oregon Pinot Noirs into a Willamette wine dinner this showed up and hiiiiii! Wow. The nose was savory and herby but flowery this wine is every woman. A ripe year, showing delightfully! — 3 months ago

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Anthony Lombardi

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This & Antica Terra make for a great night. If you can come across the Gregory Ranch bottling from Bergstrom, it’s truly amazing.
Ellen Clifford

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I’ll definitely be excited to try more from them!