Unlike with cabernet sauvignon (Napa Valley) or syrah (Paso Robles), no one region of California has claimed dominance as the best pinot noir producer, although several have staked out that claim.
The Carneros region of Sonoma and Napa was among the first to show the combination of climate and soil that suited pinot. But over the past few decades, Santa Barbara County has shown its suitability for making great wines, as has Russias River, Sonoma Coast, and Anderson Valley. In fact, there are very good pinot producers all along the Pacific Coast from just north of Los Angeles to the Oregon state line.
Here is a small cross-section that reflects the variety of pinot noirs California can produce.
Inman Family “Endless Crush” Russian River rosé of pinot noir ($23). Lots of delicious tart apple and strawberry flavors, good structure, lots of minerality and a little creaminess. This would be a good pink for dinner.
Inman Family “Whole Buncha Love” Russian River pinot noir 2013 ($45). Very smooth with voluptuous, creamy cherry fruit.
Three Sticks “Bien Nacido” Santa Maria Valley pinot noir 2012 ($60). A classic, big-style pinot with lovely cherry and cola flavors and a rooty, gamy finish.
Steelhead Sonoma County pinot noir 2013 ($15). A pleasant wine with sweetish cherry fruit, but not a lot of structure or complexity.
Fulcrum Anderson Valley pinot noir 2012 ($54). Nice sweet cherry flavors with some good bitters notes and a hint of balsamic at the finish.
Martinelli “Bella Vigna” Russian River pinot noir 2012 ($41). An assertive pinot, though not a burly one, as are so many are coming out of Sonoma these days. The aggressiveness comes from the 14.9 alcohol, but the wine is notable for its complex flavors of cherry and garrigue and a pleasant, lean finish.