Can you believe that is has been almost 10 years since the movie Sideways suddenly made everyone thirsty for pinot noir? That means that wineries which have long produced the varietal as well as those who saw an economic, if not always artistic, opportunity have both had time to allow new vineyards to come on board and to hone their winemaking approaches.
Pinot noir is a somewhat malleable grape in that it can be made into a varietal of styles to accommodate those who like grapey, fruit-forward big wines (currently the vogue in California), those who prefer aromatic, ethereal wines, and those who seek more-pungent and savory bottles. You can always find someone who makes pinot noir "your way."
Here are some recent releases, mostly from California:
2010 Artesa Carneros pinot noir ($40). This is not my favorite style of pinot noir — but it could very well be yours. It’s very big, complex and pretty at first sip — rooty, cola flavors, violets — but it lacks a bit in mid-palate and is fruity/sweet in the finish instead of being crisp. For my palate, it becomes tiring and overpowering too quickly in its big fruitiness — perhaps the beverage equivalent of elevator perfume.
2011 Bolla Provincia di Pavia pinot noir ($8). I’m not sure the fruit on this one is completely ripe — it has savory notes with a touch of bitterness, sort of in the continental, traditional aperitif style. It’s a bit under-whelming, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much of a wine at this basic price.
2011 Pfendler Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($43). A big, bold wine that definitely needs decanting if you drink it now and may be better with five years’ cellaring. It is almost all cherry flavors with some rooty notes. Right now, it seems a little too vinous and heavy on the palate.
2010 Gary Farrell Russian River pinot noir ($35). Those Manhattan cocktail drinkers who love fishing that cherry out of the bottom first thing will recognize, and love, this wine’s flavors — dark-cherry tastes with notes of Italian vermouth and some chalkiness with a lean finish. A very nice wine, assertive in a good way.
2011 Frank Family Carneros pinot noir ($34). A full-figure pinot, a bit voluptuous with marinated cherry flavors that are underlined with a light, cab-franc-style pencil lead and light but firm tannins. To my tastes, it walks the right side of the line of being big yet handling its weight well.
2010 Three Sticks "Durrell Vineyard" Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($58). Very dark, ripe Bing cherry flavors, but with lots of spice and acidity so the fruit doesn’t overwhelm. In the finish, there are delightful notes of toast and a buttermilky, lactic richness. Can I have an "amen," brothers?
2011 Ventisquero "Queulat" CasablancaValley pinot noir gran reserva ($15). Good, rich, rooty, cola flavors in front with a very tangy finish and a note of balsamic. This Chilean would be a dividing-line wine at a group tasting, with some finding the wine delightful, flavorful and food-loving, while others object that it is too "sour."