Good pinot noirs worth the search and the price

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 25, 2014 

Finding pinot noir from Washington isn't always easy. Finding a good pinot noir from the state can be even more difficult.

Close-to-home wineries Challenger Ridge and Mount Baker Vineyards come to mind as producers of this finicky grape, as well as a few wineries in Eastern Washington within the Lake Chelan Appellation and from Gingko Forest Winery in Mattawa.

But if you want an established domestic source for pinot noir, California and Oregon are unquestionably your best bets.

California's Carneros, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast regions provide the perfectly cooler climate in which pinot noir flourishes; and in Oregon, the Willamette Valley has become world-renowned as the quintessential producer of pinot noir in the United States.

One sticking point I often have with this wine is its price. Although what you pay is purely discretionary, be forewarned that some pinots may cost you a small bundle. For most of us, this isn't a problem as long as the wine delivers. The rule of thumb, simply stated: Pay more, expect more.

Here are some pinot noirs from California and Oregon for you to consider:

Simi Winery Sonoma County 2011 Pinot Noir (about $24) - Pie cherry, raspberry and pomegranate flavors predominate, with slightly herbaceous undertones and a whisper of smokiness on the finish. Roast chicken or salmon come to mind as first-rate food pairings.

Robert Mondovi Napa Valley 2012 Pinot Noir (about $26) - This is the style of pinot noir I prefer, with slightly darker berry fruits on the palate and a bit of a softer finish. Even those it's more fruit forward, the wine's underlying earthiness and minerality gently remind you that this is undeniably pinot noir.

J Vineyards Misterra 2012 Pinot Noir (about $50) - This Russian River Valley gem is even darker still, with a scant amount of pinotage and the red Champagne grape, pinot meunier, blended in for added complexity. Blueberry, dried black cherry and notes of roasted coffee shine through to a bright finish with nuances of toasted oak.

Hyland Estates 2010 Estate Pinot Noir (about $35) - Sourced from the McMinnville Appellation (a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA), this lovely pinot opens with floral aromas, luscious cherry and strawberry flavors, and expressive acidity. The finish comes across as borderline velvety with spicy accents. Outstanding!

Hyland Estates 2011 Cloury Clone Pinot Noir (about $60) - From the same region's more challenging 2011 vintage, this pinot offers leaner layers of cranberry, raspberry and red currant flavors with trailing notes of sweet cedar and toast. Serving suggestions include roast duck, pheasant or perhaps pork tenderloin in a sour cherry reduction sauce.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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