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Pinot Noir All-Americans 2006

The American way is to wind up the year with “Best Of” lists and what better analogy for great American Pinot Noir then to name the top performers “All Americans.” I am pleased to present the 33 Pinot Noir All-Americans of 2006. It is challenging to pick the best and especially so this year because of the consistent high quality of Pinot Noir in Oregon and California There has been far more progress in the successful viticulture and vinification of American Pinot Noir in the last 10 years than with any other grape varietal. It is a testimony to the cadre of passionate winegrowers who have scoffed at the suggestion that Pinot Noir is a “heartbreak grape,” and have successfully pacified the grape’s temperamental nature. The 2006 All-Americans are chosen in the spirit of celebration of the great bounty of Pinot Noir we enjoy in this country. These particular American Pinot Noirs were selected as much for their fruity, flirty, New World hedonism as their description-defying sensuality. Veronique Drouhin, winemaker at Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin echoes my sentiments perfectly: “There are lots of good wines in the world that give you pleasure. A great wine gives you emotion.”

The stylistic split of power versus finesse or “New World” versus “Old World,” is still ever present, but is being moderated to some degree as producers seek for a balance between the two extremes. Traditionalists still prefer so-called “Table Wines,” arguing that they go best with food and are suited for drinking sitting down. French Burgundy is often used as an example because the wines are typically lighter, less fruity, lower in alcohol, and higher in acid. These are frequently referred to as “Old World” style and are more like see-through red lingerie than Jimi Hendrix purple. On the other side are the proponents of “Social Wines,” often referred to as “New World” style because of their upfront fruitiness, extraction, and higher alcohol. They have assumed numerous monikers including “Big Babe Pinots,” “Jelly-jar Blockbusters,” “Show Wines,” and “Wines on Steroids.” They are more Pamela Anderson than Katherine Hepburn. Most pinotphiles can enjoy and appreciate both styles and everything in between. The appeal of wine lies in its diversity.

I taste Pinot Noir daily in a home setting. The wines are initially at cellar temperature and are tasted over a few hours both with and without food in a relaxed atmosphere so as to replicate the consumer’s drinking experience. I do not taste for the most part blind, but strive for integrity, consistency, and objectivity. “The aim of judgment,” French wine critic Michael Bettane says, “is truth, not impartiality.” I have no attachment monetarily or otherwise with any winery, retailer or wholesaler, and accept no advertising. I do accept some samples to review, but over 80% of the wines featured in my newsletter are purchased directly from the winery or through retail channels. I don’t award scores to wines, preferring to give an unpretentious and concise description of the style and spirit of the wine that the reader can appreciate. I agree with Jake Lorenzo who noted recently, “The number system only goes to 100, and anything below 90 doesn’t count.” I do not try to take the reviews or myself too seriously for they are simply my impressions. I preach to the reader to use my tasting notes as a guide, but above all else, trust his or her palate. I do want to acknowledge my wife’s (aka the Princess of Pinot) occasional input. I think this is valuable as she does not give a hoot about the label or producer, only how the Pinot tastes. One final caveat: I only feature Pinot Noirs in the newsletter that I find worthy of recommending, preferring not to write negative reviews. This is born out of respect for the hard work involved in the making of every wine, and honors the reality that we all have different tastes. Of the more than 1300 Pinot Noirs tasted this past year, there were several hundred that had interesting stories to tell, but I could not highly recommend them, and thus, they were not included in the PinotFile. For those who were left out this year, the words of Mark Twain ring true: “It is better to deserve honors and not have them, than to have them and not deserve them.”

Beyond the emotional highlights of a wine, there are certain technical aspects of a wine that make it stand out. A quality wine is spoken reverently as ”a complete wine.” This is a very high accolade that only goes to wines with the following attributes:

    Nose: A complete wine will have more than one family of aromas (fruits, flowers, spices, etc).

    Taste: A complete wine will have more than one family of flavors and all of the flavors are in harmony.

    Texture: Also called mouth feel, unctuousness and roundness (moelleux). Texture is the tactile sense of wine in the mouth, on the tongue, and in the throat. It is very hard to describe, but complete wines have great texture. For Pinot Noir, a soft and smooth texture is frequently preferred. Silky textures give Pinot Noir its sexiness.

    Finish: There are two kinds: aromatic, referring to how long aromas last on the palate after the wine is swallowed or spat out, and gustative, indicating which taste (acidity, tannin, alcohol, or roundness) leaves a lasting impression. A complete wine will have a long aromatic finish lasting several seconds and an appealing taste at the end.

    Balance: Also known as harmony, balance refers to the relative levels of acidity, alcohol, tannins and roundness that are felt in the mouth. Aromas have nothing to do with balance. A well-balanced wine has all of these elements in equal amounts with no element sticking out. A complete wine will have impeccable balance. If a wine is unbalanced at the start, it will never become balanced no matter how long it is aged.

    Aftertaste: This term is often confused with finish. An aftertaste is always a defect in wine. Some aftertastes include metallic, bitter, and sulfur. A complete wine has no aftertaste.

I consider the All-American wines to be complete wines.

Regarding prices, for the most part, life begins at $40. Many of the All-American Pinot Noirs are sold out at the winery and only available on the secondary market. Keep in mind that there will always be another vintage, and top producers make quality wine in most every vintage. It will not be the same song, but it will be by the same composer. The wines are listed in alphabetical order.

First Team All Americans 2006

2003 Donum Estate Carneros Pinot Noir ($60)

2004 george Hirsch Block 4A Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50)

2004 Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard Ste. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($45)

2001 Littorai One Acre Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($60)

2002 Littorai Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($60)

2004 Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($57)

2004 Native9 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($48)

2003 Privé Le Sud Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($50)

2004 Saintsbury Lee Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($40)

2003 WesMar Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35)

2004 WesMar Hellenthal Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50)

Second Team All Americans 2006

2004 Alma Rose El Encantada Vineyard Ste. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($45)

2004 Aubin Cellars Verve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($22)

2003 Copeland Creek Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($28)

2004 De La Montanya Christine’s Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($38)

2004 Green Truck Cellars Napa Valley Pinot Noir ($36.50)

1994 Kalin Cellars Cuvee DD Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($45)

2004 Littorai Les Larmes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($38)

2004 Radio-Coteau Alberigi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40)

2004 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Carneros Pinot Noir ($60)

2002 Talisman Truchard Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($38)

2004 Twomey Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45)

Honorable Mention All-Americans 2006

2004 Andrew Rich Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($29)

2004 August West Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($45)

2004 B Kosuge The Shop Carneros Pinot Noir ($30)

2004 Buena Vista Dijon Clones Ramal Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($38)

2002 Fiddlehead Cellars Doyle Ste. Rita Hills ($90)

2003 La Cadeau Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($40)

2003 Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45)

2003 Pey-Marin ‘Trois Filles’ Marin County Pinot Noir ($33)

2003 Radio-Coteau Hellenthal Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40)

2004 Radio-Coteau Le Noblina Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40)

2004 Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir ($36)

2003 Silver Mountain Miller Hill Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($38)

2004 Summerland Winery Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48)

2004 Woodenhead Buena Tierra Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($46)

Best Value American Pinot Noirs 2006

I consider a value Pinot Noir to be one priced below $20. The lower limit for this category is about $13. These Pinot Noirs are quite good for daily drinking and are true to the varietal. They lack some of the complexity and subtle nuances that make more expensive Pinot Noirs so desirable, but do offer fine drinking with meals. They are sold by the winery and widely available in the retail marketplace.

2004 Cardwell Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

2004 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

2005 Five Rivers California Pinot Noir

2005 Jekel Vineyards Monterey County Pinot Noir

2005 Laetitia Estate Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir

2004 Mac Murray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

2004 Navarro Mendocino County Pinot Noir

2005 O’Reilly’s Oregon Pinot Noir

2005 Saintsbury Garnet Carneros Pinot Noir

Best Non-American Pinots 2006

There were many, many Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand, and Australia that were memorable in 2006. The wines listed below were particularly epiphanic.

2002 Camille Giroud Beaune 1er Cru Les Avaux

2004 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard New Zealand

2000 and 2002 Domaine Comte de Vogue Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru

1999 Domaine Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertain 1er Cru Les Corbeaux

2003 Domaine Earl Catherine et Claude Marechal Savigny les Beaune VV

2003 Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair Bonnes Mares

2004 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertain 1er Cru Clos Prieur

2004 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand

1990 Domaine Dujac Gevrey-Chambertain 1er Cru Les Combottes

1999 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche

2002 F. Mugnier Chambolle Musigny

2003 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand

2004 Maison Ambrose Nuits-St.-Georges VV

2004 MAD Mornington Peninsula Australia

2004 Quail’s Gate Estate Reserve British Columbia Canada

2004 Yabby Lake Mornington Peninsula Australia

More Best Ofs

Best Pinot blog and website (tie): Green Truck Cellars (The Pinot Log at; Cima Collina (

Best Wine podcast: Grape Radio (

Best Pinot winery newsletters: Red Car Wine Company, Van Duzer

Best cult collectable Pinot Noirs: Aubert, Marcassin, Peter Michael, Sine Qua Non

Best American Pinot Noir vineyards (potentially great quality from multiple producers): Shea (Oregon), Hirsch, Summa, Peay, Sangiacomo, Kanzler, Rochioli, Olivet Lane, Buena Tierra, Savoy, Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s, Bien Nacido, Rancho Ontiveros, Talley Rincon and Rosemary, Fiddlestix, Clos Pepe, Sanford & Benedict.

Best American Pinot Noir Festivals (tie): World of Pinot Noir (www. and International Pinot Noir Celebration (

Best hot newer producers: Kosta Browne, Rhys, Sea Smoke

Best American Pinot Noir producer: Littorai (owner and winemaker Ted Lemon)

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