After spending the last several weeks tasting West Coast pinot noirs, one thing is certain: There is some great juice out there, but it’s going to cost you.

We tasted some extraordinary pinot noirs from California and Oregon — this country’s two primary pinot noir regions — that cost more than $50. These wines still cost less than $150 burgundies, but not all consumers will be able to afford them. Even at these lofty prices, they aren’t always easy to find outside of exclusive restaurants. But if you are looking for a treat, the delicious character of these extraordinary wines is something to consider.

Are the prices justified? Producers often argue that the prices are relative to the difficulty associated with growing the ornery pinot noir; critics say that’s a bunch of baloney and that pinot noir producers will charge whatever price the market will bear. We tend to believe the latter.

No producer wants to charge $25 for a pinot noir made in small quantities when his competition is charging twice as much. High prices create a following of collectors who covet these wines no matter what their prices. The more scarce the wines, the higher demand — and the higher the price.

It’s a point not lost to Donald Patz, whose seductive Patz & Hall pinot noirs fetch more than $50 a bottle. He doesn’t even put “pinot noir” on the label because fans know if it’s Patz & Hall, it’s pinot noir.

“Part of it is ego driven,” Patz confessed during a recent Annapolis visit.

Patz is the winery’s co-founder and national sales director, but a man who exudes passion for pinot noir. Following the model set years ago in Burgundy, his operation makes only pinot noir and chardonnay.

Factors other than ego play into price: Competition for good pinot noir grapes is intense, and yields are as low as 2 tons an acre for pinot noir versus 7 tons an acre for some cabernet sauvignon.

“The economics of pinot noir don’t work out,” he said.

Patz & Hall makes several excellent single-vineyard pinot noirs from purchased grapes in Napa and Sonoma counties. Nearly 60 percent of them are sold in restaurants, but consumers can still find them in stores — and that’s not always the case for other coveted pinot noirs.

The expensive pinot noirs we enjoyed the most have the “internal harmony” that Patz associated with his wines. Flavors, structure and acidity come together seamlessly.

Next week we’ll be recommending some excellent Oregon pinot noirs. And, a column on moderately price pinot noirs will follow. Here are some California pinot noirs we recommend:

Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007 ($60). The most approachable of the three pinot noirs we tasted, this wine shows off expressive aromas, lush red fruit flavors and hints of cinnamon and chocolate. An easy but deceivingly complex personality.

Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 ($62). Our favorite of the flight, the Hyde Vineyard, has a firmer, understated structure that becomes evident once the wine is allowed to breathe. Great depth, generous cherry aromas with mineral, raspberry flavors and hints of cocoa and cinnamon. It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2006 ($60). Another gem from the Duckhorn family of wines. A nose of dark ripe cherries with a hint of oak. Bold ripe cherry flavors in a nice lead pencil frame. Good mouth filling experience and a long finish.

Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007 ($60). The Rochioli’s have been making extraordinary pinot noirs in northern California for decades. This estate pinot noir, an introduction to its single vineyard pinots, sets the stage for the capabilities of winemaker Tom Rochioli. It exudes plum and silky black cherry fruit with a touch of vanilla, and adds an earthy tone reminiscent of fine burgundy.

Terlato Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007 ($60). Floral aromas with raspberry and cherry flavors, hints of cocoa, mint and cloves. A light but deceivingly elegant wine.

Sanford La Rinconada Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007 ($50). Sanford is a house of pinot noir and the concentration of this great grape shows. The Sanford Santa Rita Hills ($40) is an excellent starter, but this single-vineyard version knocks off the socks — hard to find.

Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2006 ($60). Wild Horse makes a decent pinot for a lot less, but this beauty from the Santa Maria Valley is a stunning wine with excellent balance and copious raspberry and strawberry notes, hints of clove and cinnamon. The earthy tones give it a burgundian feel.

Estancia Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 ($31). A decent value in the reserve category, this wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands sports ripe black cherry and plum flavors, smooth texture and hint of oak.

MacMurray Ranch Winemaker’s Block Selection Pinot Noir 2007 ($60). MacMurray makes well-priced pinots from the Russian River Valley, but this special release captures the best grapes the region offers. Copious plum and black cherry flavors with lots of spice and a hint of truffles. It doesn’t get much more yummy than this. Burgundian in style, it’s a winner.


Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have visited vineyards all over the world and have been writing a newspaper wine column for more than 20 years. Contact them at: [email protected]



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