Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this one featuring many changes. New locations, new faces, and of course (my favorite), new wines at the table. For this post-turkey post, I thought it would be fun to do a brief write-up of the Pinot Noir wines we chose for our family dinner. Some serious contenders here, in terms of both raw deliciousness and good value. These included:

  • Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004
  • Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009
  • Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

So! Let’s cover each in turn, and see what we can say about why any of these three Pinots should have graced your table this Thanksgiving…

Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004

Galante Vineyards is a small family-owned estate producing varietal wines in the upper Carmel Valley, in California. Their winemaking emphasizes the expression of terroir; they prefer to let the vine speak through the grapes, and the land through the vine. While they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals are produced in minute quantities, such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have a bottle of the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir, bought directly in their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Glorious ruby color in the glass. After the first pour, soft notes of dark cherry and earth drift heavenwards. More fresh-tilled loam and spice form the backdrop, and red fruit gushes around a silky mouthfeel. A little hot, however, at 14.6% alcohol. Delicious overall at $24.


Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009

Nothing too much to say here except: beautifully typical entry-range Burgundy. And entry-range Burgundy is not normally this affordable, not by any means. This is a Pinot Noir with grace, finesse and just enough tannic texture to mesh with the easygoing red berry fruit and snappy acidity. Light-bodied, flowery and a bit funky, this is a steal at $20.







Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

For a seriously delicate wine in this line-up, however, we must turn to the 2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, from their Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon. A long growing season with a cool stretch led to even ripening, but low yields. Blended from grapes based on four distinct clones of Pinot Noir, this is a lovely wine, rosy, pale and shimmering with elegant fruit, minerality, and harmony in all its parts. I’d almost drink this on its own, before food arrives to puncture the experience. $35. Lovely.

For Valentine’s Day, I’ve a short review of a red wine I haven’t been able to shake from my mind. A wine from Oregon, a region I briefly lived in as a youth. Only bought one bottle, and ever since I had it, I’ve wanted more. Love is so often like that, right? Those little things that stick with you – faint essences in the air, scents, hints of a special something, a special someone. As W.S. Merwin put it:

“Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.”

But far from being melancholy about this longing, I rejoice daily in the inspiration that wine still gives me. I’ve always felt, in fact, that wine has been my only lasting love affair. Each glass makes me more enamored. The way to make this nagging stop is write it out, so…

Back when I lived in Oregon, I’d spend my summer days dashing around the hills, looking at the landscape in constant astonishment. Far different from anything else I’d known, and so wild… the wines reflect this wildness, I’ve found, across regions and across varietals. Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley – Oregon’s dominant red grape from its premier region – often shows a lovely mix of earthiness, gamy animal musk and floral delicacy… but the blackberry fruit beneath is so vibrant and fresh that you can’t stop coming back for another sip. I find this wildness to be the most compelling thing about Oregonian wine. But in wine, as in relationships, I also tend to look to the unusual. So, this post concerns a strange bird: the 2009 Rock Point River Rock Red, a Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Del Rio Vineyards, located just south of Walla Walla, the other important winemaking region in Oregon.

The River Rock vineyard itself rests in an ancient riverbed, and the blend is 63% Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, both hand-harvested in mid-October. Separate primary fermentation, delicate handling, and malolactic fermentation (the least romantic word for the most sensual transformation in wine), followed by aging in French oak for one year. Like love, winemaking is often complicated.

But what results!  Bright berry red in the glass, and a nose bursting with ripe cherry aromas, forest floor, mushrooms, and vanilla spice as well as faint notes of sage and eucalyptus. The body is full and round, with more red fruits as well as plums and black olives in the mouth. This is paired with a deliciously silky texture and snappy acidity to keep the lush tannins upright. Beautiful finish, dry and long. Enjoy this with your sweetheart for just $12.

I am a fan of Burgundy, but great Burgundy is, as every aspiring wine snob knows, “mad expensive.” So I turn to the cheaper, still-tasty alternative producing nations, such as New Zealand, the United States, and Chile. For domestic Pinot, I generally turn to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or cooler mesoclimates in California like the Carneros Valley. These regions can produce Pinot with finesse and grace.

The 2007 Primarius Pinot Noir, bottled in Walla Walla, Washington but sourced from good vineyards in Oregon, is an example of domestic finesse, and also has great intensity. Good bang for the buck. A light ruby red in the glass, decent clarity, with a nose of ripe red cherries, floral and vegetal notes, aged meats, and a slight smokiness. This follows with a silky mouthfeel, expressing nice vanilla and spiciness, tinged with mineral. Very well-balanced, long finish. $14.

A stellar example of Pinot Noir, much closer to home than the great Burgundies. The 2005 Cloudline, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, shows an upfront nose of raspberries and floral aromas, particularly violets, with cherries and other red berry fruit in the mouth. This is then backed by soft, supple tannins and marvelous complexity, with a delicious earthy finish, tending towards mushrooms and dried leaves. True varietal character! It seems that 2005 in Oregon provided an extremely rainy September, extending the harvest into October; this in turn led to extra ripening. What results is a fascinating wine, and unusually good in balance and depth for a domestic Pinot Noir. $20. Pairs well with beef roasts or stews.