Embarrassment of Riches in Pinotland
Pinot Noir is now produced by more American wineries than any other red variety. Today, it is the wine
winemakers want to make and the wine consumers want to drink. We have fallen head over heels in love with
Pinot Noir. It was not that long ago, about twenty-five years, that consistency was the Achilles heal of American
Pinot Noir. There was plenty of lackluster Pinot Noir in the marketplace, sourced in many cases from vineyards
planted in the wrong location and farmed all wrong for this finicky grape. I personally spent a small fortune on
disappointing Pinot Noir throughout those formative years.
It is interesting to read an article by James Laube in the Wine Spectator from 1993 on Pinot Noir titled,
“American Pinot Noir: A Work in Progress.” It was the consensus of the time that there were few good Pinot
Noir winemakers and many wineries were too poor to afford the best equipment. Winemakers were learning on
the job and still discovering appropriate vineyard management and winemaking techniques. They were
plagued by flaws and inconsistencies in their wines. There was no discounting their dedication, however, and
that commitment has paid off in quantum leaps in quality and consistency.
Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in American Pinot Noir. We are blessed with a cadre of bright,
talented growers and winemakers, and a diverse array of remarkably pleasurable Pinot Noirs from all reaches
of California and Oregon. There is no longer a need to bring up the hackneyed goal attached to Pinot Noir in
years past that consistency is the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir.
The leap in quality of American Pinot Noir now challenges the wine critic to be more critical, more vigilant, more
fine tuned to small differences in quality. Clearly, ratings are gradually rising, with more Pinot Noirs receiving
higher scores. As an example, in the Wine Spectator’s January 31-February 28, 2011 issue on Oregon’s 2008
vintage of Pinot Noir, 60% of the 510 judged wines from that vintage had outstanding scores (90 to 94). This is
an astonishing number when you think about it. There are more Pinot Noirs receiving my highest accolades as
well as indicated by the large number of wines in this issue awarded the Pinot Geek title (93-95 equivalent) or
Very Good accolade (90-92 equivalent).
Its a great time to have a love affair with Pinot Noir. There is something for everyone, with many good wines
priced under $30, and many high-collared more expensive wines, delivering an indulgent and seductive
drinking experience. Whether your tastes veer to lighter-bodied, elegant Pinot Noir with lower alcohols (Mini-
Coopers), medium-bodied, moderate alcohol, harmonious wines (Corvettes), or big-bodied, riper, lush-flavored
Pinot Noir (Hummers), you will find something to please you.
The words of Steve Pitcher in The Wine News from 2002 ring out even more true today, “Of all the
accomplishments in American winemaking and viticulture in the last quarter of the 20th century, none as been
as impressive as the dramatic evolution of Pinot Noir from near-dismal failure to celebrated success poised at
the threshold of greatness.” I believe that since he made this remark nearly nine years ago, we can proudly
say American Pinot Noir has reached that threshold. If you aren’t buying American Pinot Noir from
accomplished producers such as the ones featured in this issue, you haven’t sampled them lately.