12 must-try New World pinot noirs

April 11, 2015, 12:30 PM UTC
Exploring California's Sonoma County
ANNAPOLIS, CA - AUGUST 26: Pinot noir grapes are ready to harvest in a vineyard on the "True Sonoma Coast" on August 26, 2014, near Annapolis, California. Warm sunny skies in Sonoma County Wine Country have made for excellent grape growing conditions. Despite the drought, the 2014 grape harvest is early and average in terms of tonnage. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Photograph by George Rose—Getty Images

In the wine world, pinot noir’s reputation is anything but easygoing: It’s a hard grape to grow and a hard wine to make. Shopping for it yields its own set of challenges, the biggest of which is that excellent pinot noir comes at a price.

Our recent Fortune tastings have unearthed a number of terrific pinots; what follows is a dozen of our favorites. The California selections here tend to be bigger and more fruit-forward, while most of the Oregon bottlings (and the one Kiwi offering) are marked by minerality, texture, and restraint. If you’re looking for a good, crowd-pleasing bottle, Rocholi, Penner-Ash and Chateau St. Jean are your best bets. If you’re a pinot-phile and want to geek out about clones and terroir with your tasting-group friends, bring a Brick House, Antica Terra, or the Shea Homer.

Antica Terra 2012 Antikythera Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills ($100) Named for a Bronze Age device that calculated astronomical positions, the Antikythera is a fine-boned, cerebral wine with red berry and stone fruit plus earth, graham cracker, and smoky spice accents. The mouth-feel is round and creamy with long, textured tannins through the finish.

Antica Terra 2012 Botanica Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75) Winemaker Maggie Harrison, who apprenticed at Sine Qua Non, makes three pinots at her boutique Oregon winery. Botanica is the most lush and plush, with ripe blackberry and quarry dust aromas giving way to plum, black cherry, and rose/violet flavors on the palate. Closes with a pretty smokiness. 14.4% alcohol.

To read about Antica Terra’s Ceras Pinot Noir and Shea Wine Cellars’ Chardonnay, see our article on how to spend your Wall Street bonus on wine.

Brick House 2012 Cuvée du Tonnelier Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge ($48) Made from estate-grown Pommard clone fruit, the “Cooper’s Cuvée” is a beautiful expression of pure red fruit flavors; French oak gives it a cream/graham cracker/nut edge. This is a Goldilocks wine, in a good way: just round enough, just acidic enough. 13.8% alcohol.

Brick House 2012 Evelyn’s Pinot Noir Ribbon Ridge ($68) Oregon winemaker Doug Tunnell’s Brick House wines are all biodynamic and Demeter certified; he told Fortune that he aims “to create the most natural, un-manipulated wines possible” and that’s just the impression the wines leave. Cherry and plum—and maybe some pomegranate and citrus—fruit flavors are enveloped in a nice minerality; this wine’s tannins are both chalky and smooth. Really enjoyable.

Chateau St. Jean 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($24) Earth, saline and sweet berry aromas; soft tannins in the mouth. The dark flavor profile—black fruit, mocha, toast—may not scream “typical pinot,” but it will have wide appeal.

Domaine Drouhin 2011 Laurène Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($65) An elegant, prim-and-proper pinot noir. Laurène’s taut red cherry and plum fruit is framed in gravelly tannins and lively acidity, and fades into a long finish. If you prefer lush, creamy, syrah-like pinot, this is not the wine for you.

Want the 411 on chardonnays by Brick House and Domaine Drouhin? Check out our chardonnay roundup.

Pahlmeyer 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($75) Pahlmeyer’s latest release is rich and velvety on the palate, with cascades of raspberry, black cherry, and caramel/vanilla aromas and flavors. At 14.9% alcohol it’s a very big pinot but it’s heady, provocative, and delicious.

Penner-Ash 2012 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($48) A pretty pinot. On the palate, raspberry and plum fruit is edged in white pepper and spice; finishes with textured, wooly tannins. Medium-bodied and approachable now, it’s a good match for salmon or seared tuna.

Rochioli 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($65) From one of Russian River’s finest Pinot producers. Plum, strawberry, and raspberry fruit is very ripe, almost jammy. Creamy and forward on the palate. Drink over the near term.

Shea Wine Cellars 2012 Homer Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($86) Sophisticated, complex, and delicious; wide and deep on the nose with bramble, cedar, and vanilla aromas. There’s firm black cherry and plum fruit on the palate, but the real star here is the texture: river-rock smoothness, with chewy tannins that rise up toward the back and blossom on the long finish.

Shea Wine Cellars 2012 Shea Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($42) Dick Shea’s Estate Pinot has taut red fruit edged in carob and vanilla, and a light helping of mocha on a long finish. Shows dusty, gravelly tannins. Excellent but feels a little tightly wound now; drink 2017–2022.

Villa Maria 2012 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough ($27) This New Zealander is not a big, bouncy pinot, but it is a very good one. Its base of red stone fruit is juicy, but its accents—tea, mineral, earth, orange peel—give the wine a measured and restrained aspect overall. It strikes me as a good wine to order at a restaurant when everyone at your four-top is eating something different.

New York-area pinot noir fanatics: Meet 50 Pinot winemakers and winery owners—and taste their wines—on Tuesday, April 14 at Pinot in the City, an event that celebrates the 50th anniversary of pinot noir’s planting in Willamette Valley, Oregon. A similar event is scheduled for San Francisco this summer.

Wineries, importers and distributors: If you are interested in submitting samples for review on Fortune.com, contact us at fortunewines@gmail.com.

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