California Pinots To Rival Burgundies

By Robert Parker

Pinot noir, the grape that makes the red Burgundies of France so famous and cherished, is a delicate fruit that's hard to grow and make into drinkable wine. But some Californians, in Sonoma's cool Russian River region and in more southern reaches as well, manage to produce great wine from it. Their efforts are pricey, $40 to $75 a bottle, and hard to find except at top wine shops and restaurants. That's why, if you're interested in purchasing them, you should get on the mailing lists of wineries that catch your eye.

Ambullneo Vineyards, Santa Barbara

A newcomer with an impressive portfolio of three pinot noirs, all from the area just north of Santa Barbara, Ambullneo looks like it will be a serious player in the years ahead. 805 474-5678

Calera, Mt. Harlan

This Monterey County winery is one of the pioneers of single-vineyard Burgundy-styled pinot noir. While most California pinot is meant to be drunk young, Calera's has an uncanny track record of aging well for 10 to 15 or more years. 831 637-9170

DuMOL, Russian River Valley

Exquisitely rich pinots from different cool-climate sites emerge from this high-class winery. They are intense wines that age beautifully. 925 254-8922

Hartford Court, Russian River and Sonoma Coast

This very serious winery is owned by Don Hartford and Jess Jackson, who is one of the largest vineyardists in California. It makes wonderfully perfumed and velvety wines meant for drinking in their first five or six years of life. 800 588-0234

Kistler, Russian River Valley

Proprietor Steve Kistler has increasingly moved his pinot noir production farther and farther west, seeking cold-climate hillsides to bring out the grape's complex aromatics and delicate flavors. 707 823-5603

Marcassin, Sonoma Coast

Marcassin was one of the first Sonoma Coast premium producers with vineyards that have a full ocean view. The highly regarded winemaking consultant Helen Turley has been the guiding force behind its pinot noirs, which are the wines of an uncompromising perfectionist. 707 942-5633

Martinelli, Russian River and Sonoma Coast

The Martinelli family, known in many circles for their apples, have some of the finest pinot noir vineyards in the Russian River and Sonoma Coast regions. From their vines come full-bodied, flavorful, and intense wines that age handsomely for up to a decade. 707 525-0570

J. Rochioli, Russian River

The Rochiolis are another family that has farmed the Russian River for decades. Their single-vineyard pinot noirs are among the best in the world. 707 433-2305

Talley Vineyards, Arroyo Grande Valley

Talley is a huge farming operation known locally more for avocados than for grapes. Their single-vineyard pinot noirs are ethereal. 805 489-0446

Roar Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands

Roar is a rare success story when it comes to producing world-class, rich pinot noirs from the slopes of the Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands. You're going to hear a lot more about Roar. 831 675-1681

Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.

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