Wines to Make You Forget Burgundy

A selection of 15 of California's finest pinot noirs that, while expensive, are as good or better than most red Burgundies

Red Burgundy is the ultimate minefield of the wine world—notoriously unreliable, often disappointing, and rarely living up to its illustrious reputation. No region in the world has made greater progress with the fickle pinot noir grape than California, and here are some of the best pinot noirs money can buy from that state. None of them is inexpensive, but most of them will eclipse almost any red Burgundy made today.

89-91 points J. Rochioli Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir Estate (Russian River)

The medium ruby-hued 2006 Pinot Noir Estate possesses soft, strawberry and kirsch-like aromas, abundant sweet berry fruit on the palate, good acidity, and a soft, round style meant to be consumed over the next several years. $45

91 points Kalin Cellars 1997 Pinot Noir Cuvée DD (Sonoma)

The Burgundy-styled 1997 Pinot Noir Cuvée DD exhibits smoky, gamey, forest floor, herb, fresh mushroom, meat, plum, fig, and cherry characteristics. Made in a northern Côte de Nuits style with zesty acidity, ripe tannin, and a dark plum/garnet color, this beautiful wine should last for another decade. Terry Leighton must be the most singular and distinctive wine producer in California, and we're all better off for it. $42

91 points Peter Michael Winery 2005 Pinot Noir Le Moulin Rouge (Santa Lucia Highlands)

The 2005 Pinot Noir Le Moulin Rouge has a dark ruby/purple color, with tart acidity holding back the wine's forceful black cherry and raspberry notes intermixed with licorice, spring flowers, and forest floor. The wine is tightly knit and will benefit from several years of bottle age; it will last at least a decade or more. $85

93 points Ambullneo Vineyards 2005 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros (Santa Maria)

The single vineyard 2005 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros exhibits attractive sweet black cherry, currant, licorice, incense, forest floor, and roasted herb notes, fabulous fruit, a fleshy, savory, full-bodied mouth-feel, a sense of elegance, sweet tannin, and a long finish. This lovely wine can be enjoyed now and over the next decade. $95

93 points Martinelli 2006 Pinot Noir Three Sisters Vineyard Sea Ridge Meadow (Sonoma Coast)

Resembling a premier cru from the Côte de Beaune, the 2006 Pinot Noir Three Sisters Vineyard Sea Ridge Meadow offers up scents of pomegranate, kirsch, licorice, roasted herbs, and underbrush. It is a full-bodied, silky-textured, sexy, opulent effort to enjoy over the next 3-5 years. $50-$60

93 points Williams-Selyem 2005 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)

I loved the 2005 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard for its sweet red apple skin, pomegranate, cherry, raspberry, earthy, forest floor, and juicy meat-like perfume. This full-bodied, tannic pinot requires additional bottle age, but it should prove to be uncommonly long-lived, easily lasting 12-15 years. $69

94 points Brewer-Clifton 2005 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel (Santa Rita Hills)

A dead ringer for a DRC Echézeaux, the 2005 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel exhibits a medium ruby hue as well as a big, expansive aromatic display of forest floor, sweet cherries, pomegranate, fresh mushrooms, and spring flowers. Fabulous fruit, a silky mouth-feel, a long, heady richness, full body, and moderate tannin suggest this Burgundian-styled California beauty should drink well for 12-15+ years. $75

94 points Capiaux Cellars 2005 Pinot Noir Wilson Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)

The impressive 2005 Pinot Noir Wilson Vineyard smells like great Burgundy, especially from the Côte de Nuits. Black raspberries, cherries, forest floor, and spring flowers soar from the glass of this unctuously textured, rich, full-bodied pinot noir that is just gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is very little of it. Drink it over the next 4-5 years. $45

94 points Chasseur 2005 Pinot Noir Freestone Station (Russian River)

The deep ruby-hued 2005 Pinot Noir Freestone Station (from Dijon clones 115, 777, and 23) boasts a striking chocolate, sweet cherry, spice, and floral-scented nose. It is an elegant, cool climate pinot with loads of flesh, intense strawberry and black cherry fruit on the palate, and abundant glycerin as well as richness. Enjoy this stunning 2005 over the next 5-6 years. $60

94 points Paul Hobbs 2005 Pinot Noir Lindsay Estate (Russian River)

The deep ruby/purple-hued 2005 Pinot Noir Lindsay Estate offers up aromas of spring flowers, forest floor, pomegranate, kirsch, and raspberries. With good acidity and ripe tannin, this medium- to full-bodied, pure pinot should drink nicely for 7-10 years. $90

94+ points DuMOL 2005 Pinot Noir Finn (Russian River)

The 2005 Pinot Noir Finn is another impeccably well-made wine, revealing a slightly darker ruby hue to it than its siblings. Displaying notes of sassafras, black fruit such as currant, and deep, very ripe raspberries, the wine is full-bodied and rich, with terrific acidity and a smoky meatiness on the palate. The wine should drink nicely for at least 7-10 years. $78

95 points Aubert 2005 Pinot Noir UV Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)

The 2005 Pinot Noir UV Vineyard, another wine made from the Calera clone of pinot noir, and named after the superb viticultural manager Ulises Valdez, has a deep ruby/purple-tinged color and an exceptional nose of sweet raspberry, pomegranate, and currants intermixed with some spring flowers, underbrush, and forest floor notes. The wine has dazzling stuffing, expansive texture, sensational purity, and well-integrated acidity and tannin. It is a stunningly complex, grand cru pinot noir that should drink nicely for 10-15 or more years. $75

95 points Roar 2005 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard (Santa Lucia Highlands)

The 2005 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard reveals that grand cru site's considerable complexity in its forest floor, spring flower garden, black currant, sweet dark cherry, chocolate, and earth-scented bouquet. The complex aromatics are matched by the broad, flavorful palate. With full body, superb purity and texture, fine acidity and harmony, and silky tannin, it should drink beautifully for a decade. These brilliant pinot noirs are among the finest produced in California. $50

96 points Calera 2004 Pinot Noir Selleck Vineyard (Mt. Harlan)

The 2004 Pinot Noir Selleck Vineyard possesses a deep, dark garnet/ruby color in addition to dense, forest floor aromas reminiscent of a DRC Richebourg or Grand Echézeaux. Extraordinarily complex notes of truffles, berries, and damp forest are both enticing and profound. This full-bodied, rich, long, compelling pinot noir can be drunk now, but it will be even better with 2-4 years of bottle age. It should keep for 12-15 years. It is stunning stuff! $75

99 points Marcassin 2003 Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)

The 2003 Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard borders on perfection. Gorgeous floral notes intermixed with steak tartare, black raspberry, sweet cherry, plum, earth, and spice characteristics almost overwhelm the olfactory senses. Full-bodied with good acidity, sweet but present tannin, and a long, 50-second finish, this is a magnificent pinot noir. $125.00+

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