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My Top Picks from the 2011 Pinot Noir Shootout

Saturday, I served as one of the judges for the 10th annual Pinot Noir Shootout finals put on by Affairs of the Vine. There were three panels of judges, each evaluating 32 wines over four flights. There were 96 wines in all. Most of the wines were from California, but not all. Theoretically, they could be from anywhere.

The Shootout is a well-organized, multi-stage evaluation of wines. A very large number of wines are submitted but, unlike most wine fair situations, the wines go through several judging stages over two or more months. This means judges don’t have to wade through hundreds of wines in just one or two days. Every wine that makes the finals has successfully passed at least two prior evaluations.

My personal experience in the finals suggests that this vetting was successful. From a qualitative standpoint, the wines fell into a narrow band in my view; roughlty 87 to 93 points. There was only one wine in the 32 that I rated significantly lower. That could well have been an issue with the particular bottle. (It definitely wasn’t corked though.)

One of the nice things about the Pinot Noir Shootout is that many of the wines involved are not regularly reviewed by mainstream wine magazines. Some are only available winery-direct, in person of through the online stores.

Below are the 12 wines I rated most highly from my group of 32, in alphabetical order by winery. The overall winners from the 96 wines will be published at Affairs of the Vines when all results have been tabulated. But, if you’re looking for a new Pinot Noir to try for a holiday meal, consider those I’ve listed here.

2007 Anderson Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, $30
Speaking of small wineries, Lee Anderson's primary business is real estate as you'll see from the website. But he also has a listing for this pretty wine with delicate flavors and a lightly creamy texture. Notes of rose, dark flowers, cocoa, cedar and red cherry. Charming, ready for immediate move in.

2009 Bargetto Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, $40
A very good wine with exotic aromas and flavors pine forest, mandarin orange and tea mixed with attractive red cherry, vanilla and marshmallow. Well-balanced, good concentration.

2007 Barney & Kel (KB Cellars) Pinot Noir Russian River, $28
Cherry, dill frond, citrus zest, berries and spice on aromas are followed by a richly-bodied and supple palate. Black cherry, dark spice and oak flavors. A pleasure to drink, seemingly impossible to find. If you're in Santa Rosa, ask around.

2009 Cubanismo Vineyards “Rumba” Pinot Noir Amity-Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, $21
Rose petal, tea and strawberry aromas. Medium body and well-balanced acidity, alcohol and intensity. Flavors of tea, orange and cranberry. Medium-plus length.

2009 Davis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Soul Patch Vineyard, Russian River, $42
Ripe cherry, berries, vanilla and oak aromatics and long, very attractive flavors of dark flowers, raspberry cream soda and sweet spice. Medium tannins contribute a gentle but interesting texture.

2008 Elkhorn Peak Pinot Noir Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley, $34
The vineyard is in Jamieson Canyon, due north (across the highway and well up the hill from) the Chardonnay Golf Club. Spicy berries and slightly jammy red cherry with vanilla, oak and chocolate accents. A good drink with prominent tannins that will match up well with a juicy duck breast or beef filet.

2008 Estancia Estates Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, $31
Pretty aromas of strawberry, vanilla, cherry and pot pourri spice. Satisfying palate weight and flavors of cherry and cedar.

2009 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Sky High Ranch, Mendocino Ridge
Very long and juicy, with chewy tannins and a plethora of red fruit flavors. Pine, herb and dust add interest.

2008 Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir 667 Clone, Single Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, $52
A friendly, lightly sweet wine with maraschino cherry, vanilla, fennel and fig on the nose and raspberry jam with cocoa on the palate. A crowd-pleaser from this small, Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

2009 Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir Hearthstone Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles, $38
Yes, Pinot Noir from Paso Robles. It's been grown in the Adelaida District since 1964. This one has a very dark Pinot nose: black cherry, cola and dusty earth. Grippy tannins lead to restrained flavors, mostly cherry, vanilla, cocoa and toasty oak. A good wine for seared pork belly.

2009 Sharp Cellars Pinot Noir Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast, $48
Toasted oak, toasted marshmallow, black cherry and dried orange peel on the nose. Rich, almost creamy body, with concentrated flavors of cherry, raspberry, oak and caramel. Very long finish. A decadent Pinot.

2009 Ventana Pinot Noir Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $29
Garnet tones made this wine look older than it is. The delicate aromatics also showed development: dried fruit, cola, driftwood and sarsparilla. Medium body with good acidity and balance. Light, jammy red fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dusty wood on the palate.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.