Earlier this year I was one of three judges at the Pinot Cup, a blind tasting of pinot noirs held at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Sonoma, California. Quality, as expected, was high across the board, but what’s remarkable about tasting more than 60 pinots at one sitting is the degree to which each is distinctive, their nuances easier to differentiate than if you were tasting multiples of any other noble grape variety with the possible exception of riesling. Our two main sources are California and Oregon. I look to the former if I’m more in the mood for flavor fireworks and pure pinot sensuality, while the latter is where I expect to experience bass notes of precision and purity. The following three are outstanding.
Siduri Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2015
The Russian River is one of my go-to California regions—along with Anderson Valley and Sta. Rita Hills—for the kind of juicy, silky, cherry-like pinot that is hard to resist. This wine features an engaging floral-scented aroma and uncommonly smooth, ripe red fruit flavors, balanced with smokiness and firm acids. Grace notes include cinnamon, cigar box and spearmint. This is a beautiful accompaniment for grilled salmon with a honey mustard glaze.
$35, Liquor Land, Boston
Ponzi Classico Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2014
One of the pioneers of the Oregon wine industry, the Ponzi family produces wines that are a quality benchmark. Lightly spicy, soft and pure with a gentle touch of earthiness and approachable red berry fruit, this is a fresh, open-hearted pinot noir that I recently enjoyed with a roasted bass with morels and a strawberry jus. Low in tannin, its elegant red fruit flavors are bright and lingering.
$34, Brookline Fine Wine & Spirits
Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2014
This is a broader-textured pinot with more ripe, velvety intensity than you might ordinarily expect from Oregon, perhaps due to the Goldilocks nature of the vintage: It’s not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, just right! The aroma and flavor profile are classic: dark cherry, forest floor, red licorice, mineral and mushroom. A supple and stylish wine that also shows some milk chocolate notes, it’s delicious with a peppery grilled tuna steak.
$30, Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors, Waltham
Sandy Block is a master of wine and the vice president of beverage operations for Legal Sea Foods.