WineHandpicked by IWSC

Award-winning USA Pinot Noir

Ripe, fruit-forward yet elegant reds are the order of the day in this selection of award-winning wines from the Pinot Noir heartlands of California and Oregon

Words by IWSC Judges

pinot noir grape sorting in willamette valley, oregon
Handpicked by IWSC
Grape sorting in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where Pinot Noir makes exceptionally expressive red wines

Pinot Noir from the USA offers the best of both worlds: the elegant, brooding quality of this notoriously fickle grape variety coupled with the generous, fruit-forward style of the New World. It was the star of the hit 2004 film Sideways, with the grape’s flavours described by lead character Miles as ‘the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet’.

The black grape is the third-most-planted variety in the US after Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and was first planted in California in the late 1800s, and in Oregon in the mid-1960s. USA Pinot Noir doesn’t command the sky-high prices of the best Burgundies (although neither does anything else, in fairness), but the finest examples still hold three-figure price tags.


anderson valley vineyard in california
California's Anderson Valley, where morning fog has a cooling effect, helping Pinot Noir grapes retain their signature acidity

Not surprisingly, as one of the most tricky grape varieties to grow, early examples of US Pinot Noir were a little clunky, with some winemakers guilty of over-extracting and trying to create full-bodied dark wines, which with a variety like Pinot Noir is rather missing the point.

That said, USA Pinot Noirs are usually richer and fuller than their Old World counterparts, and a quick glance at the tasting notes from this year’s IWSC confirms this, with ‘concentrated’, ‘ripe’ and ‘generous’ frequently cropping up among the judges’ comments.

The top two wines from this year’s IWSC, each earning a Silver medal and scoring 92/100, were Daniel Baron, Francophone Pinot Noir 2020 and Jacqueline Bahue, Pinot Noir 2020. The former impressed with its ‘well balanced cherry freshness and a hint of smoked oak’, and the latter for its ‘bramble, blackberries and dried rose hints floating beautifully on the silky texture.’

Although the majority of wines on this list hail from the California valleys, there’s one wine from the Pacific Northwest – Scott Kelley, Pinot Noir 2020 – that wowed judges with its ‘well-integrated oak and pleasing herbal notes,’ scoring 90/100.

Each USA Pinot Noir entered into this year’s IWSC was tasted blind by a top-notch panel including Alistair Cooper MW, The Wine Society buyer Sarah Knowles MW, and wine writer, broadcaster and Club Oenologique columnist David Kermode.

Great Pinot Noir is no longer the sole preserve of Burgundy, and it’s encouraging to see other regions beginning to master this unique grape variety. We’re proud to present our selection of the best USA Pinot Noir.

pinot noir grapes on the vine in oregon
Pinot Noir grapes on the vine of an Oregonian vineyard

How do we judge these wines?

We run a tightly structured, rigorous wine tasting process. That means that each wine sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC wine judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the wine industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.

How do we score these wines?

Only the best wines sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, wines have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.

More from Club Oenologique

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