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
Wine Handpicked by IWSC 18 August 2021

The best 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
Introduction and recommendations by
IWSC Judges

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 Gold medal of the line-up went to Jacqueline Bahue Pinot Noir 2019, made in Santa Barbara in California, described as a ‘precise and pure expression of fine Pinot fruit’ combining bold notes with elegance.

The Silvers in this category are all from California and Oregon, with the two highest scorers from one state apiece: the ‘elegant, well-structured’ Black Stallion Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2019 from Los Carneros, California, and the cherry-and-strawberry-laden Scott Kelley Pinot Noir 2019 from Oregon, both scoring 93/100pts.

Each USA Pinot Noir entered into this year’s IWSC was tasted blind by a top-notch panel chaired by Alistair Cooper MW. He was helped by sommeliers Svetoslav Manolev MS and Igor Sotric, along with Enotria buyer Rebecca Gergely and writer and presenter Helena Nicklin.

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

Club O is an exclusive community and the go-to platform for wine and spirit lovers. Our flagship Club Oenologique magazine offers even more insights for enthusiasts and collectors. Based in London, our editorial team tells informative, inspirational stories from the world of wine and spirits, gastronomy and travel, as well as covering recommendations and the latest trends in drink. You can take a look at our Explained series, for instance, where we’re tackling grape varieties, regions and styles of wine and spirits. Alternatively, visit our Ask the Sommelier section, where experts answer your wine-related questions.

Have you joined The Collection yet?

Get access to all our back issues via our free digital archive – and enjoy the best rate on a magazine subscription