100 Amazing Wines 2022: 20 pinot noirs

Approximately 2,000 wines were evaluated in 2022 for the Amazing 100 list, to discover fine wines in all styles, from a diversity of regions and American Viticultural Areas and across all price points.|

A note on the 2020 vintage: Smoke from summer wildfires tainted red grapes in some Sonoma County vineyards in 2020, and thin-skinned pinot noir grapes were the most vulnerable. Depending on location, atmospheric height of the smoke, clearing winds and other factors, many growers and wineries dodged the smoke bullet. But others, particularly in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs, didn’t harvest damaged grapes or rejected them when they arrived at the cellar. No smokiness or ashtray character was sensorially detected in tastings of the 2020 red wines recommended here. Prudent, trustworthy producers did not release wines suspected of being smoke-tainted, assuring consumers there is very little chance any of these bottlings aren’t in healthy condition.

Blue Farm Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Blue Farm Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Blue Farm Wines

2020 Anne Katherina Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($75)

Viticulturist Anne Moller-Racke has planted and managed vineyards throughout Sonoma County and spent several years expanding Donum Estate’s Carneros winegrowing program. Blue Farm is her own Sonoma County pinot noir project, which includes vineyard- and block-designated wines and a scintillating Laceroni Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($75). The most delicious and accessible pinot, upon release, is the Anne Katherina from Moller-Racke’s home vineyard. Multilayered and refined, it shows vibrant red and blackberry flavors, streamlined tannins and palate-refreshing natural acidity.

Convene

2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($62)

Dan Kosta left his Kosta Browne and AldenAlli wine brands to reinvent, once again, with Convene by Dan Kosta. With Shane Finley as winemaker (they’ve worked together for more than 15 years), Kosta and Convene are dedicated to blended wines, plus lesser amounts of vineyard-designates. Longtime relationships with North Coast growers give Kosta a leg up in finding outstanding-quality grapes without paying single-vineyard prices. Blending from multiple sources allows Finley to keep wine styles consistent and gives him more flexibility in the cellar. One of the first shots out of the Dan Kosta cannon is this Russian River pinot, and it’s a bull’s-eye: silky tannins, ripe cherry and red plum fruit, pomegranate notes and a pleasingly tart, lengthy finish.

Donum Estate TK

2019 Estate Carneros Pinot Noir ($100)

Over time, the 95-acre Donum vineyard in Carneros has been subdivided into specific blocks, in winemaker Dan Fishman’s drive to determine how differing soil types, exposures and elevations impact how the wines taste and smell. Call it terroir exploration; it’s led to the bottling of commercially sold wines that demonstrate Fishman’s theories. These wines — among them East Slope, West Slope, Mikado Tree and Three Hills — are pricey and usually offered only to wine club members. For those not in the club, try the blended estate pinot noir; it’s not inexpensive, but it dismisses the notion some have that Carneros pinots are light-bodied and lack depth. The Donum is full-bodied and tightly structured, displaying black cherry and dark plum, with hints of mocha and graphite.

DuMOL

2020 MacIntyre Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($79)

2020 was the 25th vintage for DuMOL, and the Windsor winery was fortunate to have avoided smoke issues in its multiple owned and grape-sourced vineyards. The MacIntyre smells and tastes of super-juicy boysenberry and blackberry, with notes of Luxardo cherry liqueur and pie spice. It’s full-bodied and firm and should benefit from cellaring. There are as many chardonnays in the range as pinot noirs, and all of them are beautiful and in great demand. Plus there are three very distinctive departures: a Sonoma Coast chenin blanc, Montecillo Vineyard Moon Mountain District cabernet sauvignon and an estate mencia, a Spanish variety cross between pinot noir and syrah.

Ektimo

2019 Mount Eden Clone Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50)

Dominic Xie, born in 1962 in the wine country of Ningxie Province, China, and his daughter, April Xie, run this winery in Russian River Valley. They acquired the former Cahill Estate in 2012, renamed it Ektimo (“to appreciate” in Greek) and later brought in Aaron Piotter as winemaker. From a single clone, Piotter created a wine with tangy red-berry flavors and a generous, juicy finish.

Furthermore Graton Ridge Vineyard Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Furthermore Graton Ridge Vineyard Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Furthermore Wines

2018 Graton Ridge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($55)

Graton Ridge is proprietors Bob Zeches’ and Chad Richard’s estate vineyard, and they also buy grapes for their mostly single-vineyard pinot noirs. A warm, toasty-oak aroma leads to succulent, vibrant red berry, pomegranate and rhubarb. The tannins are silky, the finish long and the balance perfect.

J Bucher Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
J Bucher Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

J. Bucher Wines

2020 Bucher Vineyard Russian River Valley Pommard Clone Pinot Noir ($65)

There are dozens upon dozens of pinot noir clones growing in Russian River Valley, from cuttings of vines grafted onto different rootstocks. Pommard is one of the more recognized clones in the region, and it’s one of the first brought to the U.S. from France. It’s usually part of multi-clone blends, but Bucher winemaker Adam Lee made this bold and beautiful wine from only Pommard, grown on the estate vineyard. Voluptuously fruity and polished, it coats the palate with flavor, with crisp acidity providing a long, perky finish. Also excellent is the 2020 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($52) from multiple blocks on John and Diane Buchers’ Westside Road property.

Joseph Phelps Winery

2019 Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($70)

One requirement for inclusion in “100 Amazing Wines” is that grapes are grown and vinified in Sonoma County. Although Joseph Phelps Winery is in St. Helena (Napa Valley), this tremendous pinot noir qualifies because it’s made at Phelps’ winery in Freestone (originally named Freestone, the brand was folded into the Joseph Phelps family). Aromas of violets, salty licorice and wet fir lead to an elegant, supple palate of vibrant red cherry and wild blackberry. Seamless throughout, it ends with mouthwatering acidity.

Keller Estate Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Keller Estate Pinot Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Keller Estate

2019 El Coro Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir ($64)

El Coro — “the chorus” — is a ridgetop pinot noir block at Keller Estate, east of Petaluma in the Petaluma Gap AVA. The gap is defined by the marine-powered winds that keep afternoons and evenings cool throughout the growing season, and Keller is situated to receive the full effect. This pinot is a perennial favorite for its energetic acidity, nuances of brown baking spice and black tea and tangy red and dark-plum flavors. Often overlooked — and it shouldn’t be — is the Keller Rotie Red Wine ($62), a syrah-based blend co-fermented with viognier (a traditional northern Rhone Valley technique). Its ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit is seasoned with hints of pepper and a hint of smoked meat, all refreshed by pert acidity.

Kosta Browne

2019 Treehouse Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($165)

Astronomical scores from “Wine Spectator” magazine and other critics launched Dan Kosta and Michael Browne into the stratosphere of pinot noir making. The wines — there were several once, most small lots from hallowed vineyards — were soft and juicy. Yet in the minds of other reviewers, they were too plush and lacked the tannin and acid structure to last very long in the bottle. But who could argue with success? Kosta and Browne sold the brand, it sold again and now it’s under the Duckhorn Wine Co. umbrella. The style has evolved over time, with wines gaining backbone and complexity. This pinot is proof: deeply aromatic with notes of sarsaparilla and spiced cherry and solid tannins and acidity.

Lombardi Wines

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($49)

Cabell Coursey makes the wines for Tony and Christine Lombardi, who in turn donate significant amounts of their pinot noirs and chardonnays, and time, to support the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation. Their nephew and godson, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, inexplicably died of suicide in 2018, and the Lombardis helped create the foundation, which assists high school and university athletes with mental-health issues and educates parents and coaches on how to seek help for their kids. Purchases of this bright, dark-berry-filled pinot and other Lombardi wines indirectly assist in the mission.

Merry Edwards Winery

2020 Meredith Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($80)

This Sebastopol winery is known for its intense, powerful pinots, and Edwards’ first owned vineyard, Meredith Estate, is the backbone for this style. There is a richness to this single-vineyard wine, with its well-ripened berry and dark cherry fruit and some vanilla on the midpalate, substantial tannins and full body. It’s not a pre-dinner quaff but rather a serious companion to red meat and duck dishes at dinner. For a more relaxed vibe and sipping, try the 2020 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48) for its bright pomegranate, cranberry and dark cherry fruit. Winemaker Heidi von der Mehden blended wine lots from several vineyard lots.

MacRostie

2019 Thale’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($58)

Sit on the patio of MacRostie’s tasting room on Westside Road south of Healdsburg, sip wine and admire the view of the vineyard. It’s relatively new and is named Thale’s for winery founder Steve MacRostie’s wife. As it’s evolved, so has the quality of wines it produces. The 2019 vintage is textbook Russian River Valley Middle Reach, with ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, rounded tannins and a lingering, juicy finish. No cellaring required; it’s ready to drink now and over the next three years.

Papapietro Perry 2019 Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Papapietro Perry 2019 Top 100 Wines of 2022 Nov. 28, 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Papapietro Perry

2019 Leras Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($66)

This Healdsburg winery typically produces five to six pinot noirs each year, priced $61 to $82. Owning no vineyards means the Papapietros and Perrys pay the going rate for grapes, which go a long way in setting bottle prices, and that’s true for all wineries without their own fruit sources. A longtime relationship with third-generation grape grower Nick Leras allows winemakers Ben Papapietro and Dave Low to offer this wine every vintage (so far). It impresses with its striking Bing cherry, rhubarb and raspberry core. There are bolder, fruitier pinots in the Papapietro Perry portfolio, yet this one shines for its elegance and balance.

Perri Jaye Vineyards

2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($52)

Perri Haughwout and her husband, Carmen, bought a 2.5-acre vineyard in Russian River Valley 15 years ago. Carmen is in the managerial side of the wine business, so Perri launched her own brand in 2017 — “a passion project,” she calls it — after working several harvests for Kosta Browne and Inman Family Wines. Although current production is a tiny 100 cases (2,500 bottles), this pinot is worth seeking out for its suave, velvety texture, ripe red fruits and subtle oak spice.

Ron Noble Wines

2020 Petaluma Gap Family Blend Pinot Noir ($48)

Petaluman Ron Noble has a roving eye for great vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties, with winemaker Megan Baccitich his sidekick searcher. Sometimes “great” wines can be made from makers’ backyards, and that’s the case with Family Blend and the Petaluma Gap. The year 2019 was the first vintage of this great-value wine which, like the 2020 vintage, came from young vines on the Noble estate. It’s medium-bodied and lighter than Noble’s more expensive pinot noirs. An herbal edge and a toastiness add interest.

Senses

2019 Day One Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($135)

Max Theriot is a TV actor and current star of CBS’s “Fire Country,” a hauntingly realistic look at wildfire fighting as we know it in Northern California. Theriot also has a second career, wine production, via his partnership with lifelong pals Christopher Strieter and Myles Lawrence-Briggs. They grew up together in Occidental and watched as vineyard plantings crept into their chilly neck of the woods. In 2011, they founded Senses Wines, with Theriot’s family’s B.A. Theriot Vineyard the cornerstone of the fledgling business. Today they source several vineyard sites in the west Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley regions. Day One Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown at the former Hillcrest Vineyard, planted in 1974 and considered the first planted in the Freestone-Occidental region. Lawrence-Briggs’ family has owned it since the 1980s, and it’s since been renamed Day One. The 2019 Day One is pure, precise and pretty.

Tongue Dancer

2020 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($55)

From ocean-influenced vineyards comes this James MacPhail cuvée, and it smells and tastes as you’d expect from grapes grown in chilly conditions. Black raspberry, cranberry, rhubarb, forest floor, cardamom and white tea ride a wave of refreshing acidity. It’s seamless and seductive.

Trombetta Family Wines

2019 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50)

Winemaker Erica Stancliff and her parents, Rickey and Roger Stancliff, focus on pinot noir, chardonnay and a pinot rosé from their Forestville base. Stancliff, who also is consulting winemaker for a handful of other brands, blended this Sonoma Coast wine into one offering deep purple fruit, a briary character, savory forest floor and crunchy acidity.

VML

2019 Cresta Ridge Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($67)

This was the Best of Class pinot noir at the 2022 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge and deservedly so. It’s delicious for its plump, mouthwatering red and blackberry fruit; touches of cherry cola and oak; supple, integrated tannins; and cracking acidity.

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