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Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” alluding to the grape variety’s tightly clustered dark purple pine-cone shaped bunches of fruit.

In the right place, under ideal climatic conditions, Pinot Noir can produce the richest, most velvety-smooth wines in the world.  Depending on climate and ripeness, its flavor can range from cherries to strawberries, mushrooms to forest floor, violets to roses.  California and Oregon are two examples of New World producing regions that have made profound progress in trying to replicate the extraordinary balance of weight, finesse, and complexity that this grape has achieved in the truly great Grand Crus of its original home, Burgundy.  As today’s most popular wine, it is sometimes a challenge to spot the real gems.  Here are 3 Pinot Noir wines we highly recommend drinking this summer.  All of these wines show moderate to low alcohol, minimalist intervention winemaking practices, and offer a refreshing and cleansing sensation of sweet vibrant fruit on the palate.  Pinot Noir pairs brilliantly with both dark and light grilled or even salt-baked fish, rotisserie chicken, full-flavored pasta dishes and can even hold up to grilled red meats such as lamb, filet mignon and sausage.

1. Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay 2008 ($55) Côte de Beaune, France volnay_lafarge

If Pinot Noir were an elegant dame, she would be Volnay.  A delicate expression of the sweetest of fruit can be found in this bottling of Domaine Michel Lafarge.  Known for producing subtle wines of brilliance and complexity, Volnay can be enjoyed in its youth, and unlike the many wines of Burgundy, it comes without the price tag.  Pinot Noir grows and performs at its peak in Burgundy, in fertile limestone soils, and Volnay is its shining star in the Côte de Beaune.  Lafarge is arguably its top producer, using only the most traditional and old-school wine making methods, with wines from a multitude of Premier Cru vineyards like Clos des Chênes and Les Caillerets.  If you have been looking for a French Burgundy that’s not only affordable, but that drinks like a Premier Cru, this is the wine for you.  A perfect introduction to summer, and an admirable pairing for your 4th of July barbecue.  Drink now through 2018

11SC-e13584370029952. Kutch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2011 ($43) Sonoma Coast, California

The minimal interventionalist style of wine making from Kutch Vineyards is best showcased in their award winning Pinot Noir. Miles away from pinot’s original home of Burgundy’s Cote- d’Or region in France, California’s Sonoma Coast has been able to produce some truly phenomenal wines.  The region has favorable weather patterns of consistently hot sunny days followed by cool blankets of thick fog, resulting in wines which retain a greater amount of natural acidity.  Jamie Kutch’s Pinot Noir is not only an example of a balanced fine wine of exceptional quality but also proof that a red wine can be refreshing in its most natural state, despite the heat!  This Pinot truly stuns from every sensual angle possible after spending ten months in 70% used and 30% new french oak barrels.  It is a brilliant cherry color with delicate legs.  The bouquet sings of ripe strawberries, succulent plum, lemon zest and vanilla bean.  The flavor is comparable to a raspberry linzer tart with an energetic finish, leaving your palate sparkling in smooth mint.  Enjoy a slightly chilled glass (or two) over your next summer sunset and prepare to lose yourself in a moment of pure nirvana.  Drink now through 2018.  1,160 cases produced.

3. St. Innocent Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir 2011 ($24) Willamette Valley, Oregon122049_11PNVillagesCuvee_F

St.Innocent Winery produces some of the most elegant and fragrant Pinor Noir to come out of the northern Willamette Valley.  The 2011 Villages Cuvée exhibits gorgeous sweet fruit without being overwhelmingly tannic in structure.  Pinot Noir grapes from Vitae Springs Vineyard (39%), Zenith Vineyard (35%), Freedom Hill Vineyard (18%), and Momtazi Vineyard (8%) make up the blend.  The bouquet revitalizes with floral aromas of rose petal and orange blossom.  With a light-medium body, it showcases flavors of bright cherry and vanilla cola.  Also noteworthy in this wine are subtle elements of light spice, mushroom and tea. These components derive from the sedimentary soil which makes the Oregonian terroir so special.  Winemaker Mark Vlossak achieves a modest alcohol level of 12% by picking ripe fruit at the moment it reaches maximum flavor complexity, allowing fruit character to shine.  Lovely acidity and balance make St.Innocent wines excellent partners with a variety of foods.  At $24 a pop, this wine is a phenomenal value which should be taken seriously. Summer has arrived so stock up before it’s too late!  Enjoy now or cellar for up to 6 years but whatever you chose, be sure to share the guilty pleasure of St.Innocent with the ones you love.  2,940 cases produced.


Recommended glassware: Riedel Vinum XL Pinot Noir Wine Glass


Coming soon: The Grapes of Summer: Zinfandel