The Sun Drinks ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


Great values from my “Pinot Passion” Awards

Posted on March 6, 2015 by Sonoma Valley Sun

In my last column here (Feb. 19) I shared the local highlights of the “Top 12 Pinot Noirs” from the “Pinot Passion Awards” issue of my newsletter PinotReport. As promised, this time I am sharing my “Top 12 Pinot Values” with you.

To recap, I taste through thousands of Pinot Noirs each year for my PinotReport newsletter. During the earlier phases of my more than a dozen years writing the newsletter, I created an annual special issue called the “Pinot Passion Awards.” That issue was designed to showcase the very special people and their very special wines that I believe give us so much to enjoy, and ultimately what makes Pinot Noir so different than other wines.

I decided this year to revive the “Pinot Passion Awards” and as the last awards issue I did was in 2007, this latest issue was long overdue.

The idea was to recognize the obvious passion of the winegrowers and winemakers that manifests itself in the incredible Pinots we have in abundance here on the West Coast. I select the awards from the wines I have tasted in the over the previous year and present the awards in two sections, the “Top 12 Pinots Noirs” and the “Top 12 Pinot Values.”

My “Top 12 Pinot Values” of 2014 is a carefully selected list you should keep in your wallet for a couple of reasons. First, these are great Pinots for everyday consumption—they taste great and come at a price point that even the most skeptical spouse can’t argue with. Second, most of the wines listed are available just about everywhere.

Here are the local highlights from my “Top 12 Pinot Values” list; if you want the complete list, you’ll have to subscribe to the newsletter, I’m sorry to say.

Siduri Wines

Adam Lee really knows how to make delicious and complex Pinot Noir. He and his wife Dianna have been doing that since 1994 in Santa Rosa from grapes sourced from vineyard sites in the best Pinot regions from the Willamette Valley in Oregon to the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. His vineyard-designate Pinots are terrific, but in recent vintages I have really come to love his appellation blends. The Sonoma County bottling below is one I love every vintage; it’s bright and forward and really affordable.

Siduri Wines Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2013

Medium ruby color; forward, spicy cherry aromas with some earthy notes; rich, ripe bright cherry flavors with some spice and oak notes; silky texture; good structure and balance; long finish. Bright, forward Pinot with a lot of flavor. 4,489 cases made, $22, Score:  93

Schug Carneros Estate

I’ve written a lot about Schug Carneros Estate in this column. With 20 years under his belt at Schug, Winemaker Mike Cox really has a great handle on making both fresh and lively Pinots (like the Sonoma Coast bottling listed below) as well as his more developed and complex Schug Estate and Reserve bottlings. The winery is set to celebrate 35 years at its location down in the southwestern corner of the valley. If you haven’t been there, check it out.

Schug Carneros Estate Pinot Noir
Sonoma Coast 2013

Medium ruby color; forward, spicy cherry aromas; rich, bright cherry flavors with spicy notes; silky texture; good structure and balance; long finish. Bright, spicy Pinot that’s great for a wide range of foods. 16,918 cases made, $25, Score:  92

Gloria Ferrer

When the name Gloria Ferrer is mentioned, just about everyone thinks of sparkling wine — for good reason. The Gloria Ferrer sparklers are really among the best produced in California. Many overlook the winery’s excellent still wines — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot. The Carneros Pinot walks the line deftly between being drinkable on release and offering some real earthy complexity.

Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir Carneros 2011

Medium ruby color; earthy, lean cherry aromas; complex; earthy, herbal cherry flavors; some oak; good structure and balance; long finish. Earthy, herbal Pinot that’s ready to drink. 7,900 cases made, $27, Score:  89

Pali Wine Company

While technically not a local winery, I wanted to highlight Pali Wine Company because it has some definite local connections. First, the winery’s consulting winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz, who through his work with his own label Auteur and his consulting work with Donum Estate has made his name as a true Pinot Master. The second connection is in the grape sourcing for the Riviera bottling listed below. A percentage of the grapes are from the Durell vineyard here in the valley. Pali’s “Appellation Series” are great wines at great prices.

Pali Wine Company Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Riviera 2012

Deep ruby color; complex, deep berry aromas with some forest floor notes; rich, complex berry and cherry flavors with earth and oak notes; silky texture; good structure and balance; long finish. Deep, rich Pinot with nice complexity. Perfect for what’s on the grill. 8,005 cases made, $21, Score:  93

As always, you can email me with questions or comments at [email protected]

Greg Walter, a Sonoma resident for more than 25 years, has been in wine and food publishing for more than 35 years, 15 as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter ( and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (

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