At this point, it should go without saying that yes, of course I’m drinking American Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving. If there ever was an occasion for drinking All-American, Thanksgiving and 4th of July would have to be the top contenders. And Pinot checks all the boxes when I’m looking for something to take me from cornbread dressing to ham to turkey to candied yams to mustard greens to….yeah, you get the point. Pinot is not too heavy which means it won’t overpower what’s on the table, provides great acidity to cleanse the palate between all those rich bites, and generally comes in at modest alcohol levels which means you’ll still be awake when the last football pass of the night is thrown.
As I learned at a recent blind tasting of 69 American Pinot Noir wines with my friend, The Drunken Cyclist, the state of American Pinot is great. Of course there are some not so great ones as well as some that don’t suit me for a variety of reasons – too much alcohol, not enough acidity, super fruity without nance, not enough classic red fruits, etc. But overall, I’m excited about what I’m seeing, particularly when it comes to some of my favorite regions like the Willamette Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Lucia Highlands. Ok, so what American Pinot Noir have I been excited about lately? Well to start, these are winemakers with great American stories, which I always love sharing.
Presqu’ile (‘press-keel’) checks my boxes of great stories and regions that I love. Back in 2019, a chance tasting of Santa Barbara wines got my attention in the best way possible. Just looking at the images from the slide show and tasting the amazing wines, I knew it was a place I HAD to visit. When I visited, it just confirmed what I’d experienced in that tasting – this is an area with exquisite wines.
Located in Santa Maria Valley (a Santa Barbara sub-region), Presqu’ile is a multigenerational family affair featuring Madison & Suzanne Murphy, their adult children and daughters in law. Originally from Louisiana, the family has farming roots that go back almost a century. Their focus is on crafting exceptional, cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.
And the name? It’s a French-Creole word that means “almost an island,” or peninsula, and pays homage to the family’s former gathering place on the Gulf Coast which had been a part of the family for generations. That all ended in 2005 with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Presqu’ile represents their rebuilt island-like haven. I loved their Pinot so much (elegant with red fruit and earthy notes) that I didn’t hesitate to grab a bottle of their rosé (Pinot based) when I saw it during a cheese run at local cheesemonger Houston Dairymaids. They also make a couple of Gamay wines, which I have yet to try, but which would also be great with dinner. And I was so excited to see the “SIP Certified” logo on their bottles – an organization that I’ve worked with and whose purpose is near and dear to my heart. The wines are available in Austin, Dallas, & Houston at specialty wine shops and also available on Wine.com (my go-to for wine shopping). And this Pinot comes in at less than $30!
More love for Santa Barbara wine. What can I say? As y’all know, I have mad love for Sta. Rita Hills and Willamette Valley, so when I learned about Fiddlehead Cellars, I was all in. Founded in 1989 by visionary winemaker Kathy Joseph, Fiddlehead Cellars was founded as a passion project to highlight two particular grape varietals – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A pioneering female winemaker on multiple fronts, Kathy initially thought she would pursue a career in medicine. But lucky for us she redirected her degrees in Microbiology and Biochemistry towards research in the wine industry.
When she decided to pursue Sauv Blanc and Pinot all those years ago, these were wines that did not have the prestige in America that they do today. The same can be said for wines from Santa Barbara County and Willamette Valley. Perhaps she was reading the tea leaves? At any rate, she has intentionally kept her production small so that she can direct all of the site-specific and sustainable farming at each of her vineyards as well as provide hands-on care and attention to each barrel of wine.
For a taste of Sta. Rita Hills, the Fiddlehead Cellars Cuver ‘Seven Twenty Eight’ Pinot Noir is the way to go. If Willamette is your speed, give the ‘Oldsville Reserve’ Pinot Noir a try which hails from Willamette Valley’s Chehalem Mountains. To find near you, check here. And of course, you can always order direct from the winery.
Teutonic Wine Company
When someone has the hashtag #TeutonicIsTheChronic, it certainly gets your attention. Ha! After getting over the fun of Teutonic Wine Company’s hashtag and actually trying the wines, I now grab a bottle or two of their wines whenever I see them as their production is small. Inspired by the wines from Germany’s Mosel and France’s Alsace regions, theirs is a varied portfolio that I throughly enjoy exploring each vintage.
Teutonic’s story began in 2002 when co-owner and winemaker Barnaby Tuttle was the wine buyer at a restaurant in Portland’s. A German wine importer showed him 14 different Rieslings from Germany’s famed Mosel region and as they say, the rest is history. Barnaby bought all 14 and the restaurant became one of Portland’s prime spots for German wine. That experience planted the seed and Barnaby was determine to make wines that are as expressive to terrior as those Rieslings.
Yes their white wines, Riesling included, are phenomenal, but I didn’t forget that we’re talking about Pinot Noir! The Teutonic portfolio features a number of Pinot Noir wines. Everything from “classic” Willamette Valley Pinot to those on the more “natural” end of the spectrum that are unified and unfiltered is represented. The common denominator is the approach to the wines – cool climate sourcing, sustainable vineyard practices, and minimal intervention. The fruit and the place always shine through. For retailers near you, check here. And as always, direct from the winery is always a sure bet.
I have had so many iterations of Gary Farrell Pinot Noir and can’t recall not ever enjoying it. Gary Farrell, a true Russian River pioneer, made his first wine (a Pinot Noir) from the famed Rochioli Vineyard back in 1982. He was actually the first winemaker for Rochioli Vineyards and in one of the early years, he was actually paid in grapes. Though he sold his namesake winery, the current ownership is just as committed to crafting exceptional, cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. To be sure, the bulk of Gary Farrell’s production is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a bottle or two of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel in any given vintage. And while they do make some really nice Chardonnay (see me with my mind blown for one of their Chardonnays) I’d say that where they really excel is with Pinot Noir.
Russian River is the foundation for sure, but I’ve enjoyed their Pinot from Petaluma Gap, Fort-Ross Seaview, and yes even an occasional wine from the Central Coast. Like anything else in wine, there are ebbs and flows and nuance. Yes, there are certainly some big extracted “California-Style” Pinot Noir out there, particularly in Russian River. But these are NOT those wines. And that’s the beauty of Russian River – the extent of its geological and climatic diversity. More than anything, a producer’s approach to winemaking will often lead you where you want to go and that’s what I’ve found here.
And speaking of the person that makes the wines, I’m a big fan of winemaker Theresa Heredia, who’s been the winemaker at Gary Farrell since 2012. And I absolutely love her story. She went to UC Davis to get a PhD in Chemistry but ended up switching to the enology program when she met some enology students while grading papers with them as a graduate assistant. How cool and forwarding thinking was that?! For her it was an opportunity to use the chemistry knowledge she had and apply it to wine, which she also loved. And apparently the wine world agrees as she was previously named “Winemaker to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
And if scores are a thing for you, know that Theresa has earned over 400 90+ scores for her Gary Farrell wines. Additionally, under Theresa’s tutelage Gary Farrell was named the 2015 Winery of the Year by Pinot Report and 2016 Winery of the Year by Pinot File. In other words, these are some damn good wines. Some of the wines have wider distribution and can be found at Total Wine and wine.com. Other of the single vineyard wines are available directly from them.
I generally don’t love social media, but occasionally it works in my favor. I first “met” owner and winemaker of Bruliam Wines, Kerith Overstreet, during a Twitter (I’m not calling it that dumb “X” thing) chat. Back then, it was all about her Rosé of Pinot Noir, which I loved. I had never heard of her wines, but I love a great wine story and hers really spoke to me. Kerith was a doctor who decided it would be cooler to make wine. Actually it was her dad that told her she could do anything she wanted after she finished medical school. She literally took him up on that! As a “trying to be a recovering tax lawyer” I get this. Like for real! She is also a mom of three and her kids’ names are the inspiration for the name of the winery. “Bruliam” is actually an amalgamation of her three children’s names – Bruno, Lily, and Amelia.
As for the wine? I loved the rosé and think she makes killer Pinot. When I visited Healdsburg recently I knew tasting with her would be one of my stops. Some of her Pinot can be found at Total Wine as well as local specialty wine shops. I’ve previously purchased at Houston Wine Merchant, Padre’s Wine Shop, and Camerata here in Houston. And of course, there’s always Wine.com and the winery.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kerith is just a damn cool human being with a heart of gold. She doesn’t take herself too seriously and takes such a fun apporach to showing us how she makes her wines. I’ve learned (and laughed) so much following her on Instagram. She’s also one of the more charitable winemakers out there and even took time out of her busy schedule to volunteer to give COVID shots.
So of course, there is a LOT of wine out there and certainly no shortage of Pinot Noir. I find that for me when trying to decide what to drink, I tend to look to wines from people whose stories I’m drawn to.
Results of the 6th Annual Blind Tasting of American Pinot Noir
And as promised on social media, I’m sharing my top 12 standouts from our tasting of 69 American Pinot Noir wines. Jeff aka The Drunken Cyclist will have the full lineup and a review of all the wines we tasted on his site.
- All things Rodney Strong Vineyards. There were 3 of their wines in the bunch of 69 tasted and all 3 rose to the top. As we discovered during the “unbagging,” one of their wines was the first wine out of the gate that ended up getting a collective “whoa” from all of us. 2021 Russian River Pinot; 2021 Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot; 2019 Blue Wing Vineyard, Petaluma Gap Pinot. I brought the Reserve home with me!
- All things Tongue Dancer Wines too! I visited, drank wine with, and broke bread with winemaker James MacPhail and wife Kerry MacPhail earlier this year (post coming) and was just ah-mazed! It was like one of those Oprah “aha” moments. James makes wine not only for his own Tongue Dancer brand, but also for a number of other wineries. Tasting both his wines and some of the ones that he makes for others, and all I could think was that this guy is legit a grape whisperer. Serious purity of fruit and place on these wines. I was thrilled that the blind tasting reiterated (unbiased) my love of these wines. We had 4 Tongue Dancer wines in the blind tasting and three of them ended up in my top wines – 2021 Putnam Vineyard, West Sonoma Coast PN; 2021 Pinot de Ville, Sonoma Coast PN; 2021 Rambling Fox PN.
- Sangiacomo Family Vineyards Five Clone PN, Petaluma Gap
- Siduri Wines Russian River PN
- Brooks Wine Old Vine Pommard PN
- Torii Mor Willamette Valley PN
- Exprimere “Persey” Pinot Noir, Peake Ranch Vineyard, St. Rita Hills – another one I brought home to share with Mr. Corkscrew
- Davis Bynum Russian River PN
Happy Thanksgiving and may your glass be full of American Pinot Noir!