Wiser men than I have said that pinot noir is the most fickle of the noble grapes. When handled in just the right fashion, it can soar to amazing heights, but when not handled right, or in off years, it can seem thin, fruitless and disappointingly acidic. The greatest pinot noirs of Burgundy (all red Burgundies are 100% pinot noir) can thrill you like no other wine can with their combination of power and delicacy, but the hunt for great Burgundy can be like chasing the rainbow, ever just out of reach. Plus, it ain't cheap.

Lately, the Pacific Northwest has gotten a lot of attention for its pinots; the style of California and other warmer-climate pinots seems to me to be more puppyish; fruit-forward, friendly, unsubtle & ripe (sometimes overripe). Heartless detractors tend to refer to these blockbuster wines as 'zinot noir' (zin + pinot, get it?).

Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir Edna Valley Chamisal Vineyard 1999 (Muscajeeb): Big, ballsy nose--plum, toast, pepper. Tastes big and buffoonish--glossy candied cherry and plum flavors war with a charred-toasty undercurrent, then lumber into a gritty wood-tannic finish. Pinot shiraz, clumsy and redolent of artifice. Back to the batcave, Alfred. (11/10/02)

Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2002 ($13) (Boatloads I): Smells like simple ripe pinot, cherry and cola, lots of cola. Very agreeable cherry-cola flavors. Lots of cola. Middling in weight and fairly simple, there's a brightness and a vivacity here that the other cheap pinots don't have. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yeah, probably.] (8/04)

A to Z Pinot Noir Oregon 2003 ($14) (Boatloads IV): Medium garnet color. Smells rhubarby, cherry-rhubarb and talc, light hints of clove dusted throughout. Medium bodied and rather spry, tart lean redfruit turns spicier on the finish. Decent varietal character, nice focus, pleasantly crisp, so why don't I like it more? I dunno, just doesn't hold my interest. [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Babcock Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Ynez Valley 1992 (Lisa's Birthday): Medium garnet color. Pleasant light nose, pizza herbs and cloves in a base of sweet cherry-plum. Crisp enough, nice balance, all the flavors are well integrated, it's a bit unfair to have this pleasant little New World pinot after the DRC and the Tondonia, but whaddaya gonna do? Still, it's a smooth mouthful that is drinking very well right now. (6/13/00)

Bearboat Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 1996 ($11): Simple cherry aromas, with a hint of jamminess & touches of plum and forest floor earthiness. Medium ruby with a hint of orange in the glass. Light and tangy, with fairly upfront cherry/berry fruit that melts away quickly & leaves little trace. Fairly crisp acidity, light tannins. A pleasant little Cal Pinot, decent varietal character for the money. (1/27/99)

Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1993 ($60)(Manuel and Josie): Muddy, cloudy garnet in color, with similar smoky, creamy-plum and clove hints on the nose, but it's not quite the syrahlike beast its younger sibling is; this wine has better balance and doesn't seem steroided. Still, although quite ripe, it's a bit diffuse through the midpalate, a bit flat and uninspiring. I'm not really a fan, but it is a big step up from the '94. (4/23/00)

Beaux Freres Pinot Noir Yamhill County 1994 ($65)(Cult Madness): My first reaction is "This is pinot? Are you sure?" Reticent plummy nose with hints of leather & menthol, takes a bit of swirling to coax up into my nostrils. Some ripe smoky, plummy syrahesque fruit on the palate, dense, but closed and fairly tannic. I can't make this one give up its culty goods, swirl and peer though I may it just won't open up, and it's mostly a puzzlement to me. Not much like any pinot I've had, at any rate. Are we sure this is pinot? Really? C'mon, now... (2/8/00)

Bedell Cellars 'Domaines CC' Rosˇ North Fork of Long Island 2002 (Misplaced Weekend I): Medium salmon-orange color. Smells very quiet, light candied cherry and mushroom hints, touch of yam. Loosely wrapped and more than a little vague, it's a limp and lifeless wine that just lays there in my mouth until there's a goose from an astringent finish. No reason to drink this unless there's nothing else around. (5/2/04)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District 2004 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium-light garnet color. Gently spicy cola-clove cherryosity. Quite zippy-crisp, perhaps more so than the fruit can support, but it's bracing. A bit underfruited, though, there's a lack of focus in the middle. Nice enough, not as interesting or well built as the single vineyard stuff. Next time I'll drop the extra ten and grab the Murto. (11/06)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1999(Farid Fete): Spicy, clovey-cola-cherry nose, tastes hard and tight, coiled red fruit over a stony undercurrent. The red cherry fruit has a steroided, slightly candied quality that glosses over any potential character. Plenty of drying tannins on the finish. The wine is nicely balanced and technically correct but also rather generic, at least at this point. It does seem to have the spine to age a bit, so perhaps it just needs time. (7/28/01)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2001 ($15) (Oregon): Medium-light garnet. Lightly funky, truffley-earthy-shroomish hints over muted red plum/cherry fruit. Tastes light and layered, well structured and breezy, a surprisingly complex and tasty young wine. Quite lovely, happily talkative young pinot. (5/04)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2002 ($17) (Oregon): Fruitier, less earthy, more juicily cherried. It seems a bit softer, although I'm not sure if it's really lower in acidity or just riper and more pillowy. At any rate, there's a sense of plushness here that's absent in the last; a fun n'fruity pinot that doesn't have the complexity of the '01. (5/04)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Estate Reserve 2001 ($40) (Oregon): Very aromatic, richly pinot-spicy: clove, blackberry-cherry, earth and toast. Brawnier than the other two, rougher around the edges, more muscular, the toastiness more overt. There's a certain abrasiveness to this one after the spicy Murto and silky Wahle. Lots of stuffing, but the wine seems awkward and young. One to hold, give it time to get its act together. (5/04)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Murto Vineyard Reserve 2001 ($32) (Oregon): From twenty-six year old vines. Bright aromatics, dark cherry, smoke and a beguiling spiciness, Christmas potpourri laced with cloves. I say "Oooh, spicy..." and M. O'Donnell smiles and says "Midnight on St. Mark's Place." Good one, gotta steal that one day. The wine is racy and muscled like a ballet dancer, lean and taut, possessed of a wonderfully nimble strength. Fine stuff, layered and expressive. The toasty wooding is overt but not domineering. Tickled, I burst out with "Wow, this is just beautiful--really expressive, honest stuff!" and the poor guy looks a bit nonplussed by all the enthusiasm. "Well... uh, thanks," he finally manages. Probably the first time he's heard that today as well, but over the years I've squirmed in my seat often enough trying to find pleasantly noncommittal things to say about wretched wines that opportunities like this are to be seized with both hands. (5/04)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Murto Vineyard Reserve 2001 ($32) (Bury My Heart at 360 Van Brunt): Medium light dead-center red color. Still lean and taut and medium-light bodied, it seems about half shut-down now--the vivid spiciness has receded to a background buzz, the fruit is a little reticent, the toastiness a little more overt, but there's good balance and nice sustain, the wine shows character. The middle is light and insouciant, the finish a bit overly toasted now but pleasant enough. Strangely, Dressner takes another pour of this and passes a glass to the proprietor with a cheery "Pas mal." (1/05)

Belle Pente Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Murto Vineyard 2002 ($35) (Young Turk Meets Old Guard): (They seem to have dropped the 'reserve'.) Medium-light garnet color. Smells gently earthy-spicy, cola, clove and sod and a hint of cinnamon, maybe cardamon up high, at any rate a piquant spiciness. Tastes smooth and velvety, well composed, relatively light and lithe, with a gentle red plum-cherry core of fruit. Nicely balanced, with some unintegrated toastiness and slightly rough tannins. Still, it's a pretty wine, friendlier and less angular than the '01, gently plush in a light frame, probably needs a few more years but showing very well tonight, changing gently with air, plumping quietly, then getting shy, and so on. (12/05)

Belle Pente Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Wahle Vineyard Reserve 2001 ($33) (Oregon): From thirty year old vines. More blackfruit here, blackberry-cherry hints, a little bit riper than the Murto, more of a plush feel to it, with similar toasty-woodiness. Sweetly ripe pinot with a firm backbone, silky and warm going down. Also very impressive, well-defined, broad-beamed pinot. Definitely needs a few years, but charming in its youth. (5/04)

Brancott Vineyards Pinot Noir Marlborough 2003 ($12) (Boatloads IV): Medium-light garnet color. Cola-cherry aromatics, hint of tea and tree bark. Thin, taut and bright pinot, simple and nervy and rather hardhearted, not giving much away. Nice balance, pleasantly thin and toned, but the finish is a bit roughly tannic and there's a shortage of flesh around the spine. The elements seem to all be there, but I like it less than I feel I should, given its structure-oriented makeup and the relatively low price. I dunno, it just doesn't have enough going on to carry off the severe-pinot act. Maybe it needs time, but I'm not convinced. [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Brogan Cellars Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Lone Redwood Ranch 2000 (Age-Related Drunkenness): Hmmm, cinnamon and cherry-cola nose, sort of plastic-smelling but aromatically quiet. Tastes smooth and two-tone, simple and on the light side. For some reason everyone else seems to hate it, but It's really not that bad, merely uninteresting and two-dimensional. (9/17/03)

Buena Vista Pinot Noir Carneros 1996 ($13): Fresh pinot nose of strawberry/cherry, earthiness & a touch of dark spice--cloves? cinnamon? Fairly light-bodied, but flavorful, nicely crisp, with berry/cherry notes & undertones of darker earthiness & spice, which lingers in the finish with some very light dry tannins. Nice simple little pinot for the $$$, superior to the comparably-priced and more-hyped Napa Ridge. (2/6/99)

Calera Pinot Noir California 'El Niño' 1999 ($12) (Continuing): A light, easygoing mouthful of unassuming cherry-cola pinot, soft but with some small measure of complexity and a pleasant earthy streak in the midpalate. No finish to speak of, but whaddaya want? Good value. (9/23/01)

Calera Pinot Noir Mt. Harlan Reed 1993 ($35) (Bastille Day): Has a pleasantly complex package of smells going on--cherry-cola and cooked tomato, green herbs. Actually quite nice, balanced and layered with a good sense of restraint. A bit clunky and not of a whole, but the pieces are interesting and I like it more than most. (6/16/01)

Carlton Winemaker's Studio Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2001 ($14) (Oregon): Softly aromatic, cherry-raspberry lightly dusted with clove. Fruity and easygoing, in the same mold as the chardonnay--the lightfootedness serves it well, a simple wine that has charm and balance without heft or angularity. Smooth, spicy little pinot, a decent value at $14. (5/04)

Carneros Creek Pinot Noir Carneros 'Côte de Carneros' 2000 ($12) (Boatloads VII): Smells gently plum-cherried, touch of cola, light toasty streak. A sip, and here's a gentle, spicy little pinot, maybe a bit too toasty on the finish but having good composure and a sense of elegance about it. There's a tritonal quality to the cherry/cola/toasty fruit, but it tastes like pinot noir and it has a calm expressiveness. The acidity is middling at best, but the lightness of the wine doesn't seem to call for more structure. A relaxing wine, spreading out langorously across my tongue. [Buy again? Yes.] (4/06)

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Monterey County 2003 ($10) (Boatloads IV): Soft cherry-cola-clove aromatics. Pleasant, light and diffuse, medium-low acidity, medium-light bodied (despite 14.5% alcohol). Innocuous, soft and pleasant, well-composed and with just a hint of earthiness that goes a long way towards ameliorating the tritone flavorosity. No finish, but whaddaya want? It tastes like pinot and drinks like pinot, not bad, could use a bit more spine, but not bad at all. [Buy again? Yes.] (6/05)

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Monterey County 2005 ($10) (Boatloads VIII): Gentle cherry/grapejuice-clove aromatics. Soft clovey pinot fruit, loose and vague but recognizably pinotish. Kind of vague, kind of wan, but gently friendly at the same time. It's simple and tritonal plum-cherry-earthish, but fairly genuine and rather likeable as a kind of cocktail pinot. Not bad, could use a spine, but not bad. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yes.] (9/06)

Coopers Creek Winery 'Glamour Puss' Pinot Noir East Coast (NZ) 2003 ($9) (Boatloads I): Medium-light garnet color. Smells soft and lightly of cassis, blackberry and cloves. Tastes vague and smooth, loose and supple and generally inoffensive. Is there a touch of sugar here, or am I responding to the kids' cerealbox-style label? Quite tanninless, this vanishes almost as soon as it's sipped. A good airline wine, remarkably inoffensive yet still has some decent simple flavorosity. (8/04)

Francois Cotat Sancerre Chavignol Rosé 1997 ($20) (Kane Manor): A rosé of pinot noir. Pink grapefruit color; mushroomy hint to the nose, stony hints underneath, and a smooth carrotiness; in the mouth crisp, with very light strawberry/earthy/mineral flavors and just a ghost of tannin, just a ghost. Very nice, but hard for me to get a handle on. Goes down very smoothly, though, I must say. Nice hot-weather wine. (7/24/99)

Francois Cotat Sancerre Chavignol Rosé 2002 ($25) (MoJoe 2004): Ah, that's the ticket. Medium light coppery-pink color. Quiet, succulent nose, hint of pink grapefruit, cherry, rainwater. In the mouth it's lightly citric and emphatically minerally, pure and focused into a quiet little laser beam of a rosé. Really interesting combination of a generally shy character with an intensely focused purity. Great stuff. (7/10/04)

Cuvaison Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros 2002 ($20) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Quiet nose, vague red spiciness that, with swirling, resolves into soft clove and plum-cherry, hint of orange rind & moss. Medium framed and squishily plush, a fleshy little pinot that just kind of burbles away inconsequentially on the finish. Soft and vague, there's flavor and flesh here but not enough structure to keep it erect. (11/05)

Dehlinger Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldridge Vineyard 1999 (Nine Characters): Medium center red color, smells darkly spicy, lots of clove and cola (are clove and cola the basis of Asian Spice?) couched in a medium-tart base of loose cherry fruit. Soft at the edges and loosely-knit, there's still enough acidity to get by and the wine's slightly flashy spiciness and plainspoken fruit give it a friendly quality. I was expecting something monstrous, this is just very decent California pinot, large and ripe but not in the recent freaky-chic 'zinot noir' style. After all the depressing Flowernelli pinots that have done their best to bludgeon my palate into jammy-oaky submission, it's nice to find that balance and harmony still exist in the benighted world of California pinot noir. (11/02)

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1999 ($40) (Recluse Convention): Medium purply-garnet color. Smells lightly cherried, with hints of red plum, with a minerally plaster-of-Paris streak. A sip, and it's got a fresh vein of bright red fruit right up front that narrows in the middle at the same time as it turns earthy-truffley, which is the last impression on the finish before some rather stern tannins close in. The acidity is right down the center, neither sharp nor loose, just firm and present, but the wine is very primary and young, hard to assess. Still, it's a balanced, cohesive and restrained infant pinot that is straightforward and charming. (11/22/02)

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1999 ($40) (Oregon): Cherry-pit aromatics, dark undertones of tree bark and sod. A medium bodied wine of considerable tensile strength, taut and racy, with a velvety skin. The fruit has a lip-smacking tartness to it; it finishes smoothly and dustily, but it's very young and rather coiled right now, needs time. This is not one of the nondescript wines spoken of above; there's a lot of oomph and character here, along with a sense of composure. Needs time, but goes very nicely with scrambled eggs and Jimmy Dean pork sausages. (5/04)

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2000 ($40) (Peach Tree Vines): First nosage brings a candied sense, smoky cherry-cough-drop aromas with an undertone of wet coffee grounds. Seems oddly manipulated, tastes smokily oaked and a bit fake. Maybe it's just too young and it's the glossiness of youth and unintegrated toasty wood that's putting me off, but this leaves me rather cold. The finish is rather astringent, there's decent raw material and I think I'm being unfair, but it just rubs me the wrong way today. When I come back to it later, I like it a little more. No, no, not really. I'm just saying that because it's a tidier story if it goes that way, I really don't like it much more at all, I like it just the same. (4/03)

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 'Laurene' 1992 (Liberation Celebration): Smoky-gunpowdery at first, blows off a bit with air, then dark cherry laced with leather and sod, quietly spicy. Tastes smooth and crisp, firm and compact pinot with a bit of chewy heft in the middle. Seems to have developed some pleasant complexity but comes off quite young. Cool to taste an Oregon pinot noir with a few years under its belt. (11/6/05)

Duck Pond Cellars Pinot Noir Oregon 2003 ($13) (Boatloads VIII): Medium light garnet color. Smells funkily reductive at first, eventually that blows off, leaving behind simple cherry-barky aromatics, touch of forest floor here. Tastes light and loose, pleasant enough to sip, along the lines of a generic Bourgogne with a splash of cherry syrup. Decent enough and seems honest, if not particularly interesting. [Buy again? Probably not.] (9/06)

Echelon Pinot Noir Central Coast 2004 ($10) (Boatloads VI): Soft plum-clove aromatics, gentle touch of mushroom-gaminess. Tastes quietly plum-cherried, very loose and soft, easygoing but pleasantly expressive within a limited range. Tastes like pinot noir, low key drink-now pinot noir, unfreaky and unbent out of shape. More likeable than it sounds, goes down with a clovey hum, not much of a finish. [Buy again? Yes, I did.] (12/05)

Eola Hills Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2002 ($14) (Oregon): Gentle cherry-plum aromatics, hints of clove and toast. Soft and quiet in my mouth, small and moderately flavorful, loosely wrapped and soft-spoken. Decent enough, but not a very good match with my Cream of Wheat. One thing that I've noticed about some Oregon pinots is that they seem to strive for a pleasant, inoffensive quality, soft and spicy and smooth, pointedly eschewing Californian in-your-face ripeness and lumber. That's all very well, but it can lead to a lot of drinkable but rather nondescript wines: this is one such wine. (5/04)

Eklund Pinot Noir Carneros 1997 (Nonoffensive Notes): Medium garnet. Not much on the nose, quiet cherry-vinyl hints, slightly candied. Crisp and quiet, with some tangy cherry-earth fruit that turns tarry on the finish. Simple, inoffensive, not too bad in a semi-jammy kind of way. (3/20/00)

Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1996(Foodies): Here's an insubstantial wine, a bit of cherry cough-drop and cola on the nose, but tastes even more diffuse and vague than the Thomas. There's a bit of the same cherry right at first, then in the midpalate a light earthiness waves spectrally in the direction of my tongue, and finally the wine just melts away. Evanescent, a ghost wine. (10/14/01)

Firesteed Cellars Pinot Noir Oregon 2001 ($10) (Boatloads II): Okay, for ten bucks I thought I might find a simple, baseline pinot that wasn't some California portlike freak but could actually be had with food. I'll keep looking, as this ain't it kid, this ain't it. Medium-light garnet color, ambering lightly at the rim. Shy aromatics, cherry laced with tree bark and cola. Tastes okay at first, cherried, but then turns weird in the middle, with odd burnt-plastic flavors welling up and dominating the finish. Soft and small-bodied, unpleasant enough that I wonder if this is a cooked or otherwise damaged bottle. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Flowers Pinot Noir Carneros 1997 ($40) (Loirenatics): Medium-rich garnet, with a peculiar candied nose, cherry-cotton-candy with hints of raspberry and clove. Rich and dense, but a bit disjointed and too smoky-oaky, although this fruit holds it a lot better than the chardonnay does. The pinot fruit is there, but seems oddly candied and bent out of shape. Strange, but not too bad, in a very similar style to the same producer's '97 Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir, but not as smooth a package, the rough edges show a bit more here. (11/99)

Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge 1995 ($45): (Tasted blind) Medium garnet, looks young; cherryfruity, plum, clove on the nose, touch of vanilla... just a trace of, what... mint? menthol? The nose is very interesting, reminiscent of Christmas potpourri. Tastes oddly clean and smooth as well as rich, although not a big wine. The flavors are soft, fleshy and rich, but somewhat sterile. Neither fish nor fowl, but a nice medium-weight, balanced wine. Not a cab, not a Burgundy or a Bordeaux, but that's about all I think I know. Merlot? Syrah? Southern French blend? Dunno, but it's puzzlingly pleasant, and the fleshiness of its initial mouthfeel seems to lessen with additional air. This is an odd wine, but strangely compelling. (9/23/99)

Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Moon Select 1995 ($75)(Yo-ho for Pinot): Medium-dark garnet. Ooooh, weird. Candy-plastic smells emanate from this wine--Dressner yelps "burnt plastic" and he's not far off. Plastic cherry-plum and a lot of toasted oak. The wine is pretty well balanced, crisp spine with rich fruit, but it tastes, well, like monolithic plastic syrah-pinot on steroids, with a finish that won't stop no matter how much you want it too, lingering like heartburn. I'm actually not as horrified as most, as I've had a bunch of this house's pinots before and am more inured to the weird style, but there are shrieks of dismay and horror from the uninitiated that had to be heard to be believed, and the dump bucket is full in seconds. Me, I can actually sip it a bit and admire the back label, where the proprietors boast of their "innovative modern technology." Yes, a wine for our technological age. (3/19/99)

Fox Run Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve Finger Lakes 1997 (Finger Lakin' Good): Introduced warmly ("I wish there were better pinots around, but this is the one I found..."), this wine lives up to expectations immediately; weird, slightly funky strawberry jam/mushroom/dark oak nose, with a hint of sulfury stink thrown in for good measure. Thin in the mouth, fairly unpleasant, with simple jammy berry fruit and odd other notes that I can't figure out--sulfur? Oak? Odd and disjointed, with small dry tannins. Lisa has a taste, announces "this is the first time tonight I've felt obliged to rinse my glass" and does so, vigorously. That pretty much sums it up. (12/8/99)

Dr. K. Frank Finger Lakes Pinot Noir 1990(Elegant Americans): Muddy medium-light purple; funky-smelling, somebody down the table says "curry" and that sticks in my head, cinnamon-curry. Decent balance in the mouth, crisp and medium-weight, decent clear fruit, but odd nose is off-putting. (9/99)

Gallo of Sonoma Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Reserve 2002 ($10) (Boatloads II): Ooh, it's a Reserve, get out the good glasses! Medium garnet-purple color. Light cherry-cola aromatics mingles with a lighter rhubarbish streak, maybe a touch of clove. Light bodied and medium-low acidity, a spreading, fleshy quality that isn't displeasing. Simple and easygoing, recognizable as squishy little pinot, pleasant enough in a simple soft-cola kind of way; needs structure. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Hamacher Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Willamette Valley 2003 ($15) (Oregon): Mediumweight rosé, crisp, squeaky-dry and pretty. Slight smokiness, almost a barbeque note. Very decent, very drinkable. (5/04)

Hamacher Wines Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2000 (Oregon): Pleasant, loosely-wrapped and easygoing, another straightforward and honest wine that's just fine but doesn't really grab me. (5/04)

Hauer of the Dauen Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1998 ($32) (Muscajeeb): Soft red cherry-cola-clove nose ("Asian spice"?!) laced with flickers of tar. Tangy cherried midpalate, feels soft and light and loosely knit. The light spicy fruit doesn't quite harmonize with the slightly spiky acidity. Brief flickery finish with a tarry burnt streak: a low-wattage pinot that doesn't do anything wrong but doesn't have much to say either. "It's great to see that they can make crappy Burgundy on the West Coast!" someone shouts. Perhaps this is a compliment? At any rate, it's decent enough but not at all compelling. (11/10/02)

Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard 1995 ($30) (Elegant Americans): Light muddy garnet; cloves, cloves, light earth and very soft cherry aromas flicker around the glass; light-bodied and medium-crisp, this just caresses the palate with dusty cherry-clove flavors. I find this elegant. Of course, I brought it, so that's no surprise. (9/99)

Isabel Pinot Noir Marlborough 1998 (Jason Takes Manhattan): Medium-translucent but vibrant ruby-garnet color. Quite a bit of toastiness are the first and second impressions, dark cherry fruit, light clovey hints, but rich cherry and toast predominate. Richly flavored and crisp, medium-bodied and nicely balanced, flavorful and forward but fairly simple, this is a very decent New World-style pinot. (5/99)

Kalin Cellars Pinot Noir Sonoma County Cuvée Double-D 1992 (Culling Me Softly): Good whiff of model-airplane glue on the nose overwhelms some light cherry-tarry aromatics. A sip, and shrill acidity stabs into the underside of my tongue, which clenches up defensively as some cherry-prune flavors slide by. Puckery-shrill and disjointed, finishing with a flurry of road-tar flavors and angry glassy tannins. The rather unfortunate name of this wine brings out a number of similarly unfortunate Pamela Anderson jokes, and the wine seems to be aging with equal grace. "Like drinking prune juice from an old rubber hose," says Manuel. Mistah Camblor--he funny. (9/03)

Kazmer & Blaise Pinot Noir Carneros 1998 ($50) (Impostors): Um. Smells ripe and rich, cherry-cola and earth, clove and plastic purple plums. Very much in the style of those pumped-up Flowers pinots that the kids love, not a style that I cotton to. This also has a green stemmy streak under the fat cherry/plastic plum fruit. Several people wonder out loud whether it's a particular strain of commercial yeast that causes plastic aromas in these trendy Cal pinots, but Callahan isn't here to explain things for us so we sit in indecision. Big and overblown, a pinot on steroids with a healthy dose of toasted oak and a hollow center. (11/4/00)

Kirkland Signature Pinot Noir Oregon 2004 ($19) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium light garnet color. Tritonal cherry cola-clove aromatics, sweet smelling and relatively by-the-numbers. Soft, gentle and fleshy pinot noir, quiet cherry clove fruitiness, loosely wrapped. Could there be a touch of RS? If so, it's just enough to add a certain pillowy quality to the fruit. Nondescript friendly pinot noir, soft and squishy and bland as Wonder Bread. (11/06)

Kistler Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Kistler Vineyard 1997 (Quiz Show II): Fairly deep medium garnet color; smells quite pungently of candied cough syrup and plum, with tarry-smoky hints. Frankly, it's like wine concentrate candy. The taste of the wine follows the nose, odd and candied, densely and peculiarly fruity, well balanced in terms of a firm acidic structure and turning smoky-oaky on the blunt finish, but just not my cup of tea at all. This wine elicits strong feelings, as the table divides about fifty-fifty into "wine of the night so far" and "weirdass freak." I think it's clear on which side of the fence I stand (for those of you scoring at home, it was not my wine of the night...). (4/15/00)

'Kiwi' Red Table Wine New Zealand 2004 ($12) (Boatloads IV): Light garnet color, pale and translucent. Lightly aromatic, cherries and wet rocks. Pleasant minerality, very bright and crisp, don't know what's in it, but it comes off as a bright simple little pinot, cheerily cherried and uncomplicated. Actually quite nice, light bodied and friendly. Rather loosely wrapped, could use a bit more focus, but that's a quibble, it's a pleasant little wine that goes well with tomato-sausage rigatone. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Sho nuff.] (6/05)

Koura Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough 2003 (Sedate Evening): "Dont' touch it!" squeals Jayson, "It's grenache masquerading as pinot!" Sweet fancy Moses, what a notion--more Kane wine! Actually, it's a deep garnet color, and does smell rather cough syrupy, dark cherry-berry lightly dusted with clove. Big and ripe and a bit overbearing for my tastes, but if you're a fan of what the kids call 'zinot noir' it might be right up your alley. There's almost-ample acidity, but I'd wager dollars to doughnuts that this wine was made by someone fond of saying "I'm not trying to imitate Burgundy, damnit!" Not that there's anything wrong with that, but be warned. (6/05)

La Loma Winery Pinot Noir California 'Wyatt' 2001 ($10) (Boatloads I): Cranberry-plum aromatics lightly laced with clove. Tastes lightly spicy, easygoing plum-cherry fruit flows into a dusty-plummy finish. The acidity is a little disjointed and the wine doesn't hang together as well as I'd want, but all in all a decent simple quaffer. [Buy again? Probably not.] (8/04)

Lindeman's Pinot Noir Southeastern Australia Bin 99 2002 ($6) (Boatloads I): Quiet, vague aromatics, hints of plum-cherry and cola. Tastes light and vague, simple plum-cherry flavors and little else, a watery little wine that has some pinot character. Inoffensive, at best. Nothing to really complain about, but not much to cheer either. Simple and nondescript, but there's decent structure and the wine is pleasantly dull, straightforward. Drinkable in a pinch, has one or two notes of pinot character and little overt sense of manipulation about it. It's funny, the bottle claims that the wine is "consistent from one year to the next," as if being a factory product is a good thing. I see what they mean, though; the flavors are simple and surely easily repeatable. Strangely, the retailer claims that all 40,000 cases of their store's allocation sold out after some nut on the internet raved about it. Very odd. [Buy again? No, probably not.] (8/04)

Littorai Pinot Noir Anderson Valley "One Acre" 1996 (All About the Chicken): Hmmm... smells spicy--clove, cola, creamy plum-cherry. Tastes ripe and rather short on acidity, and is that a bit of residual sugar? Not sure, but the wine is gentle, ripe and plump, but has some clear pinot noir character. Seems like fairly decent, simple New World pinot. Nothing freaky or Loringish (that unusual pinot-zinfandel stuff that Dressner kept flogging), probably not California... I dally with Oregon, but it seems less new-woody than I'd expect from the toasty-barrel-happy Willamette Valley crowd, so all I can come up with is "New Zealand pinot noir?" (7/05)

Loring Wine Company Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella's Vineyard 2002 ($35) (Misplaced Weekend I): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells very plummy-purple and smoky-toasty. I wonder for a moment if there's residual sugar, but I think it's just the glossy, candied mouthfeel that has me fooled. Shiny happy wine, what the kids call pinot-shiraz. It's one of those generic pumped-up woody pinots that have been cropping up over the past few years, but it (unlike the Clarendon Hills) is at least recognizable as wine made from grapes (albeit superduper ripe ones). Might go nicely with a burger, a sort of nondescript jammy-zinny style of wine, except with plum instead of berry flavors, and a bit more toasty wood than I like. (5/2/04)

Luca Pinot Noir Altos de Mendoza 1999 (Of Bass and Men): This shows that our friends in Argentina are no slouches when it comes to toasted barrels. Crisp, almost sharp to the taste, tight and a bit harsh, without enough depth of fruit to support the generous helping of dark toastiness. There are light hints of sharp clovey-cherry fruit if you look carefully and diligently, but they are mostly swamped under barrel toast. Critics say "Tastes like burnt matches!" and "Wow, that's rather unpleasant!" while proponents are nowhere to be found. (2/01)

Martinelli Pinot Noir Reserve Russian River Valley 1997 (Quiz Show II): There's some pinot character evident here--clovey plum-cherry hints, smoky and healthily oaked as well but the very ripe fruit is at least not inflated beyond recognition. Fairly quiet nose, some astringent wood tannins on the finish, a bit simple but not bad, not bad at all. (4/15/00)

Marybank Pinot Noir Nelson (New Zealand) 2004 ($12): Pale garnet color, translucent, just a shade past rosˇ. Smells very clovey-colaish, dark spice being the dominant aroma over gentle muted redfruit. Light bodied and relatively uncomplex, but gentle and expressive little pinot, like a generic Bourgogne mixed 60/40 with overpriced Napa Valley pinot noir. Medium acidity, with a gentle softness and a light feathery quality. Insubstantial, simple and decent. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Why shore.] (11/06)

Millbrook Pinot Noir Hudson River Region Proprietor's Special Reserve 1999 (Muscajeeb): Smells of sour cherry and earth, hints of tea and light smoky-spiciness. Tastes cherry-blackberried, tart and simple, with some aggressive glassy tannins. Not bad I guess, doesn't do much for me. (11/10/02)

Mirassou Pinot Noir Central Coast 2002 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium garnet. Smells of cinnamon-cola, plumskin and enamel paint. Not sure what's going on here, but there's a chemical aroma to this wine, complemented by a chemical-latex flavor that surfaces in the prefinish and dawdles disagreeably. Plummy calm fruit, medium acidity, altogether unexceptional except for that odd plastic flavor, like wine that's been in a clorox jug for a week or so. Stick with the sauvignon. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Mirassou Pinot Noir California 2004 ($9) (Boatloads VII): I'd found a bottle of the '02 close to undrinkable (and if you know me, that's saying something), but this is much better, gently squishy pinot, simple and innocuous but not actively horrid. Has that generic clovey cherry-juice thing going, gentle and light-bodied, turning a touch plummy in the limp middle, then just glides away on the finish without leaving an impression. {Buy again? Not really, but getting MUCH closer so I'll probably try again next year.] (4/06)

Due to an inexplicable retailing foulup, I ended up with a bottle of Monterey Vineyards Pinot Noir 1996 ($9). Light, cola aromas in the glass. Cherry red, translucent, bit of a mushroomy smell--earthy, acidic, light-bodied, with an odd metallic tang. Watery finish. Light tannins. Not much fruit. Blah. (12/12/98)

Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Marlborough 'Roaring Meg' 2005 ($17) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Medium-pale garnet color. Clovey-cola hints over earthy-barky cherrry-plum redfruit with a shy burled-walnut streak. Quite taut and lean, despite medium acidity and a softish-velvety skin. There's a flash of unreconstructed tannic roughness on the finish, but not too bad. All in all, a pleasant tritonal little Kiwi pinot noir, lean and with a bit of a severe streak, but likeable in a smallscale way. (11/06)

Napa Ridge Pinot Noir 1996 ($14) had very little scent at all, swirled and sniffed to little avail, but came across on the palate with simple, somewhat muted plum and cherry flavors, medium- to light-bodied, with a kind of bitter tang on the short finish. Went nicely with a roast chicken, but not quite a great deal at around fourteen dollars. Missing the aromatics and bright flavors that I like in American Pinot.(1/26/99)

Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir Mendocino 'Unfermented' 2004 (Football Fever!): Strange how these Navarro wines keep showing up at Jay's place--could it have something to do with the dreamy-eyed guy who was pouring when he visited? Cunning marketing indeed. Whatever the provenance, it's good stuff, well balanced, mo‘lleux-sweet pinot noir, with spry, subtle acidity, no alcohol. I have much more experience with the fermented kind: this is rather more simple than that, but it has a great deal of freshness and bright appeal. Juicy-sweet and light in the piehole, a real treat. (1/05)

Neill Pinot Noir Two Paddocks Central Otago (New Zealand) 1998(Foodies): More medium red cherry fruit, this time with more of a clovey undertone. The fruit is somewhat more focused than the first two wines and there's a more noticeable amount of heat, but really it's another fairly simple, amiable two-note pinot. Inoffensive, unremarkable. (10/14/01)

Oak Knoll Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1997 (Farewell My Lovely): For heaven's sake, if you can't trust a New World wine named 'Oak Knoll' to be brutally wooded, what can you trust? Instead, after a trace of matchstick blows off I find a very pleasantly earthy nose, with clovey-spicy muted cherry fruit and interesting cooked carrot and earth notes. A light, honest wine with unassuming pinot fruit speading quietly in my piehole, finishing softly with some glassy-fine tannins. Andrew cries out "Good god, it's actual wine!" and so it is. With air the clovey hints take a turn towards a coffee-spiciness. It's a balanced easy glass of pinot that stays within itself. A pleasant surprise. (6/01)

Ojai Vineyards Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Barbara County 1997 ($23): Surprisingly pale ruby, light & translucent; full, clean nose of candied cherry nicely balanced with mushroomy earthiness. Somewhat muted in the mouth, not overtly fruity; fairly low acidity, round mouthfeel, subtle tannins; sweet, slightly plummy finish. Seems a little short on backbone, but a pleasant sipper. I'm a fan of Ojai syrahs and had heard that they make their pinots in a syrahish-style, so I was a little surprised by the lightness and somewhat typical cal pinot flavors. A decent wine, but I think at that price I'll look elsewhere. (4/23/99)

Ojai Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 1996 ($28) (Peach Tree Vines): Medium-dark garnet color. Hey, this has that burnt plastic flower smell that you often find in new wave Cal pinot. Actually, it smells just like a Flowers pinot; is it the same yeast? Freakazoid, a carnival of winemaking flaws. Spritzy, candied, flaccid, overoaked, disjointed, what else...? The cork isn't covered with poisonous quills, but that's all the praise I can offer; every other wheel has fallen off this cart. (4/03)

Parker Station Pinot Noir California 2005 ($13) (Boatloads XI): The label stakes a claim as "the best pinot noir you can afford to drink daily." Hmmm, interesting. Smells warm and fleshy, gentle clove-cola accented cherry fruit. Soft and gentle pinot noir, squishy and vague but ripe and friendly. Astringency on the finish is a dealbreaker: it was decent and innocuous up until the end, but turns weird and chemical-tasting at the last. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Scott Paul Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Cuvée Martha Pirrie 2002 (Oregon): Here we have the overenthusiastic use of toasty wood. Tight, taut and tannic, dominated by smoky-toasty notes. The woodiness seems to have deadened the fruit, making the wine hard to judge, but I'm not terribly optimistic. (5/04)

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Waipara 2002 ($40) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Very clovey-spicy nose, plum and clove, warm-smelling and gently ripe. Tastes smooth and velvety, supple and with a flash of surprising focus in the midpalate that doesn't last but is pretty cool anyway. Dark plum-cherry fruit, lots of rich texture, easy and satiny pinot that seems to be all upfront fruit and soft spiciness but I find myself enjoying nonetheless. It's far from Burgundy, but there's a languor and an easygoing intensity that I find happymaking. (11/05)

Penner-Ash Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2001 (Oregon): Softly fruity, easygoing. Quiet aromatics, a shy, slightly selfconscious wine that's friendly but a bit wan. It's got an honest, real-wine quality and I want to like it, but it's not really saying much now. (5/04)

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir California 2000 ($7) (Boatloads I): Smells of simple strawberry-blackberry fruit with a dusting of clove. Tastes smooth, soft & bland, a small two-dimensional wine, pinot Velveeta. Inoffensive, with suggestions of varietal character. Palatable, I guess. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Porter Creek Russian River Valley Creekside Vineyard 1995 (Château Joe): Pale medium-light garnet; light soft nose; soft cherry-earth flavors, pleasant & smooth, fairly simple & low-acid, toasty oaky hints on the finish. A small, softer-styled wine, but nice. (8/99)

Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Reserve 1997 (Misplaced Weekend I): Bright cherry-juice aromatics laced with clove and cola. Medium-bodied, simple and straightforward, a two-tone wine that is ripe but balanced. Quite decent, quite unremarkable. (5/2/04)

Rouvinez Le Tourmentin Valais Assemblage de Cepages Nobles 1993 ($35) (Rejeebus): Pale ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Smells quite earthy, pondwater and muted cherry hints, cedar and cooked tomato. Tastes like it smells--bay leaf and cherry-tomato flavors, along with a tarry burnt-rubber note that surfaces in the midpalate and hangs in a little too long. Not showing as well as it did at Kane's house last year, I wonder if the clock is running down on this one. (7/21/02)

Saint Clair Pinot Noir Marlborough 2005 ($12) (Boatloads IX): Gentle, quiet aromatics, plum-cherry and a hint of clove, simple fruit with a dusting of spice. Medium-lightbodied, crisp but rather soft around the edges, a pleasant velvety little pinot noir with a little bit of complexity and some varietal character. Not bad, if a bit by the numbers. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? I guess.] (11/06)

Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros Reserve 1998(NEVER Say 'Spit'): Plum-cherry fruit, toasty oak, light underlying mineral streak. With air a light overhanging clovey spiciness emerges (research has determined that clove= "Asian spice"). Has a pleasant lightness to the candied fruit, actually pretty drinkable if you're in the mood for a California pinot noir--it benefits from following the Monte Bello and not the Volnay-- although some aggressive tannins beat down the finish. (4/03)

St. Innocent Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Seven Springs Vineyard 1997 (15 Fox Place): Very light aromatics, cherries and dust, touch of clove. Smooth and drinkable, but rather wan and dilute. The dusty-cherry flavors are pleasant, but the wine is very unremarkable, like a generic Bourgogne. (3/22/04)

St. Innocent Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Sinead O'Connor Vineyard 1998 (Broken Rules): Dark blackberry/raspberry fruit underpinned with minerals, hint of plumskin, touch of volatility. Tastes medium crisp, well focused if slightly candied. There's smooth, clove-dusted blackberry-cherry fruit in the middle, finishes slightly toasty-tannic but not unpleasantly so, just enough to give it some rough edges after the silky middle. Very nice mediumweight pinot, good composure. (11/04)

Schug Pinot Noir Carneros 2004 ($14) (Boatloads VII): Medium-light ruby color. Smells shy, low-key cherry-cola-spice notes, clove and forest-floor earthiness. Tastes soft, almost caressingly gentle. A light, vague wine with an appealing spiciness but an ethereal, almost flimsy quality at the core. Okay, I need a bit more focus than this, just a little bit more would do. [Buy again? Were it $10 I would, at $14 it's a no.] (4/06)

Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 'Weeds' 1999 ($30) (Yo-ho for Pinot): Light garnet, very pale. Slight carroty hints on the light, light earthy red nose. Light in the mouth, tangy and ethereal and almost not there at all. Where's the beef? These guys need to work their vines or something. A rare miss for Scott-Clark, who has been on a roll lately with most everything across their lineup. Four and a half prongs. (3/19/00)

Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 'Weeds' 1999 ($30) (The Longest Night): A retraction: a year ago I called a tank sample of this wine "Light in the mouth, tangy and ethereal and almost not there at all. Where's the beef? A ghost wine... a rare miss for Scott-Clark." Well, color me surprised after tasting it from bottle; it's gained a great deal of weight in the interval, turning darker and more substantial, although it's still far from being a bruiser. No, it's still a light, easy wine, but no longer so entirely insubstantial. Now it's a flickery-light mouthful with some clear pinot character evident. The rains had apparently come right before the grapes were harvested, and there was a brief flirtation with an unnamed French consultant's notion of cryo-extraction, but ultimately it was decided to just let them go and see what happened. It doesn't seem to me that this will ever be a substantial wine, but it's coming into a decent place and is no longer drain fodder. (12/31/00)

Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir California 'Weeds' 2000 ($35) (Winterfest 2003): The lone representative of the New World is strange, funky and volatile at first, after a lot of aeration it smooths out, turns light and cherry-clovey. Medium-light red color, light body, easygoing and simple, a smooth sipper without a lot of complexity but straightforward and honest, like a Bourgogne Rouge from California. Give it air, give it air. (2/03)

Scott-Clark Cellars Pinot Noir California 'Weeds' 2000 ($35) (Summer Mishmash): Light ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Muted strawberry-earth aromatics, This wine, like many of the Scott-Clark 'minimal process' wines, has reinvented itself several times in its short life. Its latest incarnation is as a rosé of pinot noir. Speaking frankly, I would drink any large stores of this one sooner rather than later, although I hear the large-format bottles are a horse of a different color. (4/03)

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris de Pinot Noir 2004 (Sedate Evening): Pale salmon color. Dried cherry and mineral aromatics, touch of potpourri, dried flowers. There's some broadness in the midpalate, but the overall impression is of a pleasant medium-bodied rosé, feathering out to dusty preserved-cherry flavors at the edges. I like it, nobody else does. Fuck 'em, it's nice wine. (6/05)

Solario Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley Reserve (Chile) 2004 ($7) (Boatloads VIII): Medium-light garnet color. Soft, gently spicy aromatics, plum-strawberry dusted with clove, stony undertones. Light, ethereal wine, loose and vague but smoothly quaffable and velvety. It at leasts tastes like pinot noir, and for seven bucks I'll take it. [Buy again? Sure.] (9/06)

Solaris Winery Pinot Noir Carneros 2003 ($10) (Boatloads III): Medium-light garnet, touch of purple at the rim. Cinnamon-clove spicy aromatics, has a certain air-freshener quality to the nose, under that quiet red plum and cherry fruit, touch of tar. Tastes smooth and loose, a wine with low acidity but low weight as well, so it carries it off decently. Recognizably pinot noir, at least, and small-scaled enough to carry its moderate spoofulation level. Slight burnt astringency on the abbreviated finish, there's a lot to not like but the overall impression is rather amiable, sort of a low-expectations success. It tastes like it was made from grapes, at least, although the bitter finish doesn't help. [Buy again? No.] (2/05)

Solaris Winery Pinot Noir Carneros 2004 ($10) (Boatloads VIII): Gentle plum-clove-raspberry aromatics, smells calm and fruity. More cohesive and less spoofy tasting than the '03, with a brief tangy-berry finish instead of a burny-burnt one. There's still a bit of unintegrated heat, but the wine seems simple and smooth and pleasant, a step up from last year. [Buy again? Yep.] (9/06)

Steele Pinot Noir Carneros 1996 ($22) was a nice find; a smooth, bright cherry and mushroom/earthy-smelling wine with a long, peppery finish. Very nice with roast chicken. Not profound or especially complicated, but a real pleasure to drink, a cheerful wine. Medium-bodied, but fairly light in character (if that makes any sense), but with a bracing acidity and crispness that complements light fare. A bit too smoky-oaky, but the peppery, spicy note on the finish is a real pleasure as well. After a day in the fridge the oaky notes in the body come to the front a little more, but it's still very friendly. (10/16/98)

Once again with a roasted chicken out came the Steele Pinot Noir Carneros, this time the 1997. Still a friendly nose of cherries and earth, still the distinctive pepperiness about the finish. Perhaps not quite as earthy as the '96, but not terribly different otherwise. Still very nice, still fairly smoky-oaky. (3/28/99)

Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Marlborough 2003 ($13) (Boatloads V): Soft cherry/clove/treebark aromatics. Light, easy-sipping pinot, soft and expressive at first, loose and wan in the middle, lacking mouthgrapple. Turns a bit smoky on the finish. I like it at first, then halfway through I decide it's too vague, then it rallies a bit, but not quite enough to warrant another purchase. Still, it seems like decent, straightforward pinot, so I let my fingers hover over the keys a few seconds before finishing this entry. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? No. Yes. No.] (10/05)

Talus Pinot Noir California 2001 ($7) (Boatloads VII): Medium-light garnet color, translucent. Soft cherry aromatics, hint of earth. Simple tasting, soft and vague at first, coming to a gentle tartness in the middle, finishes quietly and simply. So simple and wan that it's hard to dislike--the lack of overt flaws already makes it a decent $7 wine. Add just a hint of varietal character and a general inoffensiveness, and it's actually drinkable, in a watery-vague kind of way. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Strangely, yes.] (4/06)

Lane Tanner Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 1992 (Culling Me Softly): Medium ruby color. Light hint of acetone, smells of cherry and cola with underpinnings of forest-floor leafiness. Quite light in the piehole, small and spicy up front, meanders through a thin, crisp middle, finishes with more light cherry-cola flavors. Inconsequential, decent enough to sip and generally inoffensive. Phew. (9/03)

Testarossa Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard 1997 (Yo-ho for Pinot): Medium garnet. Medium-rich nose, more upfront and cherry-candied than any of the burgs, but with a good dose of earthiness to give the nose some depth and balance. Somewhat simple, but nicely crisp and balanced, light and flavorful in the mouth. Pretty good, and head and shoulders above the other two Californians. (3/19/00)

Thomas Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1997 (Foodies): Light red cherry fruit limned with subtle dark earthy notes. Simple and decent enough at first, with good balance and little focus, but takes a turn towards astringency in the midpalate and finishes with a flurry of unforgiving tannins. Mediocre, a bit better with air and food. (10/14/01)

Thomas Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1997 (15 Fox Place): Smells of dark cherries and truffle, light spiciness, some unintegrated toasty-oak hints. Tastes crisp, medium-bodied and oaky, with a swarm of aggressive tannins choking off the finish. Maybe interesting with time? Maybe not. (3/22/04)

Three Thieves Pinot Noir California Circle K Ranch 2004 ($10/1L) (Boatloads VII): Smells gently plum-cherried, with a hint of clovey spiciness. Watery, wan pinot noir, squishy-soft and vague, with a vaguely bitter tang on the vague finish. I like these guys and their whole approach, but this is their weakest effort; stick with the zinfandel. SCREWCAP! JUG! [Buy again? No.] (4/06)

Trapiche Pinot Noir Mendoza 2003 ($6) (Boatloads III): Medium garnet color. Quiet clove-cherry nose, hint of sawdustiness. Tastes bright and thin, rather candied at first, the glossiness fades with aeration, turning towards a medium-lightweight cherry-clovey wine, light cola flavors surface in the midpalate, fade quickly on the abbreviated finish. Has some pinot noir character once given some air, light body, crisp acidity, no finish at all, insubstantial and vague but not disagreeable. Really, for a six-buck pinot noir you could do a lot worse. A bit watery in the middle, the initial burst of cherry-cloviness is all that there is to recommend it, but there's an amiable factory-wine quality that comes across quite clearly--watery, no individuality, but a bit of varietal character and decent balance. Not bad, considering. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No, probably not.] (2/05)

Twin Fin Pinot Noir California 2003 ($10) (Boatloads IV): Smells calm and clean, plum-cherry laced with light cola hints. Vague and soothing, a pleathery-smooth low acid slurping pinot, the same theory behind their 'shiraz,' which carried it off better in a jammy-purple way. Clean, correct and nondescript, lacking in mouthgrab and focus. Finishes with a brief hit of plum-cherry-clove, more of the same as before. Yes, there's varietal character here and the wine is fairly unspoofulated and amiably loose, but just not a whole lot going on. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Edmond Vatan Sancerre Pinot Rouge Chavignol 1997 ($20) (Quiz Show I): Light garnet, very pale--light candy-cherry notes with a gravelly undertone. Tastes thin, tart & sharp. Fine tannins swarm over the tight tart cherry flavors. Crisp as hell, but fairly painful and pucker-inducing. (4/7/00)

Wild Horse Central Coast Pinot Noir 1995 ($16) was very tasty--leathery quality in the nose, with good uncomplicated cherry and berry flavors and lots of body, supple tannins, a bit of backbone, nice juice. I did have it a few days ago and am having trouble calling up the specifics. Ah well, just have to get some more... (6/29/98)

Wild Horse Pinot Noir Central Coast 1996 ($18): Medium to medium-light garnet, with traces of brownish around the rim. Sweet plum-cherry nose with hints of clove, manure & mushroomy earth. Round feel in the mouth--medium-low acidity; somewhat fleshy, but plush, smooth & full-flavored with a decent complexity, not all bright-cherry-fruity. Sweet finish, light fine tannins are well integrated. Pretty good. (5/2/99)

Williams-Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Allen Vineyard 1997 (Sleeping Cats): Smells spicy, plum, pepper and toasty-dark wood. Frankly, it smells like shiraz. A sip, and it's got a nice rush of sweet matte purple fruit that blooms quickly and fades quickly, turning a little jarringly towards toasty spiced wood flavors on the finish. The fruit has a reduced quality but isn't terribly twisted out of shape, and I can enjoy this in a rough-hewn kind of way for at least two-thirds of the way through. Not as bad as the conventional wisdom would have it, if you don't mind a shirazzy style of pinot. Seven and a half small spicecake Prongs, dabbed lightly with an unspecified industrial solvent then placed on bases carved from monkeypod wood and thrown into the muddy water off the Tallahatchee bridge. (9/17/02)

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