The Ultimate Guide to Pinot Noir Wines

Unforgettable wines from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers.

Your Thanksgiving is likely to be smaller this year, so why not splurge on a great Sonoma County wine? Pinot Noir is a fruit-forward red that works well with poultry since it has gentler tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon and complements a savory Thanksgiving meal paired with mushrooms, walnuts and sausage stuffing and roasted vegetable dishes. These three Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers are making unforgettable wines. From each, I recommend their signature Russian River blend and one distinctive single vineyard offering.


Lynmar Estate

Bordering the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed, a 22-mile wildlife preserve of wetlands and oak woodlands, Lynmar Estate sits on 100 acres of grapevines and organic gardens. Family-owned by Lynn and Anisya Fritz, the couple has kept the winery boutique at only 12,000 cases. The viticulture is meticulous sustainable farming using many Pinot Noir clones, each matched to its ideal soil type.

The Fritzes purchased the Quail Hill Ranch in 1980. “Quail Hill has slopes, undulations, and different vine orientation,” says winemaker Pete Soergel. “We get intense sunlight and cooling fog in the early morning and evening which keeps great acidity in the grapes.” Soergel combines 14 clones in the Quail Hill blend and achieves a darker fruit profile of wild berries.

With grapes from three estate vineyards, Lynmar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018 is bright, juicy, and fruit driven with strawberry, rhubarb, and baking spice flavors. Displaying vibrant aromas and complex flavors of blueberry, blackberry, lavender and black tea, Lynmar Quail Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 is an elegant multi-clonal blend with bright acidity.


Gary Farrell

Making his first wine in 1982, Gary Farrell is considered a pioneer of single vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Farrell works with top growers who farm iconic vineyards—Rochioli, Hallberg, Gap’s Crown. The Russian River Valley AVA has five geographical areas from Santa Rosa Plain to Sebastopol Hills, and each expresses its unique terroir with distinctive flavors.

During a Zoom webinar with winemaker Theresa Heredia, I tasted seven of the single vineyard wines side by side. They ranged from sexy spice box to deeper earthy flavors to highly savory Burgundian style.

Silky and fresh on the finish, Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2017 possesses fruit aromas of boysenberry, cherry and pomegranate, along with spice notes of white pepper and clove. Balancing power and finesse, Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 is lush with violet and rose aromas, concentrated dark cherry and currant flavors, and hints of mushroom, cola and peppermint.


Benovia Maraella

I first tasted Benovia Pinot Noir on owners Mary Dewane’s and Joe Anderson’s yacht, which they sailed into New York Harbor a few years back. I remember being awed by the single vineyard Cohn Estate Pinot Noir with its seductive floral aromas.

Recently, winemaker Mike Sullivan introduced me to another single vineyard beauty. “Our estate Martaella Vineyard sits in the heart of the Russian River Valley in the Santa Rosa Plains. The property is 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the climate is perfect with warm days and cold nights, producing grapes with bright acidity and ripe flavors of dark plum and blackberry.”

Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018 has red fruit aromas of raspberry and plum, which give way to black fruits and a touch of brioche and spice. Being both fruity and savory, Benovia Martaella Estate Pinot Noir 2017 sports a dark ruby color and possesses lovely aromas of blackberry, pomegranate, dark plum and baking spices. Having fine grained tannins, it shows a nice tension between energy and restraint.


The print version of this article appears with the headline: Holiday Splurge.  Subscribe to C&G