Burgundy Grand Crus are some of the most expensive, sought-after wines in the world. Bottles from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estate, for example, often sell for tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars at auction. Fortunately, you don’t need to have an account at Sotheby’s—or learn how to beg in French—to drink great Burgundy-style wines.
The best red Burgundy wines are made from pinot noir grapes (whites are generally made from chardonnay), and the U.S. boasts many outstanding pinot producers. These wineries and vineyards are largely clustered in cool-climate regions up and down the West Coast—particularly the California Central Coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara, Northern California’s Russian River Valley and Sonoma and Mendocino Coasts, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Inspired by our recent visit to Bien Nacido Vineyards, we swirled and sipped through these regions to find a case’s worth of fantastic pinot noirs for you to try.
California Central Coast
2020 Calera Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir
Calera is legendary among American wine lovers—there’s even a Calera clone of the pinot noir grape variety. That clone was cultivated by the late Calera founder Josh Jensen, who after working harvest at Romanée-Conti returned to the U.S. and planted the Jensen Vineyard atop San Benito County’s Mount Harlan, just south of Hollister and east of Monterey, in 1974. This whole-cluster, native yeast–fermented wine comes from those same vines, offering layers of berry and cocoa on the palate, with a long finish.
Fess Parker 2021 Ashley’s Pinot Noir
Actor Fess Parker, who played famed frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in Hollywood films during the 1950s and ’60s, bought a ranch in Santa Barbara County’s Foxen Canyon in 1988 and soon after began planting vineyards. Today, the vineyards and winery are run by Parker’s grandchildren, who produce many top-level wines, including this single-vineyard estate pinot noir, which is big and bold (14.1 percent ABV) with bright fruit notes and layers of spice and earthiness.
Lumen Pinot Noir 2019 Sierra Madre Vineyard
Lane Tanner and Will Henry’s boutique Los Alamos winery focuses on low-intervention winemaking using fruit harvested from organic and sustainable vineyards in Santa Barbara County. This bottle is from a blend of the two best barrels from their 2019 harvest of the Sierra Madre Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Unfiltered and low in alcohol (12.5 percent), this wine has an aroma of strawberry-rhubarb pie and is warm and spicy on the palate.
Paul Lato, 2021 Suerte Pinot Noir
Polish-born former restaurant sommelier Paul Lato worked at both Bien Nacido and Au Bon Climat before starting his own acclaimed winery in Santa Maria. This wine, a fruit-forward, ruby-hued, supple pinot that critic Jeb Dunnuck awarded 95 points, is made from grapes grown at Solomon Hills Vineyard, an estate owned by the Miller family, who founded and still own Bien Nacido.
Emeritus Vineyards 2019 Pinot Hill
Founded in 1999 by Brice Cutrer Jones (formerly of the famed Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards) and now run by his daughter, Mari Jones, Emeritus focuses on pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. The flavors of this complex wine, harvested from the dry-farmed Pinot Hill vineyard (located where the Russian River Valley and Petaluma Gap meet), range from cherry hard candy to notes of umami. Try it at the winery in Sebastopol, which USA Today cited as having the “#1 Winery Tour in North America” in 2017.
Flowers 2021 Sea View Ridge Pinot Noir
More than 30 years ago, Joan and Walt Flowers were among the first vintners to plant along the mountain ridges of the northern Sonoma Coast. This wine, made from grapes harvested from the organically farmed Sea View Ridge Vineyard, about 1,500 feet above the Pacific, received 97 points from critic James Suckling, who cited a nose of “dried seaweed and oyster shell” and notes of “iron shavings.”
Fort Ross Vineyard 2019 Stagecoach Road Pinot Noir
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery has one of the most spectacular estates in the U.S., set on a coastal mountain in northwestern Sonoma County that looks down on Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean less than a mile away. Sourced from the blocks of the estate vineyard that lie closest to the ocean (and where a famous stagecoach robbery took place nearly 150 years ago), the Stagecoach Road pinot has juicy notes of plum and black cherry, with flavors of cassis and clove.
2019 Goldeneye Ten Degrees Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
In the 1990s, longtime Napa Valley merlot mavens Dan and Margaret Duckhorn expanded north into Sonoma County and founded Goldeneye to try their hand at pinot production. The Ten Degrees label is the pinnacle of Goldeneye’s offerings, combining the best of the winery’s three vineyards in the Anderson Valley, and the 2019 vintage, which James Suckling awarded 96 points, is peppery with notes of salinity and a nice balance of minerality and tannins.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
2019 Pinot Noir The Eyrie
The Eyrie’s late founder, David Lett, was a Willamette Valley wine pioneer, planting vines in the Dundee Hills all the way back in 1965. Today, Lett’s son Jason runs the winery, producing bottles such as this pinot noir, which is harvested from the family’s original vineyard, a plot named for the nesting red-tailed hawks that still adorn The Eyrie’s labels. Wine Advocate awarded this vintage 98 points, citing aromas including cranberry, mushroom powder, and pipe tobacco.
Nicolas-Jay 2021 L’Ensemble Pinot Noir
A partnership between music executive Jay Boberg (who worked with artists such as R.E.M. and The Go-Go’s) and Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo, this winery, tucked on a forested hillside near the town of Newberg, is scarcely more than a decade old but already makes some of the best pinot noir in Oregon. The 2021 L’Ensemble, a blend harvested from blocks at eight local vineyards, has notes of cinnamon and spice and a textured earthiness. Jeb Dunnuck awarded it 96 points.
2019 Résonance Vineyard Pinot Noir
The first winery outside of Burgundy from the famed Maison Louis Jadot, Résonance brings French gravitas to the pinot-friendly terroir of the Willamette Valley. This vintage, which Wine Spectator awarded 96 points, comes from the old vines on the Résonance Vineyard, a historic site in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. It has notes of black cherry, violet, and sandalwood, with a structured mouthfeel that means it has great potential for aging.
2021 The Setting Chehalem Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir
Rock-star winemaker Jesse Katz is best known for the Bordeaux-style blends he produces at Aperture Cellars in Healdsburg, but he recently released his first Oregon pinot noir. Made from grapes grown in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, a hilly stretch of the Willamette Valley southwest of Portland, this wine has a nose that’s rich with berries, tea, and rose petals, with nice minerality. The best way to taste it? Surely from the balcony of your room at The Setting Inn Willamette.
Oh, and just in case you think impossible-to-find, collector’s-item pinots are only a thing that happens in Burgundy, let’s include a bonus winery, Antica Terra, to make it a baker’s dozen. Winemaker Maggie Harrison has been the subject of breathless coverage in The New York Times, and her bottles, such as the estate Antikythera Pinot Noir, are legendarily delicious… and scarce. With the membership list full, your best chance to try Harrison’s wines is to book a tasting at Antica Terra.