Pinot Noir has been in production more than 1,000 years longer than Cabernet Sauvignon, yet it is increasingly rare to find a bottle that lives up to this varietal’s elegant reputation. Only the finest estates are able to grow these difficult grapes to the perfection Pinot Noir deserves.
As wine writer Bob Thompson famously says about Pinot Noir, “Even where it prospers, it needs to be coaxed, wheedled, flattered, cajoled, cursed and prayed over almost ounce by ounce through a series of crises that starts at the fermenters and lasts beyond bottling.”
Pinot Noir from Romanee-Conti is consistent, no matter the vintage. This producer releases fewer than 450 cases annually, ensuring that each bottle in each case accurately represents the fine, clay-rich soil of its vineyards. Part of the reason these vintages are so difficult to find in recent years is that wine experts in Hong Kong are buying them up by the case, resulting in a 24 percent increase in sales over the past year alone. The iconic label attracts collectors from outside of the country, as Romanee-Conti relies entirely on brand, consistency, and quality to appeal to a worldwide audience.
This winemaker takes a unique spin on classic fermentation techniques, starting every bottle of Pinot Noir off with an extensive cold soak, then allowing it to steep in stainless steel tanks before yeast is added. The extended steeping causes the wine to develop fruit flavors that are bolder than typical Pinot Noir vintages. As the years wear on, owner Christophe Roumier is using less and less new oak in his maturation, setting a hands-off trend for Pinot Noir barreling unlike any other in the field.
The Richebourg estate stands out because of contributions by Henri Jayer, considered to be the most innovative winemaker in recent history. While most Pinot Noir vintages are thin, Jayer discovered how to bring out the richness of the grapes, a characteristic that many experts never realized was possible until he released his first vintage. Richebourg is also the first to earn AOC status, putting the estate at the top of the finest Pinot Noir producers in history.
4. d’Auvenay Mazis-Chambertin
Owner Lalou Bize-Leroy is better known for her white wines than her reds, but her Pinot Noir, grown in small patches on the estate, produces excellent wine that has a natural, unfiltered texture. She strongly dislikes wines that are fined, preferring to keep her Pinot Noir in its natural state throughout the pressing and fermentation process. Bize-Leroy produces fewer than 350 cases annually, adhering to biodynamic techniques and vine pruning practices that result in very low yields.
Many estates talk about terroir as the most important component of a fine Pinot Noir, yet only one estate truly puts this philosophy to the test. Sylvain Cathiard relies on harvest labor and equipment from local villagers, never outsourcing a single item more than a handful of miles down the road from the vines. The result is a Pinot Noir that is intensely terroir-specific. After working for DRC in his early career, this winemaker broke out of the mold with his decision to use only 100 percent oak barrels.
6. Louis Jadot
Opposite Sylvain Cathiard on this list is Louis Jadot, whose owners operate one of the largest wine production companies in the world, and whose vineyards span multiple terroirs. Wine collectors seek out vintages from this producer because of the owners’ focus on traditional techniques and consistent quality. They prefer wood over metal in nearly all of their fermenting equipment, and were one of the first to emphasize natural fermentation ingredients before it became a wine trend.
7. Kosta Browne
At about 20,000 cases per year, California producer Kosta Browne’s Pinot Noir is not the rarest wine on this list, but it is meticulously sourced and crafted. The estate hand-selects and imports only the finest vine roots, and allows each vine to fully mature before harvesting the grapes for Pinot Noir production. Because of the maturity of the vines and the dry climate, Kosta Browne produces Pinot Noir with the kinds of intense, complex flavors more common in a late harvest.
Fourrier has multiple Pinot Noir vineyards, but they separate their grapes by terroir before fermenting, keeping the taste of each terroir pure. Fourrier’s malolactic fermentation technique takes as long as 20 months to complete, and the wine is kept in no more than 20 percent new oak barrels before being barreled, resulting in a Pinot Noir that is more fruity than earthy. The owners believe that Pinot Noir today is far too wood-heavy, and that these flavors interfere with the delicacy of the grapes.
Marcassin’s waiting list is more than 5,000 people long, all vying for the chance to buy the estate’s Pinot Noir vintages. They make about 80 percent of their grand vin available only to those who are on their mailing list, which means that their 3,000 cases per year are actually as rare as brands like DRC or Richebourg. Not only are these bottles rare, the owners do not use cold stabilization or filtering in any of their wines, and they allow each bottle of Pinot Noir to age for at least five years before offering it up to the next person on the list.
10. Peregrine Pinnacle
New Zealand’s Peregrine Pinnacle has been producing Pinot Noir for fewer than 20 years, yet it is already one of the most sought-after wines in the country. The estate is tucked away near the mountains of Central Otago, which has some of the most extreme weather conditions of any part of New Zealand. Peregrine Pinnacle’s Pinot Noir grapes thrive in the stone-heavy soil, which allows for excellent drainage even in the wettest months of the year. The buildings on the estate have a roof that changes gradient to mimic the wings of a peregrine falcon, providing optimal sunlight to the grounds by moving up and down.
Choosing and Cellaring Pinot Noir
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