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California Pinot Noir: panel tasting results

What’s not to like? These deliciously fruit-filled, rich Pinot reds from around the Golden State’s regions scored consistently and highly.

Ronan Sayburn MS, James Doidge MW and Sarah Knowles MW tasted 66 wines with three Outstanding and 42 Highly Recommended

Entry criteria: producers and UK agents were invited to submit their latest-release, 100% Pinot Noir still red wines priced at or above £30 or US$30


California Pinot Noir panel tasting scores

66 wines tasted

Exceptional 0

Outstanding 3

Highly recommended 42

Recommended 21

Commended 0

Fair 0

Poor 0

Faulty 0


The 2004 movie Sideways may have rekindled excitement for California Pinot Noir while simultaneously hammering a nail in the coffin of Merlot.

But while the characters in the film talked of this ethereal, ghost-like variety that danced across the palate, that may not have been the exact style of many Pinots at the time.


Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for the top California Pinot Noir wines


Particularly back then, but still today, winemakers have been guilty of producing jet-black, heavily oaked, alcoholic wines with little varietal character.

Thankfully the tide is turning and we are seeing a new generation focusing on elegance rather than power in their Pinots, following the lead of California pioneers of that style such as the late Burt Williams, Ted Lemon and Steve Kistler.


Top-scoring wines from the California Pinot Noir tasting:

The following 45 wines scored 90 points or above.


The judges

Ronan Sayburn MS is a DWWA Co-Chair, as well as the Regional Chair for the US. Head of wines at members’ club 67 Pall Mall, he runs his own consultancy and wine training company, RS Wine Academy, and is CEO at the Court of Master Sommeliers Europe.

James Doidge MW is buyer and managing director at The Wine Treasury, a specialist importer in London. He has a particular interest in the wines of the Americas and southern Europe, where he travels and tastes regularly. He became a Master of Wine in 2021.

Sarah Knowles MW is a buyer for The Wine Society, currently with responsibility for North America as well as Champagne and Italy. A Master of Wine since 2015, she is a DWWA judge and previously worked as a buyer for on-trade specialist Amathus Drinks.


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