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10 best pinot noir wines: Refreshing reds perfect for sipping this autumn

From Burgundy bottles to home grown contenders, this is rouge you’ll want to splash out on

Terry Kirby
Tuesday 07 September 2021 15:35 BST
Pinot is a difficult grape, but where a combination of soils, topography and climate work together, the results are sensational
Pinot is a difficult grape, but where a combination of soils, topography and climate work together, the results are sensational (iStock/The Independent)

In the 2004 Oscar winning film Sideways, part romantic comedy, part serious homage to wine, the lead character delivers a heartfelt tribute to the pinot noir grape. As a result, pinot sales everywhere rocketed.

While the film’s protagonist was spot on calling it a “hard grape to grow”, with the right combination of soils, topography and climate working together, the results can be sensational.

Burgundy, of course, was the original “tucked away” place, where some of the most legendary pinots are produced. But in recent decades, remarkable pinots have been produced in New Zealand, California and Chile. And in England, fabulous pinot is also starting to be produced, which its advocates say might represent our best chance of producing a truly great red wine.

All pinot noirs are very food friendly, pairing well with both lighter duck and lamb dishes, as well as being one of the few red wines to work with fish, particularly rare tuna. Plus, the earthy quality also means it goes very well with mushrooms and with game.

So, as we head into the autumn, these wines are ideal for both warm days and cooler evenings. Drink at room temperature, or the straight from the fridge door.

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For this selection it must be remembered that, because of some of the difficulties in making pinot noir, the best wines can attract premium prices. However, we have tried to focus on wines that won’t break the bank, as well as more special occasion bottles.

How we tested

We were looking for an amazing aroma, which should combine those earthy, fungal notes we mentioned earlier, and a light to medium-bodied palate which is fresh, elegant and ethereal.

The best pinot noirs for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Domaine Jean Fery et Fils sous la Cabotte Savigny les Beaune 2017, 13%, 750ml: £29.99,
  • Best for vegans and vegetarians – Seresin Leah pinot noir 2017, 13%, 750ml: £19.76,
  • Best for game – Scott Base Central Otago pinot noir 2018, 13%, 750ml: £19.99,
  • Best for fish – Kurtatsch Mazon pinot noir riserva Alto Adige 2016, 13%: £30.95,
  • Best for mushroom dishes – Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills pinot noir 2017, 14%, 750ml: £32,
  • Best for special occasions – Luminous Hills Estate Astra pinot noir 2015, 16.7%, 750ml: £42.50,
  • Best for lightly spiced dishes – Talbott Monterey Kali Hart pinot noir 2017, 14.5%, 750ml: £24.99,
  • Best for duck – Tara pinot noir Atacama 2016, 13.5%, 750ml: £39.99,
  • Best English pinot noir – Gusbourne pinot noir Boot Hill Vineyard, Kent 2018: £33,
  • Best bargain bottle – Calmel + Joseph Le Sentier 2019, 12.5%: £16.95,

Domaine Jean Fery et Fils sous la Cabotte Savigny les Beaune 2017, 13%, 75cl

Domaine Jean Fery et Fils sous la Cabotte Savigny les Beaune 2017 Indybest .jpeg

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

Burgundy could, of course, be the subject of a whole column devoted to its magnificent wines – and indeed much has been written on the subject. But its pinots can be overpriced. So, here we’ve chosen just one medium priced, great value bottle that comes from a family winery in the Cote De Beaune area.

Aromas of red and black fruits mingling with earth and a little peppery spice on the palate; great structure and firmness on the palate and suitable for a wide range of foods, from lighter meat and game dishes to vegetable tagines and simple fish dishes.

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Seresin Leah pinot noir 2017, 13%, 75cl

Seresin Leah pinot noir 2017indybest.jpeg

Best: For vegans and vegetarians

Rating: 9/10

The Marlborough region of New Zealand is not just about fabulous sauvignon blanc – it also produces sublime pinot noir. This bottle comes from the estate of Michael Seresin, an internationally known cinematographer who has worked on a large number of films, including the Harry Potter and Planet of the Apes films.

Seresin has been making white and red wines since the early 1990’s and the vines are cultivated biodynamically and are all vegan friendly. The Leah pinot noir is named after his daughter and is a very youthful and vibrant pinot, with fresh red berry fruit flavours, a crisp acidity and a clean, long finish, with notes of pomegranate. This is ideal for light chilling and for drinking with tomato-based pasta and vegetable dishes of all kinds.

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Scott Base Central Otago pinot noir 2018, 13%, 75cl

Scott Base Central Otago pinot noir 2018, 13%, 750ml indybest.jpeg

Best: For game

Rating: 9/10

Central Otago is the most southerly wine producing region in New Zealand and its pinot noirs tend to be a little fuller and richer than Marlborough. Ten months of oak ageing give this wine a really full flavour, with notes of ripe berry fruits and some dried herbal characteristics. The fuller flavours lend themselves to pairing with game – the season is already underway – and lamb dishes.

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Kurtatsch Mazon pinot noir riserva Alto Adige 2016, 13% , 75cl

Kurtatsch Mazon pinot noir riserva Alto Adige 2016, 13%  indybest.jpeg

Best: For fish

Rating: 8/10

Pinot noir is also produced in the German-speaking Alto Adige Alpine region of Italy, bordering Austria and Switzerland, and where it is known as pinot nero or blauburgunder. This is as fresh as an Alpine stream, but gets added complexity from cave ageing in oak barrels. With gorgeous aromas of spices such as cinnamon and earthy fungal notes, hints of mint, a light to medium bodied mouthfeel, and cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavours this feels lively on the palate. It is perfect just lightly chilled with a plate of mixed charcuterie or some grilled fish, particularly seared tuna.

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Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills pinot noir 2017, 14%, 75cl

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills pinot noir 2017 indybest.jpeg

Best: For mushroom dishes

Rating: 8/10

Pinot noir production in Oregon only began seriously in the 1980’s, and one of the first investors in the main wine growing region of the Willamette Valley was one of the great names of Burgundy, Maison Joseph Drouhin. The valley shares a similar climate, latitude and aspect with Burgundy, and Drouhin describes the wines produced there as “French soul, Oregon soil”, which is clearly apparent here.

This is an iteration of pure pinot noir – complex and expressive, yet elegant. Flavours include fresh but dark black fruits, some red-cherry notes, sandalwood and a little earthy spice. It’s fuller flavoured than some others and just brilliant with autumnal foods involving mushrooms.

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Luminous Hills Estate Astra pinot noir 2015, 16.7%, 75cl

Luminous Hills Estate Astra pinot noir 2015, 16.7%, 750ml indybest.jpg

Best: For special occasions

Rating: 9/10

In another part of the Willamette Valley, the Yamill Cartlon district, lies the Luminous Hills vineyards, where winemaker Byron Dooley is intent on matching particular clones of vines with soil types to ensure absolute purity of flavours. This wine from an excellent vintage, is packed with ethereal but intense dark-fruit flavours; a developed structure, supple tannins and a hint of spice. A remarkable wine with a real sense of its place, this is one for a special occasion dinner party, to be served with lamb or duck dishes.

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Talbott Monterey Kali Hart pinot noir 2017, 14.5%, 75cl

Talbott Monterey Kali Hart pinot noir 2017, 14.5%, 750ml indybest.jpg

Best: For lightly spiced dishes 

Rating: 7/10

The best Californian pinot noir come from the deep mountain valleys, where the daytime heat is cooled by coastal fogs. Monterey, a scenic region where vines were first grown more than 200 years ago, is where the potential for great wines was only fully realised in the 1960. This characteristic pinot has sublime distinctive smoky qualities with, spicy, cherry fruit and vanilla flavours balanced with fresh acidity. If you didn’t “get” Californian pinot noir until now, this should do the trick. Drink with lightly spiced oriental dishes or any lighter meats like grilled chicken.

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Tara pinot noir Atacama 2016, 13.5%, 75cl

Tara pinot noir Atacama 2016, 13.5%, 750ml  indybest.jpg

Best: For duck

Rating: 9/10

This is the stunning product of a venture by winemakers Vino Ventisquero. To plant vineyards in Chile’s Atacama desert, one of the least hospitable places in the world to grow grapes, with daily fogs and salt deposits that cling to the vines, was a bold move. But it pays off.

The lightness of colour belies the intensity of flavours in this limited edition wine. Made without filtration or fining, it has aromas of earth and red fruits on the nose, vibrant, complex strawberry and black cherry flavours, a fine, crisp acidity and a long saline, yes, saline, finish. A high price, but worth it for the experience and just ideal with grilled fish or poultry, but particularly a roast duck, drunk cellar cool.

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Gusbourne pinot noir Boot Hill Vineyard 2018, 75cl

Gusbourne pinot noir Boot Hill Vineyard indybest.jpeg

Best: English pinot noir

Rating: 8/10

It is now well established that England can produce great sparkling wine, which of course often involves pinot noir as a constituent grape. Therefore hopes have long been high that we can also create great still pinot noir wines, although it is a more challenging task given the difficulties associated with the grape.

The Gusbourne estate in Kent is one of those producers of terrific award winning sparkling, and this single vineyard wine is a fabulous example of just what is possible. This is elegant and refreshing, with gorgeous flavours of cranberry and red berry fruits, with some subtle hints of earth and spice, and with enough tannic firmness on the palate to match poultry like spatchcocked chicken or poussin.

  1. £33 from
Prices may vary
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Calmel + Joseph Le Sentier 2019, 13%, 75cl

Calmel + Joseph Le Sentier 2019 indybest.jpeg

Best: Bargain bottle

Rating: 8/10

There are a number of fine pinot noirs in parts of the south of France, including this terrific little organically produced wine from Calmel and Joseph. Warmer conditions in the Languedoc region produce slightly riper, more full bodied wines. This has characteristic fresh fruit flavours, with notes of black cherry and pomegranate.

It’s the perfect introduction to pinot noir for newcomers to the grape. We think it is a great summer bottle, which when lightly chilled would match a whole range of picnic foods like charcuterie, pates and both soft and hard cheeses, with a crispy baguette being essential.

  1. £16 from
Prices may vary
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The verdict: Pino noirs

Yes, some prices here are high, but that’s the problem with pinot: the top pinots are simply more expensive because of the care needed to coax the best out of the grape, as well as the relatively low amounts of production.

We loved the Dommaine Drougin Oregon Dundee Hills pinot noir for its classy “we can beat Burgundy anyday” bravado. While all the other wines from around the world are brilliant, elegant bottles that deliver gorgeous, sophisticated drinking. The Calmel+Joseph wine is also a great wine for those dipping their toes into pinot’s waters for the first time.

But for all round value as well as food friendliness, it’s back to Burgundy for the Domaine Jean Fery et Fils sous La Cabotte Savigneuy les Beaune 2017, which is our pinot noir best buy.

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