"A thing of beauty is a joy forever." English poet John Yeats was musing on romantic love, but it could have been an ode to the wine called pinot noir.
Pinot noir, in its youth, is brash, crisp, lush and silky, with exuberant flavors of black cherries, pomegranates, even blueberries, often with a background of mocha.
Pinot noirs lack the tannin to strip the palate of the fat from a bite of extra-well-marbled steak. So it's the wine for lean, expensive filet mignon – leaving fattier rib-eye steaks to cabernet or barolo.
Pinot noir is the wine for complex wine-based beef stews, lean cuts of roast pork, for chicken or veal in madeira sauce, for flavorful fish like salmon or swordfish. For anything with a mushroom sauce. For macaroni and cheese fancied up with drops of truffle oil – and if you haven't tried this, you should.
Because of its crisp acids, it is not the wine for raw citrus salads or vinegar-based salad dressings. Because of its sweetness it cloys with sweet desserts.
So pinot noir is not all things to all people. Like everything beautiful, it must be in its context.
2011 Rodney Strong Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley Estate Vineyards: hint of oak, black plum and blueberry flavors, smooth, long finish; $25.
2008 Gloria Ferrer JSF Pinot Noir, Carneros: oak and red berry aromas, concentrated flavors of black raspberries and cloves, silky body, long finish; $40.
2011 La Crema Pinot Noir, Monterey: intense floral aromas, concentrated flavors of black cherry, anise and mocha, silky and smooth; $23.
2011 Morgan Winery Twelve Clones Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands: toasty oak and floral aromas, black cherry and black plum flavors, silky, lively and crisp; $32.
2011 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile: hint of oak and floral aromas, full-bodied and rich, with black cherry and spice flavors; $19.
2011 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Monterey County: hint of oak, flavors of black raspberries and spice, soft tannins, long finish; $15.
2011 Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County: floral aromas, black plum and mocha flavors, big, ripe tannins; $19.
2009 Waterstone Pinot Noir, Carneros: aromas of vanilla and oak, intense flavors of black plums and coffee, rich and smooth; $22.
2010 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir, Carneros: hint of oak, black cherry and mocha flavors, soft tannins, crisp acids; $27.
2011 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Carneros: subtle oak and flower aromas, flavors of black plums, spice and earth, soft tannins, full body; $35.