Growers of the pinot noir grape often use terms like "frustrating" and "fickle" to describe the difficulty with this variety. A notoriously troublesome grape, they are thin-skinned, and very subject to climate variation. Done poorly, the wines are light and weedy, but when done well, they are rich while maintaining their elegance.
Overall, price was definitely not a factor, as the least expensive wines earned the most kudos.
First Place: Leaping Lizard Pinot Noir 2002 (Carneros), $15. Much darker on the nose, with tasters detecting nutmeg, cherry, and dark spices. Flavors of ripe fruit, black cherry, red apple, caramel. Lively. Lingering finish. Most rich of tasting, from obviously riper grapes. Best of tasting, and best value. Ali's bottle.
Second Place: Château St. Jean Pinot Noir 2001 (Sonoma), $15. Another good value. Vegetal nose. Tasters described flavors of bright cherry, vanilla, and lightly toasted oak, with hints of green apple. Moderately complex. Andy's bottle.
Third Place: Byron Pinot Noir 2002 (Santa Maria Valley), $23. Very vegetal on the nose, with aromas of tomato, celery, radish, mushroom, pepper, peach and popcorn. Medium-bodied, with hollow mid-palate. This one changed the most while in the glass. David's bottle.
Saintsbury Pinot Noir 2001 (Carneros), $25. Nose of oak, vanilla, dandelion, fresh herbs, lilies. The most floral nose of tasting. Higher in acidity, less complex than others, with under ripe strawberry flavors, as well as moss on the finish. Sarah's bottle.