In deference to the season, we chilled the 2009 Vinum California Pinot Noir (about $14 at wine-savvy markets) for half an hour or so before twisting off the cap, bringing it down just a degree or two from shelf temp. It was the right way to go.
This bracing, even edgy red, made from grapes grown in select vineyards in coastal and other cool growing areas of the state, offers aromas of raspberry, cherry and black currant, which is no surprise in a pinot, but then there is that unmistakable burnt sugar whiff, which is decidedly unusual. On the tongue the dominant berry is blackberry underpinned by black currant, both nice and juicy and soft. At about mid-palate that burnt sugar returns abetted by a hint of black coffee. What a surprising wine! Lively fruit persists through the long finish, to which a sniff of black pepper adds an agreeable spice note.
All of this makes for a very fine food wine, indeed. For the grilling season, pair it with cheeseburgers topped with sliced red onion, spice-rubbed rack of lamb or tuna steaks marinated in citrus, olive oil and garlic.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.