The buzz about California pinot noir has subsided since wine snob Miles sang its praises in the 2004 film Sideways, swelling sales by 16 percent in a single year. Sales are still up, but pinot noir accounts for only 2 percent or so of American wine.
We're seeing now, though, that Miles gave a big shot of confidence to California winemakers. For decades, they had tried to emulate the august pinot noirs of France's Burgundy region -- and mostly failed, to the point that they called it ''the heartbreak grape'' for its fickle ways.
The pinot noirs of California and Burgundy will never be the same. The soils are different. California is warmer, with more sun, and its pinot noirs will always be bigger, riper, more alcoholic.
In Sonoma County, Marimar Torres grows pinot noir in her organic Don Miguel Vineyard in the Green Valley, the coolest, foggiest part of the already-cool Russian River, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Farther south, near Santa Barbara, Belle Glos winery grows it in the Santa Maria Valley, in the cool Pacific fogs that flow up the Santa Maria River.
By contrast, McManis Family Vineyards grows pinot noir in the warmer interior region of California, from Lodi to Ripon, producing softer, riper -- and less expensive -- wines.
Today, California pinot noir makers brag about how good their wines are -- how rich, how smooth, how fruity, how spicy, with flavors from red raspberries to black plums, from cinnamon to cardamom, coffee to bitter chocolate.
And -- thank you, Miles -- they hardly ever mention Burgundy.
• 2005 J Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: raspberry, spice and leather; complex and Burgundy-like; long finish; $32.
• 2004 Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley: raspberries, cardamom and allspice; silky and smooth; medium body; $80.
• 2005 Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir, Sonoma County: floral aroma, red plum and mocha flavors; smooth; long finish; $20.
• 2004 Marimar Estate ''Christina'' Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: oak, plums and spice; racy acids, ripe tannins; very smooth; $47.
• 2005 Redwood Creek Pinot Noir, California: black cherries and black coffee; medium body; $8.
• 2006 McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, California: soft, ripe red plums and milk chocolate; $10.