Love Pinot Noir? There are excellent examples made everywhere in the world, yet you must at least once enjoy a California Pinot Noir.

California Wine Country.

If you love wine, and love visiting wine regions, this is a place you must visit at least once in your life.

And honestly, as soon as you have been there once, it is almost certain you will return over and over again.

Sure, you could claim it’s overhyped. You could claim it’s too much chichi. But believe me, you won’t be able to resist the intrinsic charm and culinary landscape of this incredible corner of the world.

And if you love Pinot Noir, you must at least once try your way through the juicy, big, and bold California Pinot Noirs.

Background: California Pinot Noir

I’ve kept a close eye to California Pinot Noir for quite a long time considering it’s been counted among the best globally; despite the fact the variety actually thrives particularly in cool-climate wine regions like Burgundy or Oregon.

It nevertheless received a fair share of reproach being to lush and bold, and too high in alcohol. Quite obviously because of the typically warmer California growing conditions that yield those ripe and flashy Pinot Noirs that at least here in Europe are not everybody’s darling. 

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

But as we speak, there is a revolution happening in California. Balanced wines that display more red fruit and floral notes, with subtle accents and vibrant acidity are the new kids on the block.

The new style of California Pinot Noir typically comes from the cooler growing areas closer to the sea or in areas that benefit from microclimates mitigating those hot California summer days.

About Gnarly Head Winery

In 2004, a new wine adventure took off in central California’s Lodi wine region with the serious mission to make the biggest, boldest, and best Zinfandel wines ever made: Gnarly Head Wines was born.

Zinfandel in the area is grown in the century old method of head-trained, spur-pruned gnarled vines and that’s where the somewhat (or not) mysterious name Gnarly Head comes from.

The brand is part of Delicato Family Vineyards, headquartered in Manteca, California. It’s led by the Indelicato family who is looking at a long history of winemaking that once started in Italy (or more precisely Sicily), from where the family emigrated to the States. Here, their winemaking adventure started in 1924 and has gone strong to this day, with the family now into their third generation of leading the Delicato wine business.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

Though I love Zinfandel wines (the equivalent to Primitivo in Italy), I could not be more happy that it does not stop there at Gnarly Head. Selecting grapes from various northern California vineyards, the brand also produces a range of other wines. In the same bold and juicy style.

Tasting Notes: Gnarly Head Pinot Noir

Grapes for the Gnarly Head Pinot Noir are harvested from vineyards in cooler-climate regions of Monterey, Lodi, and the North Coast. They are harvested in the cooler hours of early morning.

At the winery, they are destemmed into fermenters and allowed to rest for 24-36 hours prior to fermentation. Fermentation itself takes place at a slightly lower temperature as usual to better control extraction and preservation of fruit. Malolactic fermentation takes place in French and American oak.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

In the glass, a rich ruby red with purple reflections.

On the nose, aromas of red cherry, vanilla, earth, and spice, followed by notes of black cherry and plum.  and hints of toasted hazelnut, tobacco and

On the palate, subtle, sleek tannins with hints of toasted hazelnut, tobacco, and cigar box.

The Gnarly Head Pinot Noir pairs well with a large range of food and is particularly perfect with a salami and arugula pizza, roasted pork, and poultry.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

For the occasion, I have paired it with a creamy chicken-mushroom risotto, which perfectly carried the weight of the wine.

Recipe: Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

I think I must stop collecting risotto recipes. I must have close to two hundred in my files. Then of course, risotto is one of my favourite Italian dishes and indeed you can make it with whatever ingredient comes to mind. From classic Risotto alla Milanese (with saffron) to risotto with vegetables, herbs, fish, chicken, meat or even fruits – there’s a risotto for any taste.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

A risotto I love during the cold winter months is this creamy chicken-mushroom risotto. It’s as easy to make as you could think of yet carries its weight as a great winterly weeknight dish, or the perfect starter for a Sunday lunch.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto

Serves 4

300 g risotto (carnaroli or arborio would work well)
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
150 ml white wine
800 ml chicken stock
80 g parmesan, freshly grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
a small chicken breast, cut into small pieces
250 g mushrooms, chopped


In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until translucent, then add the risotto and fry until it starts to turn translucent as well, for about 2-3 minutes.

Pour in the wine and cook until the wine has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetable broth in small quantities, stir to combine and cook until the broth is fully absorbed. Continue to add more broth and cook until the rice is soft, for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Fry the chicken breast until lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate.

Add mushrooms to the same skillet and cook until light golden (2-3 minutes). Transfer to a plate.

When the rice is cooked to your taste, stir in the parmesan. Finally add the chicken and mushrooms.

Serve with more freshly grate parmesan.

A Gnarly Head Good California Pinot Noir Meets A Creamy Chicken-Mushroom Risotto