Pinot noir in the United States is at a crossroads. The varietal is morphing into a different kind of wine than it has traditionally been -- more tannic, higher in alcohol, less subtle. These days, California winemakers are producing pinot noirs that resemble cabernet sauvignon more than they do pinot noir.
That's why it's such a pleasure to recommend the Twomey ($50, sample). It doesn't taste like cabernet, and that's saying something given the harsh, unpleasant -- often nasty -- pinots that I have been tasting lately. That they cost $30, $40 and $50 doesn't seem to matter.
I don't often use the words "very pretty" to describe a wine, but it fits the Twomey (made by Silver Oak winemaker Ben Cane, who is famous for his high-end cabernets, ironically enough). This is a pure, clean, elegant red wine, yet still complex and sophisticated. It's fruity, as a California wine should be, but it's a fruitiness that teases, instead of hitting you over the head like a brick. It's astonishingly low in alcohol, at 13.4 percent, and its acid balance is stunning. In short, it's the difference between Catherine Deneuve and Madonna.
Drink this for a special dinner or give it as a gift to someone you care about. And, frankly, given how much over-the-top pinot noir I've tasted at this price, it's a value as well.