Pinot noir, the great red grape, challenges winemakers around the world.

More than either cabernet sauvignon or syrah, it's dramatically affected by climate and soil. Pinot noir likes to mutate. This means consistency can be elusive.

But when pinot noir is good, it's very good, often wonderful. The finest pinots come from Burgundy in France. The mention, for example, of wines from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti induces smiles, nods, swoons. Unfortunately, these legendary wines are among the most expensive anywhere.

Still, you don't have to spend the mortgage money to taste a fine Burgundy. Consider two from Domaine Faiveley.

The smooth 2007 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey ($27) is a charmer full of red fruit. It's a fresh, versatile and food-friendly introduction to Burgundy.

Elegant and round, the 2007 Domaine Faiveley Nuits-Saint-Georges ($63) ups the ante and delivers a balanced, extracted, garnet-hued beauty, loaded with fine fruit.

You'll find first-class pinot noir made in the United States. The Willamette Valley of Oregon offers pleasing choices.

The 2007 Ponzi Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($35) has traces of spice and cherry plus a long finish. It's a very good wine, ripe and immediately accessible.

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Concentrated, bright and toasty, the 2007 WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir ($41) is ready to be enjoyed with grilled red meat or a grilled "steak" fish such as tuna.