Pinot noir is thin-skinned. To enjoy it, you can't be.

The peak of pinot is reached in Burgundy, and the cost almost always soars just as high. A lot of American pinot noir, while pricey, will seem a bargain compared with the reds of the Côte d'Or and the Côte de Beaune.

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Try one with roast beef, chicken or duck; grilled salmon, swordfish or tuna.

A balanced, round choice that's both intense and subtle: the lush 2011 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir ($45), a Russian River Valley beauty. Russian River Valley is the source for the earthy, fruity, slightly floral, distinctive 2012 J Vineyards Misterra Pinot Noir ($50). Santa Lucia Highlands yields the smooth 2012 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir ($35), loaded with plum and cherry.

From Sonoma comes the stirring, black-fruit-riven 2011 Three Sticks Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60), a bright, very satisfying selection. The consistent, vibrant 2011 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($65) is opulent, aromatic and full of berry fruit and spice. The lively 2012 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($34) delivers plum, cherry and spice notes; the full-bodied 2012 Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($27), perfume, fruit and a long finish.

For $25 or less: the 2012 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($25); the 2012 Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($20); the 2012 Cambria Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir ($25); as well as the dependable 2012 Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($25), from the Duckhorn Wine Co.