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Surprisingly Affordable Pinot Noir PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara, BT Contributor   
May 2016

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

FPix_Vino_5-16inding an affordable (read, inexpensive) Pinot Noir is like embarking on a wild goose chase to find a needle in a haystack, a grain of sand on the beach, a snowflake in a snowstorm. At least that’s the meme.

But maybe not.

For the past several years, sales and prices of Pinot Noir have increased annually, matched only by the Big Dog of domestic wine sales, Cabernet Sauvignon. You might think the ever-increasing popularity of Pinot Noir would have the same effect on the stock of affordable Pinot that it’s had on Cabernet, which is to say, try finding a $12-and-under Cab that doesn’t taste like partially fermented Welch’s, that offers even a hint of real varietal character.

Expecting the same thing (or worse) in coming up with a batch of affordable Pinot Noirs, it was a pleasant surprise to find that with only one exception, they were all pretty decent. Some were downright good, well-balanced wines that offered a bit of complexity and actually tasted like Pinot Noir, instead of Generic Red Fruit Bomb.

Of course, for 12 bucks you’re not going to get Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Domaine Leroy or even the products of such esteemed domestic Pinot specialists as Sanford and Talisman (the latter of whom, to my mind, makes the finest Pinot Noir in California). But finding a Pinot Noir that suits both your palate and your pocketbook may be less onerous than you think.

Two wines in particular were cause for giving thanks. The 2013 Chateau St. Jean California Pinot Noir was an exceptionally well-structured wine that delivered more complexity than you’d expect from a wine costing $11.99. Not really any of that classic Burgundian “barnyard,” but layers of aroma and flavor, from red cherries and raspberries to toasty oak to hints of fennel and black olive, all wrapped in an elegant package that’s as easy to like as it is easy to find.

If anything, the 2013 SeaGlass Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir was even better. Santa Barbara, with its limestone soils, hilly terrain, and relatively cool climate, is gaining recognition for the quality of its Pinot Noirs, and one glass of this affordable, accessible Pinot will make it very clear why. This one does have just a touch of that Burgundian funk, seamlessly integrated with plummy, cherry-berry fruit, a little anise and fennel, a dash of olives and leather.

In fact, California wines in general dominated this month’s Vino. Estancia’s 2013 Monterey County Pinot was much like the SeaGlass, a quick nod to Burgundy, cherry-berry fruit, smoky notes of olives and leather, toasty oak, all nicely put together and blessedly light on the palate (plus a modest 13.5 percent alcohol).

The 2014 Mark West California Pinot Noir started off not quite so promisingly with a noseful of funky, tarry aromas. Thankfully, a few minutes in the glass and they started to blow off, revealing bright red cherry-raspberry fruit with some earthy nuances and stiffer tannins than some of the other wines, likely the result of its relative youth.

Simpler, softer, and fuller-bodied was the 2014 Lucky Star California Pinot Noir. This is definitely a fruit-forward, mouth-filling wine, though it does offer some decent varietal character and tangy cherry-berry fruit with an undercurrent of citrusy acidity. If you prefer a bigger, softer, fruitier Pinot, this one’s for you.

For a leaner, less fruit-driven style of Pinot Noir, French imports are probably your best bet. The 2014 Robiteau, for example. It opens with an aromatic blast -- plums and cherries, herbs and anise, oak and olives. On the palate, though, it’s much more restrained, the cherry-berry fruit bright and tangy, the supporting flavors more subtle. It’s more austere than the California wines, but not so much that it leaves you all puckery....

Like the 2014 Jean Bouchard. It will fool you with its bracingly aromatic mélange of red and black cherries, plums, and cassis, but once in your mouth, the wine is thin, tart, and reluctant to offer much pleasure. It gets a little better with some time in the glass, but not enough to want to polish off the bottle.

Somewhere between the two French Pinots is an Italian product, the 2013 Mezzacorona. It’s simple, accessible, middle-of-the-road -- nothing memorable but perfectly acceptable. And, to be honest, a helluva lot easier to find than a needle in a haystack.

 

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