Mining the Pinot Bargain Bin: It’s What’s for Dinner
I am often asked for recommendations by friends and neighbors for good under $20 Pinot Noirs. Formerly a
wasteland of regrettable Pinot Noir, this price category has seen a remarkable resurgence since the onset of
the recession. There are a number of wines I can heartily recommend that work well at the dinner table on a
daily basis. The Hitching Post, Irony and Meiomi Pinot Noirs are especially noteworthy. Also, check out the
Kudos Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and Siduri appellation Pinot Noirs reviewed later in this issue.
2009 Benton Lane Estate Grown Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.55% alc., $20, screw cap.
light reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering scents of dark red cherries, ripe
raspberries, oak, tobacco and freshly tilled earth. A light to medium weight offering with savory flavors of dark
red cherries and berries. A basic Pinot Noir that is reasonably refined with soft tannins and complimentary oak.
2009 Cameron Hughes Lot 276 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $11.
Moderately dark reddish-purple
color in the glass. With vigorous swirling, aromas of dark plums, black currants and raisin emerge. Very ripe in
character featuring plum and blackberry flavors with a vein of oak and spice. Restrained tannins and very
approachable. Available at Costco. Good (-).
2009 Cardwell Hill Cellars Estate Bottled Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $22. Clones are Wädenswil, Pommard, Dijon 115 and 777. Aged 10
months in French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass.
Reserved aromas of cherries with musty oak, becoming livelier the next day
from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Flavors of red cherries and
berries sprinkled with herbs, offering a slight tartness on the frisky finish. Good.
2010 Coelho Winery Atracão Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $20. Atracão translates as
“behold the attraction.”
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Pure and effusive aromas of
cherries with a slight scent of herbal oak and straw. Crisp and bright, light in weight, with a core of red cherry
flavor, finishing with a tug of herbal oak. Decent.
2009 Hitching Post Cork Dancer Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $18, screw cap. The duo of Hartley and Ostini have
been making wine since 1979. The Hitching Post tasting room is at
the Hitching Post II Restaurant in Solvang.
color in the glass. Very nice perfume of pie cherries, spice and oak.
More complex than you would expect at this price level with flavors of
dark red berries and cherries, rose hips tea and cola, with a hint of
citrus peel on the uplifting finish. Well-managed oak and tannins with an easy
drinking personality. Would work beautifully with a Hitching Post oak-grilled
steak. Very good.
2010 Irony Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $10-$12.
Moderate color trending toward purple in the glass. Enticing aroma of
dark berry jam with a hint of oak. Very tasty core of blackberries,
boysenberries and fruit leather with a complimentary underpinning of
oak. A very charming wine with a rich mouth feel and impressive
finishing strength and length. Still excellent the next day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.
2010 Leese-Fitch California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $8-$10, Zork closure. The
biggest selling Pinot Noir fromThe Other Guys, Napa, CA. The Leese-Fitch wines
celebrate the restoration of the historic Leese-Fitch Adobe on Sonoma Plaza
which was built in 1836 and was named after Jacob Leese and Henry Fitch,
brothers-in-law to General Mariano Vallejo, the founder of the town of Sonoma.
Sourced from Santa Barbara County and Clarksburg. Previous vintages
contained a small percentage of other red varieties.
Moderately light reddish-purple
color in the glass. Aromas of dark berries, plums, dried herbs and wet
leaves. Tasty core of black raspberry fruit with added interest from notes of black
grapes, dark cherries and cola. Lighter weighted with bright acidity and moderate tannins, silky on the palate,
with a hint of toasted oak and mocha in the background. Good (+).
2010 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc. $10. From primarily Central Coast appellations.
Fermented in small lots with daily punch downs, lightly pressed, aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for
about 8 months.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, oak and dried
herbs, fading in fruit expression over time in the glass. Core of middleweight black cherry fruit with plenty of
oak flavors such as tobacco and toffee in the background. Juicy with mild tannins and up front drink ability with
a silky texture. Becomes less desirable over time in the glass. May improve over the next 6 months as the oak
more fully integrates. Decent.
2010 Meiomi Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $18-$20, screw cap. “May-OHmee”
means “Coast” in the language of the California Wappo Indian
tribe. 57% Monterey County, 23% Santa Barbara County, and 20%
Sonoma County. Winemaker Joseph J. Wagner.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep, rich and enticing aromas of
plums and dark berries with a hint of oak spice, vanillin and BBQ.
Discreetly concentrated, yet richly flavored with delicious plum, black
raspberry, dark chocolate and vanilla cola notes. The fruit is caressed by soft,
fine-grain tannins, creating a velvety mouth feel that is very seductive. The best
Meiomi Pinot Noir to date. This wine will find many fans. Widespread retail and
restaurant availability. Very good. Note: At the recent Pinot Days Southern California, Meiomi had two very
attractive young women in hot pants and boots roaming the event promoting Meiomi Pinot Noir. This is the first
time I have seen this marketing approach at a Pinot Noir event. Obviously aimed at Millenials (although they
approached an old duck fart like me), this is surely a sign of the future of wine promotion.
2009 Moobuz Monterey Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., $15, Zork closure. From The Other Guys.
Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, spice, oak char
and sweet smoke. The flavors echo the nose. Moderately light with mild dusty tannins and a good snap of
acidity on the finish. The undertone of smoky oak detracts. Decent.
2010 Pali Wine Co. “Huntington” Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 2,136 cases,
$21. A multiple vineyard blend. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black plum reduction sauce, Asian 5-spice, and a leafy
green note from oak. Medium weight flavors of dark berries and plums with the slightest oak in the
background. Nothing complicated, but a solid wine with mild sandy tannins and decent acidity that is
friendly and satisfying. Good (+).
2010 Pali Wine Co. "Bluffs" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., 2,274 cases, $21.
Sourced from several vineyards. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of Bing cherries, spice and sandalwood.
Tasty core of slightly sweet black cherry fruit with a riff of cola and dark chocolate in the background.
Rich and intense and flush with fruit that the Russian River Valley would be proud of. Texturally
smooth, finishing with some firm tannins. Good (+).
2010 Pali Wine Co. “Riviera” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 10,500 cases, $20. Sourced from several unnamed vineyards.
Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
hue in the glass. Fruity nose displaying aromas of cherries,
raspberries, blueberries and grape juice with a hint of oak and spice.
Dark fruited and medium weighted with an interesting feral quality and
grilled fruit undertone. The wine is well crafted with pleasing balance and easy
drink ability. Good (+).
2010 Pali Wine Co. “Alphabets” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 1,700 cases, $20. Aged 10
months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Largely devoid of
fruit on the nose, displaying aromas of underbrush, straw and woodpile. Medium weight dark red fruit flavors
with a grassy, green tomato bent that I do not find appealing and may represent under ripe fruit. Decent at
2010 Pali Wine Co. "Summit'" Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
15.5% alc., 210 cases, $29. Sourced from an
unnamed prominent vineyard. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels.
Very darkly colored and dense in the
glass. Aromas of spiced black plums, blackberries, raisin and mulled wine with subtle oak char in the
background. A big gulp of fruit: rich, dense and concentrated bordering on jammy with a hint of anise, iron and
oak. Very smoothly textured on the palate with a moderate tannic backbone. Too ripe, too big, too alcoholic
(slightly hot on the finish), and a bit tiring to drink over time, but the fruit flavor is undeniably appealing. Decent.
Note: The same day I tasted the Pali Wine Co. Summit, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times (“Cool
Trend,” by Patrick Comiskey, February 9, 2012) discussing how a number of highly visible winemakers in the
Santa Rita Hills are returning to “natural elegance,” in the style of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The
trend is toward avoiding the push to extreme ripeness, high alcohols and deeply flavored wines with fruit-bomb
character. The article ends with a quote by Richard Sanford: “In the end, elegance is more important than
impact.” It is clear from the Summit Pinot Noir that the winery has not bought into this trend and believes there
is still a significant market for big, ripe, extracted Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills. With wine, and
particularly Pinot Noir, there is no one style that dictates every consumer’s preference.