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Pinot That’s Easy On the Wallet

“In the search for great Pinot, you may not always get what you pay for,
but you will never get what you don’t pay for. It is a sad fact that
inexpensive, high-quality Pinot Noir is almost non existent.”
Allen Meadows, Burghound

You can’t argue with Meadows’ statement above, but sometimes you are not compelled to drink an epiphany. There are times when you are looking for a Pinot Noir that you can buy by the case, drink it without impunity in a casual setting, and not feel obligated to critique the wine. Here is an analogy: if you are a foodie, you love to have a gourmet meal on occasion, but there are times when an In-N-Out burger will do just fine.

Because there is plenty of excess Pinot juice available, and because the recent recession has pinched many wineries, negociant labels have been able to pick up some pretty solid wine and produce inexpensive Pinot Noir that taste very decent. Many premium wineries have launched second value-priced labels as well which have become popular. In addition, some wineries have chosen to concentrate on the under-$20 market. Inexpensive wines do not have layers of aromatic and flavor interest and long, generous finishes, but they can work beautifully as daily drinkers and back porch wines.

According to Wines & Vines (May 2011), Pinot Noir, along with Pinot Gris, was the biggest selling varietal priced between $11 and $14.99.

In this issue, also look at the 2009 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir ($20).

2009 Mark West California Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $8.50. Small tank fermentation, punch downs, pressed lightly and aged for 8 months in French and Hungarian oak. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of red cherries, strawberries and oak vanillin. Lightly fruited, but tasty melange of red cherries and berries with oak in the background. Mild fine-grain tannins with balanced acidity. Well worth the tab. Good.

2009 Fat Cat California Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.56, Glucose/ Fructose 4.25 g/L, $10. From Bronco Wine Company. Winemaker John Allbaugh. · Faint perfume of dark fruits. Fairly rich and tasty core of plum and blackberry flavors with some oak in the background. Mildly firm tannins provide structure and restrained oak contributes interest. Not easily recognizable as Pinot Noir, but a casual and mellow drink that matches the jazz theme on the label. Decent.

2009 Jargon California Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $10, screw cap. · Moderately light purple-red hue in the glass. Fresh scent of berry jam, spice and vanilla. Medium weighted flavors of red berries and spiced cherries wrapped in supple tannins. Nicely balanced with a silky texture that makes for easy drinking. Definitely tastes like Pinot and will please many at this price. Good

2009 River Road Vineyards & Winery Stephanie’s Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $18. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Lacks fruit on the nose, offering only aromas of oak, pine sap and savory herbs. Moderately rich core of dark red stone fruits wrapped in soft tannins. Prominent oak presence evidenced by vanillin and assertive herbs carries over on the finish. Decent.

2009 Pali Wine Co. "Huntington" Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 1,215 cases, $19, screw cap. Part of Pali Wine Co.’s Cuvée Program of appellation-specific Pinot Noir using purchased grapes declassified from the premium wine lineup. Aged 15 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderately intense color in the glass. The aromatics are striking with a plethora of black cherry, black raspberry and spice box aromas veering to the riper side. Modestly intense flavors of black cherries, dark berries and black currants with a smoky edge. The fruit closes in on over ripeness. Juicy with restrained tannins and a lingering note of cherry on the fruity finish which could use an acid uplift. Decent (+).

2009 Sarapo Family Wines Donato Carneros Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $19.95. Second label from Eric KentWine Cellars. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of black cherries, spice box, oak and baked cookies. Medium weight core of tasty dark cherry and blackberry fruit with a hint of mocha in the background. The velvety texture is appealing, but the alcoholic finish detracts. Good acidity and mild tannins. A reasonably good daily drinker in an attractive package. Good (-).

2008 Red Pony Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $14. · Medium purple-red color in the glass. Demure aromas of dark red fruits including strawberries with hints of redwood and spice. Veers to an over ripe flavored array of dark red Pinot fruits including strawberries, cherry skins and raspberries. Restrained tannins make for easy drinking. A subtle greenness scars the finish which is short. Decent.

2008 River Road Vineyards & Winery Scarlett Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $17. A barrel selection. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, black cherries, vanilla and sandalwood. Reasonably complex with an array of flavors including black raspberries, black cherries, tea leaves, and grilled meat. A little too much oak detracts. Very dry tannins and finish. Might benefit from more aging or decanting. Decent (+).

2008 Quails’ Gate Okanagen Valley Canada Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $18, screw cap. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of tobacco smoke and burnt wood. The fruit has a burnt quality and is unpleasant. A flawed wine. Unsatisfactory.

2008 Three Saints Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 2,500 cases, $24, screw cap. Released February 2011. · Dark ruby color in the glass. Scent of black cherries, toasty oak and pencil lead. Middle weight flavors of blackberries, black grapes and dark plums with underpinnings of toasted oak and tobacco. Nicely composed and easy to drink. Decent.

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