Pinot noir has always competed with cabernet sauvignon as the most noble grape in the world. While cabernet sauvignon is one of five grapes that goes into the best red wine of Bordeaux, pinot noir stands alone as the only grape that goes into red burgundies. It doesn’t rely on other grapes to give the wine color, flavor, complexity and acidity.
Pinot noir's exclusivity isn't the only challenge either. While the red varieties of Bordeaux are relatively easy to grow, pinot noir’s thin skins make it more susceptible to disease and is highly influenced by temperature and rain. Many producers have given up on the grape after suffering severe crop losses.
These difficulties influence prices; most great burgundies cost hundreds of dollars and even those made in California and Oregon can easily approach $100 -- all the more reason to appreciate an inexpensive pinot noir.
In recent weeks we have found several delicious pinot noirs for under $40. Although that may sound expensive for most of you, the truth is that these wines are moderately priced. They may not have the character and complexity of the more expensve pinot noirs, but they are delicious nonetheless.
Here are several we recommend:
La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014 ($23). The grapes were primarily fermented in open-top tanks and ten punched down several times a day to give the wine intense, complex aromas and flavors. We like the earthy character of the wine and its effusive strawberry, cola flavors. Hints of chocolate and spice.
Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2015 ($30). The initials represent the three vineyards – Smith, Lone Oak, and Hook – in this tasty blend from Santa Lucia Highlands. Bright cherry character and a dash of mushrooms and spice.
Sanford Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). A blend of eight different clones, this reasonably priced pinot noir still expresses the AVA's fruit profile. Very understated.
J. Lohr Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). Lohr extracts more fruit from his pinot noir than any California producer we know. With 1,300 acres of Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands’ vineyards at its disposal, it can make consistently good pinot noir year to year.
Cline Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2015 ($17). Cline Family Cellars has developed a well-earned reputation for its portfolio of value wines. Known first for its zinfandels, it has a pinot noir made from estate grown grapes in Sonoma Coast. Pumped over during fermentation to extract color and flavor, the grapes have created a simple but balanced pinot noir with red berry flavors and nuances of vanillin oak.
Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2015 ($25). Violet and strawberry aromas start off a succulent pinot noir that shows off cassis and ripe cherry flavors. Soft mouthfeel and long in the finish.
Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir 2014 ($32). You can always count on Kendall-Jackson to deliver a balanced wine. This pinot noir from the Anderson Valley comes from vineyards that struggle through large volcanic rock. The result is intense strawberry and raspberry fruit flavors that linger on the palate.
Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir 2014 ($25). We loved this richly textured wine with extracted cherry and cranberry fruit flavors and hints of mushrooms and spice. Dark in color, it hints of blueberries on the nose. We bet you can’t stop at one glass. Great value.
Dreaming Tree California Pinot Noir 2015 ($15). By using grapes from all over California and not a specific vineyard, winemaker Sean McKenzie concentrates on just making a decent pinot noir for a decent price. With classic black cherry flavors and medium body, there is nothing complicated here.
Trinity Hill's Pinot Noir 2015 ($17). Using grapes from three cool-climate vineyards in Southern Hawke's Bay in New Zealand, the producer shows off an elegant, fruit-energized wine with a spice nose and earthy, raspberry flavors.
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($43). This reserve from the Russian River Valley is a big step up from the producer’s uninspiring, regular pinot noir. The reserve is a beautiful wine is a more opulent wine with rich texture and layered flavors of cherries, boysenberries and cloves.
Ron Rubin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($25). This region benefits from morning fog and cool coastal breezes which cools the grapes and allows for longer hang time on the vine. That retains the acidity and allows grapes to fully mature. Red berry notes with a hint of vanilla.
Viansa Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 ($45). A decent price for a reserve pinot noir, this gem reflects the cherry and plum qualities in a Carneros wine, plus the hint of licorice we commonly find in this region's wines.
WindVane Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 ($45). A relatively new wine from cava producer Freixenet USA, this pinot noir grapes gets two days of cold soaking to extract more color – Carneros isn't known for its naturally dark colors. Black cherry notes, a classic velvet mouthfeel and a dash of vanilla.
Cultivate Pinot Noir 2014 ($28). Youthful raspberry and pomegranate flavors with a long, refreshing finish.
Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016 ($24). This Oregon white wine expresses luscious cherry and ripe pear flavors in the nose and mouth. A perennial favorite of ours, this unique wine continues to please.
Concha Y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Malbec Marchigue 2013 ($17). This Chilean value has expressive berry and plum notes and a bare hint of oak. Drink with red meat dishes.
Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT 2013 ($30). A slight change in the grape portions hasn’t changed the appeal of this gem from a reliable producer. An equal blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot still retains its Italian feel. Ripe cherry and leather notes dominate this fruity table wine whose style straddles the old and new worlds.