Friday, July 20, 2007

Best Value Pinots

Pinot Noir is a wine that people feel passionate about. And it's not all because of Sideways. These silky, elegant reds are so easy to pair with food, and so flavorful, that it's hard to imagine not being drawn to them. I was certainly drawn to the 2005 Eric Kent Stiling Vineyard Pinot Noir (pictured left). So much so that I immediately joined the wine club!

Regular readers of the blog will know that I recently attended Pinot Days in San Francisco. There I was able to taste a wide range of superb pinot noirs from all around the world. The pinot noirs I tasted ranged from $18 to nearly $60. As I mentioned in my Pinot Days Post Mortem, I therefore fear that the day of the high-quality under $20 pinot noir are over.

There are many reasons for this. Pinot Noir is fashionable, so that drives the price. But let's put that aside. Pinot Noir is a picky, fickle grape. It demands a lot of time and attention. The very best are cultivated in cool climate areas with difficult growing conditions and tricky harvests. These areas are also remote, with all kind of zoning and development restrictions. And to make distinctive pinot noirs--the kind that I'm recommending here--growers often use low-yielding vines. Scarcity + fashion = expensive. Doesn't matter if its houses, clothes, or cars. It's going to cost you.

But all is not lost. The good news is that there are excellent--and I do mean excellent--pinot noirs that cost between $18 and $40. Based on my tastings at Pinot Days and at the Family Winemakers Event in Pasadena in March, I drew together an alphabetized list of the best value pinot noirs that I tasted. In doing so I found a handful of producers that I felt made good pinots across the pricing spectrum. If you investigate them, you will find they also produce smaller-production, more expensive wines than those here. They are also excellent. But what impressed me was that I found minor differences in flavor and quality between their higher- and lower-priced bottlings. That's why I think these wines deliver so much bang for the buck: they are being made by skilled winemakers, using some of the best fruit out there.

Because of the length of the list, I've kept the notes brief, and hotlinked each wine to Wine-Searcher where you can look to see which merchants sell the wine you're looking for. The price range indicates the prices that I found on Wine-Searcher, not the suggested retail price at the winery.

2005 Ancien Pinot Noir Mink, Carneros ($34-$38) Raspberry all the way--aromas, flavors, finish. Sweet fruit, nice acidity. Very good QPR.

2005 Ancien Pinot Noir Fiddlestix, Santa Rita Hills ($36) Floral and fruity aromas give way to flavors of black raspberry, violet, and cream. My favorite wine from this maker at the tasting. Excellent QPR.

2005 Anne Amie Cuvee A, Willamette Valley ($18-$25) Fine entry-level pinot with black raspberry and toast aromas and flavors. Sour cherry note on finish adds interest. Very good QPR.

2005 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($26-$32) Silky wine with blackberry, black cherry, and raspberry flavors. Floral aromas add a nice approachability to the wine. Very good QPR.

2005 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Stiling, Russian River Valley. ($33-$45) Best pinot noir of the entire tasting. Absolutely outstanding in every way. Meaty with luscious berries and lovely acidity. Loads of creamy blackberry fruit and spice give it complexity. This wine is sold out at the vineyard, so I've included notes for EK wines that are not yet released. If you want them, get on the mailing list now! I could find only one merchant currently stocking it. Run if you live in LA. Excellent QPR.

2006 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Stiling, Russian River Valley (NYR) Barrel sample. Black cherry, great creaminess, nice acidity. It's another extraordinary wine. No price yet, so no QPR, but this was almost as good now as its older sister from the 2005 vintage.

2006 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks, Russian River Valley (NYR) Barrel sample. Gorgeous acidity, but the wine is still so young it is hard to gauge what it will become. Ripe cherry, flowers--has lots of potential.

2004 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard ($29-$45) I liked this wine, which had real complexity in a restrained package. Black cherry and raspberry aromas, with a gorgeous note of rose petals. Smooth texture, and the aromas are echoed on the palate. Excellent QPR.

2003 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir Symposium, Sonoma Coast ($27-$32) Pinotage is added to the pinot noir in this bottling. Black cherry flavors and aromas predominate with some cedar notes. Excellent QPR.

2004 Hamel Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch, Sonoma Coast ($25) Earth and truffles with cherry and black raspberry flavors. Drinking well now, but I'd wait another 9-18 months before opening. Excellent QPR. (The 2005 is just as good, but I didn't find any online sources for the wine).

2005 Handley Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($18-$30) Abundant cherry, raspberry, and blackberry fruits in a cascade of flavors that are accented with a very intriguing caramel note. Very nicely done, and distinctive. Best value of the tasting. Excellent QPR. If you can get this for $18, it's a steal. Do it.

2005 J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($23-$35) Easy drinking pinot noir with raspberry, blackberry, grilled meat, and spice aromas/flavors. (88 pts.)

2005 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($35) Elegant smoke, cherry, black raspberry, and herb aromas and flowers. Lushest and roundest of the Lost Canyon 05 pinots I tasted. Excellent QPR.

2005 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros ($35) Spiciest of the Lost Canyon 05s I tasted. Spice, smoke, and bright red raspberry and sour cherry fruit. Very nice. Excellent QPR.

2004 Red Head Ranch Pinot Noir ($28). A silky, elegant, and balanced wine. Cherries, with notes of mushroom, earth, roast coffee and cocoa to keep the wine interesting. Excellent QPR.

2005 Row Eleven Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley ($28-$31) Nice value on this very good pinot noir. Rich black cherry and smoke flavors and aromas. Very good QPR.

2005 Row Eleven Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($36)
Very nicely done. Bright cherry aromas and flavors, with added notes of roses and violets on the nose. Subtle smoke and char notes. Nice balance. Very good QPR.

To close, I wanted to remind everybody that the whole idea behind Good Wine Under $20 is that good wine doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive. But for those of us who love pinot noir, the rising prices (and the rising quality) are going to put a crimp in budgets. So how will I strategize to make sure there is money to buy one of these beauties occasionally? By drinking a wide variety of high quality, good value wines from around the world--and pocketing the savings to buy pinot. If you drink well and sensibly all the time, you can make the odd splurge purchase. For me that means budgeting my wine dollars in such a way to take advantage of all the great values coming out of California, Spain, and France so that I can afford my beloved pinot. And when I find a good pinot under $20, I will certainly tell you! And if you've found one, let us know in the comments section below.


Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I am a Pinot lover so am always looking for new ones to try.

My favorite Pinot Noir, that runs around $20, is the Paraiso Pinot Noir, Monterey County, Santa Lucia Highlands. It is more Burgundian in style. It was a light wine, nicely balanced with a lingering finish.

Anonymous said...

Other good values: Hamel, Campion -- in the $20 range or so. TR Elliott in the $30 to $40 range.

We have a personal stash of the Stiling and look forward to trying it soon!

Dr. Debs said...

Hamel's on my list, too, JB. And the Campion wines I've had have been great--I just haven't tasted any in the last year. Always on the look out, though!

And Richard, I keep my eyes peeled for that wine. Haven't seen it yet!

winedeb said...

Thanks for the list Dr. Deb's. Now I can let family and friends know that when it is gift time, nothing better than wine!!!! Lists will be distributed soon!

Sonadora said...

Great write-up Dr.Debs! I agree though, the costs are getting up there!

David said...

Good post, I love pinots but the prices are a bit steep. I'd add to the list of good ones in the price range the Schug Estate 2005 Sonoma Coast. This has some nice depth to it and a bit of spice, enjoyed it recently with some grilled salmon with a mushroom sauce.

Joe said...

If you ever find a great $20 Pinot I will be all over it! I wish you luck in your grail quest. As an alternative to Pinot I would get a top Cru Beaujolais - pairs similarly with food. Have you ever tried Tasmanian Pinot? Might fit with your Good Wine Under $20 thesis. Cheers!

Dr. Debs said...

OK, everybody. If I find an under $20 pinot that's good QPR or better, I'll let you know. I love a good cru beaujolais, Joe, and have reviewed a number of them this year. Look forward to trying some more in the fall, too. But I've never had a Tasmanian one.

Joe said...

Yes, you have, but it has been a while - just egging you on! (As if you needed encouragement...) Pipers Brook is the Taz you should try.

Richard Auffrey said...

Has anyone had the 2006 Parker Station Pinot Noir? One of my local wine stores, which I trust very much, sent out an email about this wine. It is only $16 and they are raving it is an exceptional pinot.

Dr. Debs said...

Richard, I've not had that wine. I'll have a look and see if I can find it. I do like pinots from that part of the world, so if it's a good deal and available--excellent news!