I have mentioned before on these pages that I am a bit of a Pinot freak. It is certainly not the only style of wine I drink, but it represents roughly half of my red wine in the cellar. Hence, I am always on the lookout for new producers, vintages, and most of all “bargains.”
That last bit is a little tricky as I am not the first to think that it is difficult to make a “good” Pinot for under $30. Why is that? Well, there are a whole host of factors, but not the least of which is that Pinot has a very thin skin making it more susceptible to the weather–too hot and it dries up, too cold and the berries don’t mature, too wet and the skins can break or, given the tightly packed nature of the berry cluster, mildew can creep in.
That thin skin also limits the amount of flavor that can be imparted into the wine (much of the flavor from red wine comes from the contact with the skins during fermentation), so in order to maximize flavor, many Pinot makers drop fruit (cut off grape bunches before maturity) to further concentrate the remaining bunches. This leads to lower per acre crop yields, which raises the overall price of the fruit.
For some reason, the demarcation seems to be at $30-40 a bottle–at that dollar figure and above, Pinot Noir seems to possess many of the characteristics that make it magical: fruit, depth, and an earthiness that many refer to as a “sense of place.” Below that $30 price point, many Pinots can be lacking one or more of those elements.
$30-40 a night for a decent bottle of wine, however, is just not sustainable for most people, including me. Being the math geek that I am, however, I have long been convinced that there are outliers–Pinots that lie outside this commonly held notion, wines of good quality that won’t cost a princely ransom. Wines for the common folk.
In other words, Pinots for Paupers.
Here are several wines that I have recently sampled that I would certainly classify as outliers: Pinot Noirs with suggested retail of $25 or under that I would gladly have on my table.
2013 Carmel Road Pinot Noir Monterey: Retail $22. A bit of fruit and earth showed up after being open for a bit. Good fruit on the palate, though with some secondary flavors, too. It disappears some in the mid-palate but comes back again with good acidity on the finish. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2013 Kudos Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Retail $12. Earthy with a bit of funk on the nose. On the palate, not a ton of fruit, but there is that earth and plenty of acidity. This is unlike most inexpensive Pinots in that it seems to eschew fruit in search of complexity, and it just about gets there. The term “food wine” is bantered about quite a bit these days, but it is warranted here. Good to Very Good. 85-87 Points.
2012 Kudos Reserve Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley: Retail $22. This is near the upper limit of the “Pauper” designation, and it is certainly a solid effort. Cranberry, raspberry, and a bit of earth comes out of the glass. A bit of fruit initially, but this certainly leans more Old World than New. For me, that is almost always a good thing. The balance is there, as is the earth and a few mouth drying tannins. No doubt this is a solid effort, and better on day two. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2012 La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey: Retail $23. On the first day, this was rather nondescript, and tighter than a drum. After a day, though, it really opened up–black and boysenberry dominate. Great fruit on the palate–juicy and robust–a bit short on acidity, but a fun quaff, a real party pleaser. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2012 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: Retail $25. A deep, complex nose with red berry fruit and cloves. On the palate, rich and full all the way through but also with a bit of earth, The finish is a bit brief, but memorable. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir: Retail $25. My mother-in-law dotes on me. Don’t tell my wife since I will then be forced to deny it, but it really is true. Since she is Korean (and I am tragically white) she is constantly concerned about my culinary preferences. We only ever eat Korean food at her house and she is convinced I don’t like spicy food (I do), I am a very picky eater (I’m not), and I can’t use metal chopsticks (I can). On our first night visiting, she made us Kalbi Jim, which is a braised short rib–rich and a bit sweet. I pulled this Laetitia, hoping it would hold up. No worries here. Great red berry fruit and eucalyptus. This is but a baby but it is very impressive with fruit, depth, and verve. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Mandolin Pinot Noir Monterey: Retail $12. Initially, I was honestly not all that impressed, but I let it sit a bit and revisited. Big difference. With the extra time, the wine opened up with some black cherry cola and a hint of hibiscus. Some mid-palate earthiness and an admirable finish. For $12? Not too shabby. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2013 St. Innocent Villages Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley: Retail $25. I am pretty picky when it comes to Pinot, since I want it all: fruit, nuance, and earth. For the most part, I have found that less-expensive Pinots are missing one or more of those elements. Not this one. In fact, this is one of the best sub-$30 Pinots I have had. Of the three elements, the fruit is the most impressive: cherry with hints of cola and spice. On the palate, the fruit is certainly up front, but there is plenty of depth all the way through and the earthiness really shows up on the finish. This wine appeals to every type of wine drinker: the casual drinker, the wine geek, and the mother-in-law. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.