Pinots for Paupers

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.

Carmel-Rd-Monterey-Pinot-Noir-20132013 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.

Kudos WM2013 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.

Kudos Res2012 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.

LaCremaMontereyPN_1212012 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.

LaCrema-SC-PN22012 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.

Laetitia Estate2013 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.

Mandolin PN2013 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.

St Innocent Pinot Noir Villages Cuvee small2013 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.



About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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30 Responses to Pinots for Paupers

  1. boozeguru says:

    I fully agree with you on Laeticia and the Sonoma La Crema. We can sometimes get Meomi and Decoy Pinot Noirs for under $30 out here. The 4 are pretty much my top recommendations in their price point.


    • If you liked the Laetitia and the La Crema, you should really try and track down the St. Innocent. Far from a huge production (2,200 cases), but really well done and sourced from some outstanding vineyards.


  2. mrsugarbears says:

    This is definitely my kind of post. 🙂 La Crema finds its way into my home often.


  3. Fiona says:

    Pinot Noir is a relatively “new” cultivar here. And it is a favourite of mine, too. That one that I tweeted about (with the underwhelming label), is the second label of one of our local wineries. It sells, at the cellar door at ZAR 60 or $5! Their award-winning ones are ZAR 110 or $9 at the cellar door…. You do the math 🙂


    • Surprising that it is “new” since Pinotage has such a strong foothold there! Everytime you tell me about some of the great wines down there, it only solidifies my resolve to make it down there at some point!


      • Fiona says:

        I think (and I’m not an expert) that there are two reasons it’s new: one is the fact that it’s a difficult cultivar, as you point out. The other has to do with the history of the wine industry in South Africa which, until democracy was highly regulated by a couple of big players. Boutique wineries were virtually unheard of and growers had to send their grapes to particular co-ops. Very different now and as you gather, lots of really interesting cellars and producers, so glad you’re resolve is getting stronger… Will continue “tempting” you until you succumb 😛


      • Sounds like there are countless stories to be told down there!


    • waywardwine says:

      Hamilton Russell is fab!!!!! Although not pauper-able.


  4. I do like the Laetitia and st innocent. I got a case of Herringbone from Carneros on one of those flash sale sites for under 15. Very very good.

    What do u think about the ones from NZ? I like how they arent overextracted…


  5. The neverending search for reasonably priced Pinot! I look forward to trying some off this list…


  6. You had me a pauper….I love me Pinots and the $12 price point is a little rich for my blood, but worth the splurge. xoxo


  7. Pinot Noir…need we say more? I love Pinot…always on the look out for an interesting one…


  8. Thanks for this post. Pinot is my favorite wine but I usually just don’t buy it because of the price. I am pretty much a pauper. But I will try a couple of these. Thanks.


  9. waywardwine says:

    Laetitia is fab pinot. La Crema Monterey, their best offering. I like that you stuck the states here, but there’s some fine Bourgogne Rouge below $20: e.g. Chanson


    • Yeah, I completely agree! I think the Burgundies are a little more susceptible to the vagaries of the particular vintahe, however. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • waywardwine says:

        Burgundy vintages are definitely a question mark at the entry tier but that keeps it interesting. Some of the larger producers, eg Faiveley, Chanson, et cetera, can source from the whole region and weather the vagaries of vintage a bit better. I do fear wines that are too consistent though…


      • I agree, Burgundy has several levels of “interesting” including needing to track the vintage.


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