While that may seem generous to many, the truth is I just had to kiss a lot of frogs, nasty, dirty, devoid of fruit frogs, to come up with a selection of value priced Pinots worth recommending. I was almost tempted to write off the entire category but, low and behold, you can find good Pinot Noir for not a lot of money. You just have to be really particular.
There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is the simple fact that there is not enough Pinot Noir to meet demand. Sadly, many new vineyards seem to be planted in places that make for poor Pinot. I see plenty of thin, weedy Pinot in our future.
As is often the case, I was able to try wines that have not yet been or have just been released. Some of these wines may not appear in your market for several weeks or months.
2009 Wyndham Estate Bin 333 Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia 13% $10
This smells lovely. A jammy, sort of astringent red fruit/red currant note on the nose is layered over vanilla, some light pickappepper marinade tamarindness, some preserved lime and a nice spice note. A touch soft on entry with tannins that are lightly peppery and just a hint of austere, though that adds some nice mouthgrab here. The fruit is bright and zesty with cedary top notes to the core of burnished cherry fruit. This is very clean, clear and refreshing with good length. It’s fairly complex, but at the same time rather subtle. 88pts
2010 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir California 13% $8
Stemmy and lightly smoky with cranberry and smoldering herbs on the nose. Bright yet a touch sweet on entry, with simple yet clean red fruit flavors accented with the stemmy smoldering note of the nose. The finish is a touch sticky, though the fruit gains a little more depth, adding some nice plum and dried citrus peel/clementine notes. This is a bit clunky, the tannins being a bit tough, but it’s well made and defect-free. Totally unremarkable but offers good value. 84pts
2008 De Bortoli Vat 10 Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia 13.5% $15
A bit beefy on the nose with cola, tea, tar and smoldering underbrush notes accenting sweet cranberry fruit. Rather round and lush on entry, then turning nicely taut through the mid-palate. Soft tannins support nicely round, lightweight cherry and slightly peachy fruit that rolls onto a fairly long, somewhat rusty and lightly stemmy finish. This shows a nice level of complexity with an edge of maturity, adding sweetness and softness to the palate. 89pts
2009 Red Rock Winery Pinot Noir Reserve California 13.5% $12
Clean and fresh if simple on the nose. Light cola, smoke and baked berry notes are framed with light dried citrus peel and sweet oak notes. This is just a hint chunky in the mouth, yet it retains nice freshness. It’s actually nicely light/medium weight with a core of slightly milk chocolaty oak sweetened red fruit that’s a bit indistinct yet quite agreeable. The finish shows some raspberry and cherry pit tones with some wood tannin sticking out, but nothing that a bit of food wouldn’t take care of. I would like to see a little more acidity here to support the fresh flavors but this is fairly well done. 87pts
2009 Cline Cool Climate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.5% $14
This is pretty frankly oaky on the nose, with smoke and asphalt tones covering sweet graham cracker and herb. A bit fat on entry with a round and lush, soft leading edge and extracted tannins. This is rather large scaled with indistinct yet sweet dark berry and plum fruit topped with vanilla. The finish shows better clarity, though is still oaky. The texture lightens considerably and the fruit reddens, lingering in the mouth with a fine cherry note. A bit sweet and simple, but this offers a lot for the price and competes well with wines costing more. 87pts
2009 Esser Pinot Noir Monterey Ca. 13.5% $15
This has a rather fine blend of scrubby underbrush, Ranier cherry and smoky soil. Smells a bit mesquite-y in a floral kind of way. Bright and clear with lightly astringent red berry fruit. More raspberry than strawberry, this delivers a very nice, slightly sweet mouthful of red fruit on a rather streamlined frame. The finish shows a pop of tannins that then recede, leaving the mouth warm with some cinnamon spice and jelly donut filling. Very nice if you enjoy this style. 87pts
2010 Cono Sur Vision Colchagua Valley, Chile 14% $15
Very floral and perfumed on the nose with nettles and pine needles adding layers of complexity. There’s moist earth and sweet fruit here as well. This totally smells like walking in a meadow after a rainfall. Soft on entry with good acidity, but enough richness to makes this feel a little flat. The mid-palate shows moderately rich dark berry fruit with some mineral accents, but lacks the complexity and excitement of the nose. The acids pop out quickly on the finish which is short and thin. 87pts