Pinot Noir $25-$35

11 wines worth the price


We’re continuing up our Pinot price ladder, and it is time we begin to broaden the range. After ticking off a pair of $5 increments, opening up the selection to wines in the $25 to $35 range seemed to make sense. This jump was also necessary because there is a distinct paucity of Pinot in the $25 to $30 range. It seems as though marketers have identified the various price barriers awfully well, $30 is not one of them!

Still, when you’re at $30, what’s another three bucks? I’m guessing that’s what those marketing folks are thinking too! Truth is, not much, but moving up from $25 to $35 does open a whole new world of wines.

Not surprisingly, this as a selection was the best yet. Some of the wines continue to suffer from the “more is better” syndrome and some alcohols were a bit excessive, but in general, the wines were delightful. Besides offering better depth, complexity, and freshness of flavor, the textures of these wines showed much more elegance and finesse than the wines at lower price points. 

That may seem to be a silly point to focus on, but one of the things that sets Pinot Noir apart from many other wines is that supple, elegant and seductive texture. It is easy to blend it away or cover it up with too much oak, extraction or residual sugar, so when a winemaker captures that essence of Pinot Noir, there is simply nothing else like it!

Photo courtesy ZagatBuzz via Flickr/CC

2009 Frank Family Carneros Pinot Noir Napa Valley 14.5% $33

This is dark and earthy on the nose with noticeable chocolate oak spice and vanilla. These are not overwhelming and allow the grapefruit, blueberry and blackberry fruit to emerge. Really very fine on entry with good weight, giving this a superb supply mouthfeel but very little baby fat. On the palate, there are mineral and gentle oak-inflected accents to the bright and stemmily aromatic black cherry and beetroot fruit flavors. The finish shows nice richness, and there is a sweetness that emerges to balance the mineral and acid notes. Really nicely done, a complete and very well balanced California Pinot Noir. A bit chunky but not thick, I really like this. 92pts

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2008 Raptor Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley OR 13.8% $31

This needs lots of air to clean up on the nose, though when it does, it reveals a musky, earthy core of bright parchment and boiled peanut tinged salted plum fruit. A touch soft on entry, this is rather tight with the tannins being a bit dominant early on. There’s nice fruit here that remains fresh, it’s just very wrapped up in itself at this point. With time, the fruit starts to open up. Like the nose, it’s very much in the plummy end of the spectrum, with some pomegranate accents and spicy, red berry notes on the moderately long finish. A very serious wine. Tense, subtle, well structured and well balanced, with a lovely black fruit and spice finale. Very stylish. 92pts

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2009 Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley CA 13.5% $33

Surprisingly darkly colored. This is intensely perfumed and distinctly varietal, with wonderful sweet oak, briar, stem, herb and floral aromas accenting the core of black cherry fruit. Silky and broad in the mouth, this immediately reveals a supple core of bold cherry/black cherry/boysenberry fruit on entry. There are some dusty tannins that still show youth, but this is very well balanced and delightfully easy to drink. The back end and finish reveal a touch of minerality that is refreshing, along with some sweetened and spice from oak. This lacks a little bit of complexity and is a tiny bit chunky, but is deliciously drinkable. 91pts

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2008 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Reserve OR 14% $35

This is light and elegant on the nose with a bit of leather, some sage and sweet caramel- accented Rainier cherry fruit with hints of slate and old wood. Delicate, yet complex and appealing on the nose. This is very bright and a touch lifted on entry, with silky smooth tannins that are barely notable behind the frame of Ranier cherry, cranberry and rhubarb fruit. Really quite elegant and fresh, much like the nose with its sense of sneaky elegance. The fruit turns quite firmly raspberry flavored on the back end and gains hints of herb and mineral on the moderately long finish. So smooth. 90pts

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2009 Carlton Cellars Cape Lookout Pinot Noir OR 14.4% $28

This is very fine on the nose, with perhaps a whisper of heat. It’s covered by nice, mineral rich loamy soil notes, some sage and evergreen, fine wild raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, and a suggestion of cocoa. Richly fruited on entry, this shows a wonderfully fresh tension between slightly powdery tannins, sweet fruit, and vibrant acids. That sage note adds more freshness to the palate, which is really energetic and explosive. The fruit fades a touch on the mid-palate, but it retains a nice depth and a suggestion of sweetness. The finish is nicely savory, adding beetroot and some very well integrated baking spice notes to the red fruit. 90pts

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2008 Alma Rosa Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 14.1% $30

Very pretty on the nose. Lean but fresh and ripe fruit is backed up with notes of dried herbs and flowers, underlain by some sweet, toasty oak and topped with aromatic smoke. Nicely rich on entry. A glassy feel and taut acids early on slowly get covered by some lovely slightly bitter cherry and dark raspberry extract flavors, with even a hint of black currant. There’s some nice mineral and spice notes underpinning the sweet fruit here, which lightens considerably on the long and gently hot finish. Really nicely aromatic and bright. 90pts

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