|Affordable, Adorable Pinot Noir|
|Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor|
Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less
There are many things more difficult than finding a good inexpensive Pinot Noir.
Passing a camel -- or Kevin Smith -- through the eye of a needle. Walking on water. Walking anywhere in Miami. Electing an honest Florida politician. Electing any honest politician. Liking Jeffrey Loria.
Even so, that doesn’t mean finding a good, inexpensive Pinot is easy. Pinot Noir, to put it bluntly, is a pain in the ass. The grapes are thin-skinned, like a wispy, anorexic Hollywood actress, which makes them susceptible to rot and mildew and assorted fungi, not to mention shriveling and drying. It’s genetically promiscuous and unreliable. Some estimates place the number of Pinot Noir clones worldwide at 1000; Cabernet Sauvignon has about a dozen.
It attracts pests like cameras do Kardashians, and ferments unpredictably. Then, all of a sudden, it can lose its charming aromas and flavors after it’s bottled. All of which means: a) there’s a lot of bad Pinot Noir out there, and b) there’s a lot of expensive Pinot Noir out there.
Vino does not like bad Pinot Noir. Vino cannot afford expensive Pinot Noir. Vino loves -- adores is not too strong a word -- good, inexpensive Pinot Noir. And Vino’s adoration is your good luck, because years of meticulous research and obsessive tasting (okay, it was really just an afternoon of running around to several wine stores), have unearthed a batch of surprisingly pleasant and affordable Pinot Noirs that display at least a modicum of the grape’s complex, earthy, subtle varietal character.
For example, what was easily the best wine of the tasting, the 2011 Estancia Monterey County Pinot Noir. Yes, many California Pinots apparently want to be soft, fleshy Merlots or big, brassy Cabernets when they grow up. But this cool-climate Pinot is happy to be what it is, a wine of some subtlety and complexity that delivers aromas and flavors of red cherries and plums and strawberries, revealing nuances of black olives and toast and tobacco with every sip. Oh, and just a trace of that Burgundian funk we Pinot Noir-ophiles love.
Easily the best value of the tasting was also from California, the 2012 Cloud Break. Priced at a blessed $8.99, it was maybe a little fruitier, a little less complex than the Estancia, but nothing you’d want to kick out of bed at night. It also did that cherry-strawberry number, the olive-toast-tobacco thing, that palate-dance of Pinot Noir funkiness. I’d buy a case of this puppy in a heartbeat.
Not quite on that level was another California wine, the 2011 Smoking Loon. Like the Cloud Break and Estancia, it nicely balanced cherry-berry fruit, fleshed it out with a touch of toast and olives and earth, and finished leaving the taste of tangy strawberries on the palate. Also like the other two, it’s an excellent food wine -- medium-bodied, under 14-percent alcohol, fruit-forward but with enough acid and tannins to keep it honest.
Of course, talking about Pinot Noir without talking about France is like smoking a joint without inhaling. Now, for ten bucks a bottle you’re not going to be getting fruit from Burgundy, where Pinot Noir is God, Buddha, and Elvis all rolled into one. But with the 2010 Ropiteau Pinot Noir you do get the expertise of the Burgundy-based vintner, with fruit labeled Pays D’Oc, meaning sourced from in and around the vastly more affordable Languedoc-Roussillon region. What you get here is fruit that’s a little brighter, acidity that’s a little sterner, background notes of minerals, spice, and toast that are little more prominent. You also get a wine that’s a very good value and, when lightly chilled, is perfect backyard barbecue sipping.
It’s indicative of the internationalization of wine that even the Italians are making a straight-ahead Pinot Noir. And with the 2011 Le Colline, they’re doing a pretty decent job of it. The wine starts off with a fruit-toasty-earthy nose, then moves on to plummy, berryish flavors with hints of spice and oak, and ends with a long, tangy-fruity finish.
The Argentines, at least those at Finca Roja, are doing even better, judging by my second-favorite wine of the tasting, the 2011 Finca Roja Pinot Noir. Enticing aromas of strawberries, olives, and spices segue into flavors of cherries and berries and olives and cloves and fennel, all wrapped in a well-structured package that’s a steal at $10.
At that rate, you might even be able to pass a camel -- or Kevin Smith -- through the eye of a needle.
Volume 14, Issue 7, September 2016
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