Affordable pinot noir is not a dream

After the movie Sideways, pinot prices shot up like a beer bottle on prom night. To get in on the bacchanalia, producers frantically planted or grafted more pinot noir vines, often in places that shouldn’t see the underside of a grape. Quickly, quality began to suffer as wineries couldn’t find enough worthy grapes. So that left pinot enthusiasts to either: 1) cough up the increasingly higher cash required to drink good pinot; or 2) pay less for sweet, inferior juice. And that’s where it’s been since 2005, a few months post Sideways.

But I’m finally seeing a shift. Pinot consumption has not decreased at all, in fact, it’s enjoying a nice little bump even faced with recessionary buying. The movie simply introduced people to the varietal, something I applaud since I love the stuff. But the shift I mean is an increase in quality for value-priced pinot. It’s coming from not-as-familiar wine regions like Trentino Italy, Sonoma Coast and Monterey. And it’s great stuff under $20, a price point unheard-of for decent pinot noir in recent years.

Winemakers talk about how finicky pinot can be; the soil, weather and care during the grapes’ year of growth make a huge difference in the end product. This grape can yield many different styles of wine, from grapey and light to rough and funky. These up-and-coming regions tend to produce versions that are silky, fruity, bracingly acidic and more approachable now, rather than in five or ten years. It’s the kind of pinot I want to buy. My recommendations:

Kali Hart 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands (California) From the folks at Talbott Vineyards comes a less expensive yet absolutely gorgeous wine. Elegant and seductive with bright cherry, raspberry and blueberry. It also sports solid acidity, silky, easygoing  tannins and an earthy finish. Purely delicious. Might be hard to find but the 2007 is easily as tasty. Sw=1. $18. 4.5 stars.

Carmel Road 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey (California) Dried cherries, blackberry, slight mushroomy flavor, tons of minerality and an herby finish. Sophisticated and fun. Sw=1. $16. 4 stars.

Sebastiani 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (California) This winery has had three generations to get it right and frankly, I haven’t cared for their wines in the past. That all changed last night when I tried this pinot. Light-bodied with tart black cherry, sweet vanilla, soft tannins, high acidity and a mushroomy finish. It’s friendly yet a bit shy. Not a bad party companion. Sw=1. $18. 3 stars.

MezzaCorona 2007 Pinot Noir Trentino (Italy) Pinot noir isn’t particularly the expertise of the Italians, but this inexpensive pinot doesn’t suck. The grapes are sourced from the cooler, mountainous climes of northeastern Italy, an environment pinot loves. This wine isn’t magical, but great for the price, and everything a pinot noir should be.  Lighthearted with berry fruit and fresh with a delicious, earthy finish. Sw=1. $10. 3 stars.



  1. Insightful article! I still struggle finding good Pinot Noir because there is so much skunky crap out there. I’ll try to look for one or two that you mentioned above that are under $20

  2. I’ll always keep a lookout for tasty, cheap pinots… it’s like finding a diamond in the rough.

  3. paul messerschmidt

    too often ‘affordable pinot’ is an oxymoron, but if you look around you can still find that clean fruit flavor, earthy nose, and old-world character in french pinots grown far from the cote d’or — though some are made by top burgudy houses.

    here are my current favorites

    > latour/domaine de valmoissine/2006 (having this tonight with salmon and leeks)

    > les jamelles/vin de pays de l’aude/2007

    and on my ‘get more’ list, i have

    > bouchard/vin de pays d’oc/

    > hulotte/vin de pays d’oc


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *