by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
I’ve often complained how difficult it was to get a decent Pinot Noir at a reasonable price. If you willing to plunk down $30-40 (which to my way of thinking is an unreasonable price) you could get a pretty good Pinot, but anything less and you were getting mediocrity.
I’ve been in Southern California for the last few weeks for the holidays, lodging with relatives in Palos Verdes. It’s kind of a clan, diverse in many ways, but not when it comes to wine. Pinot Noir is it. Maybe start off with a white in the late afternoon, but quickly move on to Pinot Noir. We guzzle it down from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning (though I’m usually not around for the finale).
And I would have to say, based upon my recent experience, the days when you had to pay a pretty penny for a decent Pinot Noir are over.
And I’m going to name names. The first reasonably priced Pinot was a Trader Joe’s house brand Reserve Carneros 2012 for $12.99. I thought this was as good as most $30 Pinots. For what it’s worth, my wife didn’t agree with me on that one, thought she did agree that for $12.99 it was pretty good.
The Trader Joe’s Reserve Russian River Valley 2012 also came highly recommended by the staff, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed by this one. But, as they say, “individual results may vary”.
Last night we opened up a Bridlewood Pinot Noir (don’t remember the year) that we picked up at the local Ralph’s. Ralph’s is running a 30% off for 6 bottles or more, and that brought the price down to about $10. This Pinot Noir was excellent, if anything better than the Trader Joe’s. The Trader Joe’s was a little heftier, without being at all out of balance (as many bigger Pinot Noirs are these days). The Bridlewood was lighter in style, but well endowed with acid, a must as far as I’m concerned with Pinot Noir.
We did have several other more expensive Pinot Noirs which provided a good frame of reference. One was a 2011 Fess Parker Bien Nacido. I tried to find a price online but didn’t succeed, though I am sure it was more in the $30-50 range. I would have to grant that this was the best of the Pinot Noirs we’ve tasted. Was it head and shoulders better than the cheaper competition? I would have to say yes to the shoulders part, but not to the head part. It was noticeably better, but not miles apart either.
And I should also give an honorable mention to a Mirassou Pinot Noir, though I don’t remember the vintage. It’s primary duty was to marinade a Beef Burgundy, but I did taste it and it was really quite good. Not in the same category as the Trader Joe’s or the Bridlewood, but certainly something I could’ve drunk with pleasure without batting an eye. And it was the cheapest of the bunch as well–I want to say it was in the $7-$8 range.
We had two other Pinots whose names I won’t mention. They were in the ethereal realm price-wise, and they were seriously wanting. One had some strange off scent that I couldn’t figure out what it was but it made it for me undrinkable. The other was in the newer Pinot Noir on steroids style that for some reason has become popular. Pinot Noir with prunes and raisins. I find that bad enough in a Zinfandel—in a Pinot Noir it is outright heresy, not to mention outright gross.
So based upon this very limited sample, on average I think the cheaper Pinots outperformed the more expensive ones, thought the standout, the Fess Parker, was in the more expensive category. But while the best of the bunch fell in the more expensive realm, so did the worst.
I have to admit I’ve always wondered about Pinot Noir pricing. Pinot Noir requires cooler temperatures and therefore lower yields to be varietally appropriate. Vinification is also somewhat more difficult. But when you crunch the numbers, neither factor would justify the huge difference in price between a perfectly good Merlot and an equally good Pinot Noir that has thus far prevailed. So it always seemed like you should be able to acquire perfectly enjoyable Pinot Noirs for $10-15, and it now seems that that day has finally arrived.