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Mining the Pinot Bargain Bin: It’s What’s for Dinner


I am often asked for recommendations by friends and neighbors for good under $20 Pinot Noirs. Formerly a wasteland of regrettable Pinot Noir, this price category has seen a remarkable resurgence since the onset of the recession. There are a number of wines I can heartily recommend that work well at the dinner table on a daily basis. The Hitching Post, Irony and Meiomi Pinot Noirs are especially noteworthy. Also, check out the Kudos Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and Siduri appellation Pinot Noirs reviewed later in this issue.


2009 Benton Lane Estate Grown Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.55% alc., $20, screw cap. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering scents of dark red cherries, ripe raspberries, oak, tobacco and freshly tilled earth. A light to medium weight offering with savory flavors of dark red cherries and berries. A basic Pinot Noir that is reasonably refined with soft tannins and complimentary oak. Decent (+)

2009 Cameron Hughes Lot 276 Los Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $11. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. With vigorous swirling, aromas of dark plums, black currants and raisin emerge. Very ripe in character featuring plum and blackberry flavors with a vein of oak and spice. Restrained tannins and very approachable. Available at Costco. Good (-).

2009 Cardwell Hill Cellars Estate Bottled Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., $22. Clones are Wädenswil, Pommard, Dijon 115 and 777. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved aromas of cherries with musty oak, becoming livelier the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Flavors of red cherries and berries sprinkled with herbs, offering a slight tartness on the frisky finish. Good.

2010 Coelho Winery Atracão Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., $20. Atracão translates as “behold the attraction.” · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Pure and effusive aromas of cherries with a slight scent of herbal oak and straw. Crisp and bright, light in weight, with a core of red cherry flavor, finishing with a tug of herbal oak. Decent.

2009 Hitching Post Cork Dancer Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $18, screw cap. The duo of Hartley and Ostini have been making wine since 1979. The Hitching Post tasting room is at the Hitching Post II Restaurant in Solvang. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Very nice perfume of pie cherries, spice and oak. More complex than you would expect at this price level with flavors of dark red berries and cherries, rose hips tea and cola, with a hint of citrus peel on the uplifting finish. Well-managed oak and tannins with an easy drinking personality. Would work beautifully with a Hitching Post oak-grilled steak. Very good.

2010 Irony Monterey County Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $10-$12. · Moderate color trending toward purple in the glass. Enticing aroma of dark berry jam with a hint of oak. Very tasty core of blackberries, boysenberries and fruit leather with a complimentary underpinning of oak. A very charming wine with a rich mouth feel and impressive finishing strength and length. Still excellent the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2010 Leese-Fitch California Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $8-$10, Zork closure. The biggest selling Pinot Noir fromThe Other Guys, Napa, CA. The Leese-Fitch wines celebrate the restoration of the historic Leese-Fitch Adobe on Sonoma Plaza which was built in 1836 and was named after Jacob Leese and Henry Fitch, brothers-in-law to General Mariano Vallejo, the founder of the town of Sonoma. Sourced from Santa Barbara County and Clarksburg. Previous vintages contained a small percentage of other red varieties. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark berries, plums, dried herbs and wet leaves. Tasty core of black raspberry fruit with added interest from notes of black grapes, dark cherries and cola. Lighter weighted with bright acidity and moderate tannins, silky on the palate, with a hint of toasted oak and mocha in the background. Good (+).

2010 Mark West California Pinot Noir

13.8% alc. $10. From primarily Central Coast appellations. Fermented in small lots with daily punch downs, lightly pressed, aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for about 8 months. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, oak and dried herbs, fading in fruit expression over time in the glass. Core of middleweight black cherry fruit with plenty of oak flavors such as tobacco and toffee in the background. Juicy with mild tannins and up front drink ability with a silky texture. Becomes less desirable over time in the glass. May improve over the next 6 months as the oak more fully integrates. Decent.

2010 Meiomi Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $18-$20, screw cap. “May-OHmee” means “Coast” in the language of the California Wappo Indian tribe. 57% Monterey County, 23% Santa Barbara County, and 20% Sonoma County. Winemaker Joseph J. Wagner. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep, rich and enticing aromas of plums and dark berries with a hint of oak spice, vanillin and BBQ. Discreetly concentrated, yet richly flavored with delicious plum, black raspberry, dark chocolate and vanilla cola notes. The fruit is caressed by soft, fine-grain tannins, creating a velvety mouth feel that is very seductive. The best Meiomi Pinot Noir to date. This wine will find many fans. Widespread retail and restaurant availability. Very good. Note: At the recent Pinot Days Southern California, Meiomi had two very attractive young women in hot pants and boots roaming the event promoting Meiomi Pinot Noir. This is the first time I have seen this marketing approach at a Pinot Noir event. Obviously aimed at Millenials (although they approached an old duck fart like me), this is surely a sign of the future of wine promotion.

2009 Moobuz Monterey Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $15, Zork closure. From The Other Guys. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, spice, oak char and sweet smoke. The flavors echo the nose. Moderately light with mild dusty tannins and a good snap of acidity on the finish. The undertone of smoky oak detracts. Decent.

2010 Pali Wine Co. “Huntington” Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 2,136 cases, $21. A multiple vineyard blend. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black plum reduction sauce, Asian 5-spice, and a leafy green note from oak. Medium weight flavors of dark berries and plums with the slightest oak in the background. Nothing complicated, but a solid wine with mild sandy tannins and decent acidity that is friendly and satisfying. Good (+).

2010 Pali Wine Co. "Bluffs" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

15.3% alc., 2,274 cases, $21. Sourced from several vineyards. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of Bing cherries, spice and sandalwood. Tasty core of slightly sweet black cherry fruit with a riff of cola and dark chocolate in the background. Rich and intense and flush with fruit that the Russian River Valley would be proud of. Texturally smooth, finishing with some firm tannins. Good (+).

2010 Pali Wine Co. “Riviera” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 10,500 cases, $20. Sourced from several unnamed vineyards. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Fruity nose displaying aromas of cherries, raspberries, blueberries and grape juice with a hint of oak and spice. Dark fruited and medium weighted with an interesting feral quality and grilled fruit undertone. The wine is well crafted with pleasing balance and easy drink ability. Good (+).

2010 Pali Wine Co. “Alphabets” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 1,700 cases, $20. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Largely devoid of fruit on the nose, displaying aromas of underbrush, straw and woodpile. Medium weight dark red fruit flavors with a grassy, green tomato bent that I do not find appealing and may represent under ripe fruit. Decent at best.

2010 Pali Wine Co. "Summit'" Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

15.5% alc., 210 cases, $29. Sourced from an unnamed prominent vineyard. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels. · Very darkly colored and dense in the glass. Aromas of spiced black plums, blackberries, raisin and mulled wine with subtle oak char in the background. A big gulp of fruit: rich, dense and concentrated bordering on jammy with a hint of anise, iron and oak. Very smoothly textured on the palate with a moderate tannic backbone. Too ripe, too big, too alcoholic (slightly hot on the finish), and a bit tiring to drink over time, but the fruit flavor is undeniably appealing. Decent.

Note: The same day I tasted the Pali Wine Co. Summit, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times (“Cool Trend,” by Patrick Comiskey, February 9, 2012) discussing how a number of highly visible winemakers in the Santa Rita Hills are returning to “natural elegance,” in the style of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The trend is toward avoiding the push to extreme ripeness, high alcohols and deeply flavored wines with fruit-bomb character. The article ends with a quote by Richard Sanford: “In the end, elegance is more important than impact.” It is clear from the Summit Pinot Noir that the winery has not bought into this trend and believes there is still a significant market for big, ripe, extracted Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills. With wine, and particularly Pinot Noir, there is no one style that dictates every consumer’s preference.

2010 Pennywise California Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 27,000 cases, $12. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex nose offering aromas of black cherries, brier, chalk and oak. Discreetly concentrated core of dark cherry and dark red berry fruit with supporting oak. Smooth on the palate with well-hued tannins and easy drink ability. Good (-).

2010 Sean Minor Four Bears Central Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $12, screw cap. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Darker fruits are featured with added aromas of kitchen spice, oak and cut flowers. Very soft on the palate with a tasty array of dark red cherry, black raspberry and blueberry flavors enhanced by a touch of oak. Moderately light and easy to drink with commendable tannic support. Lacks finishing strength but otherwise is quite impressive at this price level. Good (+).

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