Pinot Noir is a finicky grape. It likes cool growing conditions and does not like to be over produced. Keeping crop levels down per acre is a must, which is one reason Pinot Noir is a more expensive grape to grow and a very hard wine to make of decent quality in the $12 and under category. In California, inexpensive Pinot Noir is often not 100% Pinot Noir. Syrah is the most often employed substitute and can make up 25% of a wine that still carries the name Pinot Noir on the label. Growers are able to enlarge crop yields for the Pinot Noir, which typically dilutes the quality, and make up for the lack of fruit through the use of Syrah, a grape with more weight and color. What these wines lack is true Pinot character. There is no sense of freshness and minerality. Luckily there are exceptions (otherwise what would be the use of writing about it!). Here are a couple of favorites. How they do it, I don’t know, but these Pinots maintain their Pinot-ness beautifully.
Vinum Cellars Pinot Noir California 2008, $10.00
Sourcing fruit from California’s Monterey area, Vinum Cellars succeeds in producing a Pinot Noir that keeps its fresh Pinot character without giving up its depth. While there may not be layers of complexity, this wine delivers pretty fruit and balanced acidity at a heck of a price.
Joseph Mellot Pinot Noir Destinea 2009, $11.00
Here we have serious old world charm from France’s Loire Valley. More than just pretty Pinot fruit, here there are multiple layers of fresh fruit, spice and briary earth. More Burgundian in style, this Pinot sets the bar for old world charm at an often untouchable price for the quality. A favorite for Burgundy lovers on a budget. Note: This wine can also be found under the Joseph Mellot Sincerite label. Sources say it is the same wine, different importer.