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Wine Spectator: 2007 California Pinot Noir Best Vintage Ever

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wine Spectator is cranking up the hype machine for the 2007 vintage of California Pinot Noir, calling it the "best ever". I've had a chance to look through the magazine and sift through the ratings listed in their online database. To date, they've rated 384 California Pinot Noirs and there are some choice values to be had.

My impression of the vintage, based almost entirely on their ratings at this point, is that it presents an opportunity to purchase some really highly rated wines in a popular category without breaking the bank. This isn't necessarily a vintage that's produced a long list of 90 points wines for $20. Don't we wish! Rather, it's a vintage that rewards value hunters for their research and those willing to spend just a little more than the median per-bottle price of $45.

Taking a look at the graph above showing rating vs. price, I've highlighted in red the value circle of the chart. These are the highly rated wines that cost the least. I put all of these wines through the wwpQPR (what's that?) to see where the values were. I used a wwpQPR baseline price for this vintage of $30. This is the price at which is it relatively easy to find an outstanding bottle. Although there are only 8 wines for $30 or less that received 90 points or more in this study, if you include Oregon Pinot Noirs (which many people consider superior if stylistically different than California) and look across other still-available vintages I think it wouldn't be too hard to find an outstanding bottle for $30.

What I see in the value circle are two types of wines:

Top rated wines that can be had for just a little more than median

Of these, the three best values according to the wwpQPR Caluclator are:

  • 2007 Red Car Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Heaven & Earth La Boheme Vineyard (97WS/$60)
  • 2007 Kanzler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (96WS/$48)
  • 2007 Chasseur Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Rayhill (96WS/$50)
Unfortunately, availability of these wines is quite poor. I tracked down a couple of bottles of the Red Car but it required a fair amount of research and persistence.

Here's an interview I did with Paul Sequeira from Red Car after they heard about this big rating from Spectator.

Outstanding wines that can be had for under $30

There were only 8 90+ rated wines available for $30 or less. Of these, the best values according to the wwpQPR Calculator are:
  • 2007 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Cuvee de Trois (93WS/$28)
  • 2007 Paraiso Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands (92WS/$28)
  • 2007 Roessler Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Red Label (92WS/$28)
Availability is quite a bit better on these wines. I have not seen the Joseph Swan yet, but both the Paraiso -and- the Roessler are available as of this writing at VinoDivino in Newton, MA.

Don't get too excited about a 90 point rating from this vintage unless it's accompanied by a low price. More than 42% of the wines rated received 90 points:

There are plenty of QPR disasters in the report, and that's one of the reasons I respect Spectator. They publish low ratings while other publications choose not to. When a winery submits a wine, there's no telling what might happen in a blind tasting when the person tasting the wine doesn't know the price. The worst values in the vintage so far:
  • 2007 Harrington Pinot Noir Chalone Brosseau Vineyard (72WS/$45)
  • 2007 Ellman Family Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Alexis Skye (79WS/$49)
  • 2007 De Loach Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley (79WS/$45)
  • 2007 Chalone Pinot Noir Chalone Heritage (79WS/$45)
Overall, if we compare this vintage to another popular category like 2005 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, what we see is that neither are particularly affordable. However, Pinot Noir doesn't get as expensive at the high end as Cabernet does. There was only 1 bottle of Pinot Noir rated that cost more than $100. Of the 2005 Napa Cabs rated by Spectator 25% of the wines cost more than $100. My point? If you like Napa Cab and California Pinot Noir, and want to splurge on a really highly rated bottle, you'd probably find better options in 2007 Pinot Noir.

Further Reading:
  • This 2008 California Pinot Noir is ahead of the curve. It's already been released, rated 88 points and is only $8.
  • There's some great recommendations in the comments section of last year's piece on $20 Pinot Noirs
  • A tasting of the 2007 Paraiso Pinot Noir reveals mixed results.
If you're a retailer and carry any of these wines, please contact me- I'd be happy to add your availability to this piece.

Question of the Day: Which 2007 California Pinot Noirs are you buying?

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