The Hunt for $20 Pinot Noir

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Twenty dollars. What a tough price point for Pinot. I don't know if it is directly related to the movie "Sideways" but Pinot Noir seems to be the most expensive varietal these days. As in- what is the minimum price you need to pay to get a varietally correct bottle?

Pinot Noir, for me, is characterized by strawberries, spice, and barnyard (ahem- "earthiness") on the nose, a medium body, and a silky smooth finish. What I see in the sub-$20 price points (and especially sub-$10 where I prefer to troll) is that the Pinot Noir just doesn't smell or taste like Pinot. It seems like more of a bland Cotes du Rhone/Syrah knockoff that doesn't bring any of the things I'm looking for in a Pinot Noir.

I just received an E-mailer today from the Hingham Wine Merchant (my most trusted local wine shop) on this exact subject. Their pick was #2 on my list, offered at a very compelling price. Pay them a visit if you're in the Boston area for sure.

Here are 3 affordable examples I've tasted in the last year that I can recommend (with my ratings beside them):

3. 2006 Pedroncelli Pinot Noir 88 Points WWP

This one really surprised me. I can't say that I'd necessarily seek it out again, but man- with its non-descript bottle it really snuck up on me. If this were bottled in a big 4 pount bottle with a big 'ol punt and a heavy bond label, I bet it could fool a *lot* of people. Give it a whirl.

2. 2005 Buena Vista Pinot Noir Carneros 89 Points WWP

This wine looks like supermarket wine, and I bet you can find it in your supermarket quite easily. High production and average looking in the bottle, but *really* really good. I've had 2 or 3 bottles of this and every time I've been impressed. Can definitely be had for less than $20. Highly recommended.

1. 2006 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 90 Points WWP

Okay, I'm stretching a bit to call this one $20, but I did find it for like $21 at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store when it was on sale and they list it for $23.99. What differentiates this one over the other two is its density. A mouthful of wine while still being elegant and varietally correct. Absolutely awesome, which leads me to believe that Oregon (by a nose) is the place to be for Pinot (value a consideration of course- that's how we roll here at WWP!).

Question of the Day: What is your favorite $20 Pinot Noir?


Michelle said...

Phil and I definitely found Willamette Valley the place to be when we visited there last spring. We drove past Elk Cove on our way to Adelshiem. Sounds like we needed to stop in. We have really loved our Pinots that we picked up in Willamette Valley and I am regretting now that we didn't pick up more. I have one bottle left of the Panther Creek single vineyard (can't remember which one right now....I think it is Freedom Hill) not under $20, and one more of the 2006 Cuvee, $20 that is really, really nice. I have definitely been able to tell a difference as far as picking out the varietal notes in these Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs.

Michelle b

Bob said...

Hey Michelle! Thanks for leaving the first comment *ever* on Wellesley Wine Press! I hope you enjoy the site and check in when there's new stuff.

You know- I asked a neighbor the other day who is very into wine where he thought the best Pinot Noir region in the US was. Without hesitation he said the Willamette Valley. I think if I had to plan a wine tasting trip right now it *wouldn't* be California which is amazing in itself. Oregon and Washington are both producing some wines I'm really interested in. In fact, I just got my hands on some Boudreaux Cellars wines today. (sought them out on a Gary Vaynerchuk recommendation, we'll see how they are- the bottles are beautiful is all I can say so far :)

I still have the Adelsheim on my list of "things to buy", but I just came back from a Pinot-hunting trip in Sonoma so I'm kind of full up on $40-$60 Pinots right now. I noticed that Adelsheim received high praise in recent Wine Enthusiast reviews though- your secret is out!


Heath said...

Hi Bob,
I know your wife from High School and just commented to her on Facebook to check out my pictures from the Fourth of July. My Sister lives at the doorway to Pinot Country, about 15 minutes to some/all of the phenomenal vineyards such as Rex Hill. I visit the vineyard for tasting every time I visit out there, and found they have a $28 bottle of Pinot called Willamette Valley Pinot. I must agree with Michelle, that Elk Cove is great wine, but also the vineyard is the most beautiful one I've been to. It's set back, you drive through the vineyard to ge to teh tasting room, and it sits atop a hill overlooking the entire Willamette Valley. I could give you more detail on our visit to the Dundee Hills if interested. I have a few that are very overrated, and some off path ones that are a definite must! They are all so conveniently located next to one another. One of my favorite winemakers out there is Panther Creek, have you had that? They have great Pinot, pricey but for a special occasion, great. Also, you can find some value in Ponzi wines too, great taste and great value. The best place to eat is right next door to the Ponzi tasting room in Dundee.

Bob said...

Hey Heath!

I just sent you a friend request on Facebook. I've gotta see these pictures! I've got a good work friend who lives in Portland- I keep hearing such good things about Oregon wine country- we've gotta go!

I'll definitely pick up a bottle of Rex Hill, Panther Creek (2 recommendations can't be wrong!) and Ponzi if I see them around. Thanks so much for the recommendations. For some reason I have a taste for Pinot Noir this time of year. It just seems so appropriate for harvest season.

I'll definitely hit you and Michelle up for recommendations if I can finagle a trip to Oregon somehow.

Thanks for checking our the site- I really appreciate it- especially taking the time to leave a comment.


Laura said...

Hey, Great blog! My cousin just found it and sent me the link. I was so excited to read the comments of fellow Willammette Pinot enthusiasts (although my husband and I haven't been yet, it's on our hopeful hit list) I had to grab my journal and share a few more, even though they still don't come in under $20. How about raising the limit to $30?

1998 Amity Vineyards(lighter-bodied, low-acidity, Earthy,low $20s)
2004 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Cristom Vineyards (fantastic, definitely takes on its terroir, $29)

and if you like Willammette pinots, have you tried New Zealand's yet? Craggy Range is memorable

Great blog.. can't wait to read on!

Bob said...

Hi Laura!

Welcome to the blog! Wow- your cousin sent you a link? I am flattered, humbled, and excited about the response the blog has gotten in just its first official day. Truly.

I'll keep an eye our for Amity, Mt. Jefferson, and Craggy Range for sure (my search list is getting longer by the moment, need to find these wines!) I've *not* tried many New Zealand Pinots yet. Do you think they present a better value than the Pinot Noir from the US in general?

You mentioned New Zealand as a source- just a point of interest regarding sub-$20 Pinot Noir. Per Wine Spectator, there has been only 1 Pinot Noir in the whole *world* they've rated 90+ points with a release price of $20 or less. It is the "Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2006". Tough market this sub-$20 Pinot!

Thanks again for stopping in.


Anonymous said...

You should check out the Cloudline Pinot Noir also from Oregon and also around $20.

Delicious and frequently available at the supermarket.

Bob L. said...

Spent 3 days in Willamette Valley last summer. Adam Campbell of Elk Cove makes great wine for a very fair price. Very passionate, great guy who is 2nd generation Oregon winemaker. He comes to Boston periodically. Our trip was fantastic and there are many other fine wineries there such as Argyle, Ponzi, Adelsheim, Domaine Drouhin, and of course Domaine Serene. Recommend staying at The Wine Country Inn in Dayton, OR next to Dundee, OR. I am a huge Oregon Pinot fan. It is my favorite. We will definitely return to Oregon soon.

Girl with a Glass said...

Lovin' your posts! I'm finding more and more Pinots (CA) under $30 at the wineries which is nice but I expect prices will go up as soon as the economy returns. I like Cambria's 2006 Julia's Vineyard (under $20)

Robert Dwyer said...

Thanks for the kind words- appreciate it.

That Cambria is quite a play- I may have added it to my list if I'd tasted it at the time. Steve Heimoff from Wine Enthusiast sure loved it. I gave it 88 points:

For me, it's a very elegant CA Pinot Noir, not over the top at all. $15.99 at Trader Joe's around here and that's an excellent play in my book.


DMP said...

I'm assuming these aren't available on the East Coast, but the '02 Lorca (14.99)and '06 Domaine Alfred (22.99)at TJs right now, at least in CA, are incredible for the price.

unstrucksound said...

I recently drank and thoroughly enjoyed the 2006 Taz Pinot from Santa Barbara. Very different, with predominate notes of hazelnut, but delicious. I recommend it to all my friends and those in the hunt . . . I got it from for $16.

Kady said...

Hi Bob,

I have found similar characterisitcs of inexpensive Pinot from around the world. However, our wine region (Santa Maria Valley) has many Pinots under $30 (as mentioned in another comment, listing Cambria winery as an example) that are excellent.

It doesn't look like anyone answered your question about the price point of Pinot Noir. There are two main reasons for the often hefty price tag: 1) Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow successfully and takes a lot more care than other varitals and produces far less yield than other grapes. Only a few regions in the country can grow Pinot Noir (it's a cool climate varietal). 2) There is still some demand for Pinot based on popularity and a smaller number of Pinot growers to choose from (many sucessful Pinot growers sell out years in advance). However, because growers are now replanting/regrafting with Pinot due to the demand the prices may go down eventually. The recession has caused sales to go down for growers in addition to winemakers. The growers may have to lower their prices a bit and small boutique wineries may not purchase the expensive fruit if the aren't faring well in this economy. Another possibility is that wineries or distributors might sell it for cheaper just to get it off their hands. I have started to see a little of this already (restaurant prices seem to be going down a bit).

That's kind of a general response but I hope it addresses some of the reasons why good Pinot can be hard to find for less than $20.

Robert Dwyer said...

Thanks for your comment Kady. Everything you said makes sense.

Jon Oropeza said...

I don't know if you can find it on the east coast, but Penner Ash makes a Pinot-Syrah blend that does a lot of what you're looking for in a Pinot at a very nice price point ($18 here in Portland). I found your site while googling it, your post on Syrah being the steroid of the Pinot world. FWIW, I agree with your take on the matter. Great wine is great, and to heck with varietal purity. I was in Burgundy this spring and met an Australian couple making wine there. They'd had the audacity to blend two premier cru vineyard juices. Blasphemy! Or at least according to the local wine establishment. To me, it was just damn good wine - and at about half the price you'd usually pay for top-notch premier cru Gevrey-Chambertin.


Robert Dwyer said...

Hi Jon,

Wow- that Penner Ash Rubeo looks right up my alley and evidently the price is a little lower due to it not being a pure Pinot. I wish they had it my area- the only Penner Ash wines I see are their ~$50 Pinot Noirs.

I really appreciate your thoughts on the Pinot Noir/Syrah/Steroids piece. It's gratifying to know that you found it via Google, read it, and responded.


Jon Oropeza said...

Hey Bob -

If that's the 06 Dussin Vineyard they have for $50, you might consider it. Some of most vibrnt and pinot candyish Oregon pinot I've had. The kind of thing you usually get in the Santa Ynez area (Sideways). If that's your thing, you'll love it. I haven't had the 07 yet, but it's likely a bit more muted. 06 was a very hot summer here, and the pinots are big as a result. 07, by contrast, was much cooler, and the wines are smaller and IMHO not nearly as accessible at this point as the 06s were.



thedrj said...

hi bob,
just ran across your site and liked what i read. i noticed that you are a fan of gary vaynerchuck, and you like pinot noirs from Washington and Oregon. i,too enjoy these varietals and it is my opinion that the pacific northwest makes the best PN....better than Napa. i have had some terrific PN by Carlton Hill, Owen Roe's Sharecropper, Argyle, Domaine Serene amoung others. i have not been to Hingham yet, but will stop by some day when i am on the road between the cape and boston. i have found and liked Blanchard's, and really like corporate wines in woburn. here on the cape my favorite merchant is Orleans Wines and Spirits. they know their stuff and have great wines at great prices. all for now, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...


Came across a stellar $21 pinot. 2006 Erath, Estate, Pinot Noir from the NH Liquor Store.

1 hour after opening this EXPLODING with super bright almost sweet red fruit, namely raspberry and cherries with a very nice undertone of dried herbs.

Very Pleased!

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