Reader Question: What's a Good $30 Domestic Pinot Noir for Gifting?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Q: I'm looking for a good domestic Pinot Noir to give as a gift to colleagues, friends, and neighbors this holiday season. I'd like to stay around the $30 range if possible. What would you recommend?

What a fantastic question. It's one of those questions that, when I read it, I think: If I can't answer this question I have no business writing this blog.

First off I'll say this: $30 is a price point that you should absolutely be able to get a fantastic bottle of wine. If someone says they're looking for a good Napa Cab for $10 I'd say "good luck". But $30 is the price point where magic can happen and if you've got the patience to shop around a bit you should be able to get a terrific bottle of wine. If we can't do this we're doing it wrong.

Next, I think domestic Pinot Noir is a terrific category to shop from. If you compare Sonoma Pinot to Napa Cab you'll find Sonoma Pinot is always more affordable for comparable quality. Pinot pairs well with almost anything and the best ones have effortless power that make them light in color but full of flavor.

Finally, when I think of wines for gifting I think an attractive label is important. You want the wine to convey a certain level of thoughtful style that's less important when purchasing for personal consumption.

I realized as I was reviewing my Cellar Tracker notes that many of my favorite wines that fit the bill are somewhat hard to find here in Massachusetts. Hopefully, with a bit of legwork and creativity these suggestions can be acted on in most of the country - even in tough states like MA.

So with those parameters in mind here are five domestic Pinot Noirs that I think make for great holiday gifts:

Zepaltas Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 

In 2009, the 2006 Zepaltas Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was my wine of the year. I first heard of them after one of Ryan Zepaltas' early wines earned a massive 95 point rating from Wine Spectator. I tracked down a bottle of their Pinot on a trip out to Calfornia and it so absolutely delivered on what I look for in California Pinot Noir it was uncanny.

I've had their wines a number of times since and had the pleasure of meeting Ryan and tasting his wines in Sonoma. His labels and branding is remarkable well done especially given his still-modest production levels. Everyone I've shared his wines with has been blown away.

Retail availability, especially in Massachusetts (where Zepaltas still doesn't have distribution yet) is spotty. It may be worth dropping him an email and trying to work something out for shipment to a neighboring state.

Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 

The Wagner Familly is most famous for their Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for around $60-$70. Belle Glos is their Pinot Noir label. Each bottle is wax dipped with an elegant scripted-font label. The packaging is quite attractive I think and the wines are absolutely delicious.

Some might call these a Cab-drinker's Pinot Noir and while I don't think that's quite accurate from a flavor profile perspective these do indeed hit the spot when you're looking for a hearty yet elegant glass of wine.

They offer four single vineyard bottlings in addition to the sub-$20 Meiomi Pinot Noir that's a blend of wines from all of the California regions they source Pinot Noir from (but note: fruit for Meiomi comes from none of the vineyards sourced for their single vineyard wines). Both Meiomi and Belle Glos are terrific values. The Las Alturas is my favorite single vineyard bottling typically. Ample retail availability - even on Shop around and you can find this for a very fair price.

Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir


This is from one of the wineries featured in Sideways and while some lament the departure of Rick Sanford I think this wine still delivers. A simple yet elegant label and a wine that people gush over.

I remember opening a bottle of this around the holidays a couple years ago after a couple days of opening far more expensive wines and company absolutely gushed over this one. That says a lot in this context. is offering 15% off a case today and they're closing out the 2007 vintage of this wine. This information is probably not widely actionable but I mention it as a way of saying this can be had at a discount if you look around.

Chasseur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

I remember discovering Chasseur for the first time while shopping at the San Diego Wine Co while on a business trip. I'd selected a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay because I like it and it's hard to find in Massachusetts and one of the owners of the store came and took it out of many hands and say "no no no - get this instead".

His suggestion was to go for the harder to find Chasseur Chardonnay which in turn helped me become familiar with Chasseur's Pinot Noirs. You can usually find them for around $30-$40 and I hear they have favorable terms if you're on their mailing list

The wines are fruit forward yet restrained. Highly enjoyable yet elegant. The label has an artisanal quality to it that I think makes it well suited to gifting.

Alta Maria Pinot Noir

I may have saved the best for last here. This wine started popping up on Wine Spectator's radar screen a couple years ago. I don't see it widely available in Massachusetts (no distribution?) but when I find it available for shipping or in other states it's not hard to find it for $25.

And for what's in the bottle it's an absolute steal.

The label is gorgeous with a raised image of, I think, rustic nails coming together. Paired with an elegant lower case font I think it's a terrific design. Probably the best value of the bunch - if you can track it down.

Further Reading:
Holiday Wine Blind Tasting: Sure it looks good, but does it taste good?

Question of the Day: What do you think? What are some of your favorite ~$30 domestic Pinot Noirs for gifting?


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