Last week I wrote up some reviews on “value priced” Pinot Noir, and I received a few comments asking if it was worth spending a few more dollars on wines costing a bit more. It was a fair question, and one I myself had explored just a week or two early when I compared “value priced” Sauvignon Blancs with wines costing just a few dollars more. The answer to the question is that of course you can get a better wine at a higher price point but, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.
There were some standout wines in this group, the 2010 Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir is not my style of wine but it delivers a ton of flavor and fruit for $20, so not only can I say that it’s notably better than the “value priced” wines samples last week, but it’ll also give some wines twice the price a run for their money, particularly with consumers looking for this rather intense style. Following on the heels of the Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir is a tightly packed group of four wines, all offering distinctive expressions of Pinot Noir where terroir begins to play a role. A bit surprisingly my favorite of the bunch was also from Santa Barbara, the 2011 Byron which was really a very satisfying glass of Pinot, lean, focused and with admirable varietal character!
Of course there are also wines that didn’t appeal to me, as can be the case with a fickle grape such as Pinot Noir. Let’s face it, rating and reviewing wine is an inexact science at best, and people have vastly differing palates, but I do believe that most people, given a set of wines, can make a fair assessment as to the relative quality and/or enjoyability of those wines vis a vis each other. On thing that consumers often value more than reviewers is more. More oak, more weight, more tannin, more fruit. In fact I think that this has been the commercial strategy of the wine industry, and certainly the California’s Pinot Noir Industry for much of the past two decades.
We are moving beyond the more is better paradigm, focusing on things like nuance and complexity as opposed to more intensity, though that remains a valid and sought after expression of Pinot Noir. My point here is that with Pinot Noir in particular, a grape that is equally capable of both nuanced and powerfully styled wines, it’s tough at times to arbitrarily decide that a wines is not that good because it’s produced in a style you don’t particularly like. I try as best I can to identify why I don’t like a particular wine, which is why both the wine review and the numerical score associated with it have value.
The bottom line, there is a lot to like at $20 when it comes to Pinot Noir. There are wines that begin to show real refinement, complexity and nuance but if you are looking for subtlety and drinkability, you may very well be just as happy sticking to the top offering in the “value priced” end of the market. I find appealing wines ay both prive points, but the best here really do start to be interesting to me as opposed to merely enjoyable.
A bit mineral on the nose with well integrated wood spice, hints of toasted almonds, violets, and some used oak notes all melting into a pool of wild cherry and blackberry fruit. Clean and clear on entry with vibrant acids and fine tannins supporting some unabashedly fruity fruit. This still maintains some nice focus and grip so it delivers attractively intense fruitiness without the weight and density that so often accompanies such fruit. There’s some nice cherry skin and jammy, almost grapy fruit on the palate with a hint of something green, lime zest or herb, adding some complexity on the back end as this transitions to a slightly hot and slight drying finish that shows excellent length and persistence to the grapey, blackberry and plummy fruit which ends with a burst of cola. Not my style but in this style this is very good and it certainly is zesty! 90pts
Tight on the nose with some oak showing a hint of cocoa and a sweet medicinal edge to emerging black cherry fruit that shows some bitter orange rind notes and gently floral top notes. Also a bit tight in the mouth, showing fine red cherry skin and raspberry, almost strawberry fruit in an attractively lean and well focused style. This has the feel of Pinot Noir, no baby fat, good clarity on the palate, finely grained and almost mineral tannins that transition to some gently herbal bay leaf and vanilla toned accents on the backend before fading a bit quickly on the finish. A bit understated, yet this is my style of Pinot, snappy, focused, and even though there is a vein of oak through this this still manages to be a wine of varietal character. 88pts
Smelling a bit beefy and peppery this is a bit of an odd take at first with subtle citrus and pineapple aromas growing in the glass before being joined by tart red cranberry fruit and lemon verbena notes. There’s also a dustiness on the nose and blind I might very well think this to be a white wine. Tart red fruit laced with citrus notes greets the palate with nice breadth and some fine grained tannins and early mineral accents. This opens nicely across the mid-palate delivering fine raspberry fruit with a slight roasty herbal edge and a core of used wood tones that stretch out across the rather long and finely focused finish along with additional tea and herb flavors, moe dusty minerality and some tart red cherry fruit. Rather subtle and understated, this is a patio pinot for old world Pinot lovers. 88pts
Fairly intense and immediate on the nose with lots of earth, tea, and slightly rubbery smoky aromas. This is pretty powerful and front loaded in the mouth with a slightly chewy, glycerin rich mouthfeel that makes this glossy and a bit indistinct in the mouth. There are fine underlying tannins that dimple the surface and add an attractive touch of mouthgrab here supporting cranberry and lightly vanilla laced flavors that pick up a nuanced vegetal hint on the backend before fading into a mineral and earth driven finish of moderate length. A bit tacky with fruit tannins, this will probably improve over the next 18 months or so. 88pts
Perhaps a touch hot or just peppery on the nose with some warm forest floor and baking spice notes framing plump black cherry fruit. There is a pepperiness here, a bit in the herbal register. Smooth like silk on entry, this enters the mouth surreptitiously and then appears on the mid palate with pretty good focus and clarity to the herb and forest floor inflected red cherry and cranberry fruit that barely covers a bit of aggressive wood tannins and picks up gentle wood spice notes on the backend. The finish shows some attractive texture, a bit of stem herbal quality and fine grained wood tannins all coming together with fine persistent if showing a touch of rusticity. Shows some power built on a spice of well judged acidity and complexity in a style that would benefit from food, a fine candidate for pairing with planked salmon. 88pts
Very smoky, charry and oaky on the nose with notes of grilling beef wafting up above the base of cola and medicinal herbs. This is fairly rich, broad and yet tart on entry with a nice blend of liveness and plushness in the mouth that is unusual. There’s a bit of drying tannin here but it is well buffered by the cola laced dark cherry/berry fruit that shows some herbal spice on the back end. The oak reasserts itself on the backend, yet the fruit sticks out lending this a fairly nice balance right through to the earthy, herb tinged finale. A pretty mainstream example of Pinot that hints at something a bit more sophisticated. 87pts
Bright fruit greets the nose though it gains a jammy accent fairly quickly built upon a base of smoky, toasty oak vanilla oak, though there are some subtle herbal accent here adding some detail. Round, supple and mouth filling, this is a crowd pleaser to be sure. The balance here is excellent with plump, sweet black cherry and almost black currant fruit on the palate framed nicely by well judged oak notes. The backend shows off black cherry and sassafras notes and leads into a moderately long, slightly tacky finish enlivened with hints of grapefruit peel. 87pts
Deeply earthy and fairly darkly fruited on the nose with notes of cherry pie and raspberry accented by hints of tea and cola. This is lovely in the mouth, bright and zesty yet with a touch of roundness, though it still retain good clarity in the mouth. The red fruit flavors, recalling cranberry and strawberry, are framed with slight austere tannins that lend this a slightly chiseled feel in the mouth. The backend shows fine herbal and slightly salty mineral note through the gauze of raspberry fruit thats topped with just a hint of herbal stemminess. The finish is just a touch dry, refreshingly so with moderate length to the mineral driven dry red berry flavors that end with as burst of wood spice. Air allows the tannins to build a bit in the mouth, sucking some of the clarity here and adding more wood spice to the palate, but this is remains attractive. 87pts
Twiggy and even a bit funky on the nose with sweet raspberry and cranberry fruit framed with notes of used wood and black tea. Smooth and succulent on the palate, this shows lovely austere little tannins peaking through a veil of red raspberry and strawberry fruit that picks up nuanced used wood and herb notes on the backend before fading into a dusty, earthy, long and vibrant tart red berried finish. This might be a bit of a small wine, and a bit of a simple wine, but it’s appeal lies in it’s fine balanced and purity that makes this so easy and pleasurable to drink. 86pts
A bit light on the nose with nuanced earth, smoke and cola aromas floating over a base of slightly tarry blackberry fruit. Bright on entry with a little sweet tart interplay going on quickly leading to some candied flavors of vanilla and caramel which form a base under bright red fruit on the palate. The fruit lacks a little intensity here, and while this is smooth and well balanced its a little bit more about the wood than the fruit today with drying, chalky tannins outlasting the fruit on the modest finish. This holds its alcohol well though there is a touch of alcoholic sweetness on the palate, which many people will find appealing. 84pts
The modest age here does show through on the nose where one finds a bit of a sweet earthiness and some tarry tertiary notes adding complexity to the core of candied, vanilla scented black fruit. Smooth and initially almost delicate in the mouth, this quickly becomes dominated by the oak with little fruit left to buffer the wood tannins and modest if noticeably spicy flavors. The finish is drying and raw with tannin and wood. 78pts
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