Affordable Pinot Noir
Last month, remarking on the booming market for Pinot Noir driven by the wine-geek movie Sideways, I sermonized on the near insurmountable challenge involved in trying to find Pinot that's good, affordable and cheap, particularly if you require - as any good wine enthusiast should - that it display at least a reasonable amount of varietal character, the aroma and flavor elements that a taster familiar with the grape will recognize as Pinot.
Note, however, that I didn't say it was impossible to find a decent affordable Pinot. I cited a few good examples in that article, the March 9, 2005 Wine Advisor. Today, let's sample two more, with my reports on recent tastings of Fetzer 2003 "Five Rivers" Central Coast Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($9.39), a lightweight but varietally accurate Pinot made from grapes grown in Sideways country, and Cartlidge & Browne 2003 California Pinot Noir ($11.99), a particularly ripe and fruity Pinot of exceptional value and style, made from grapes grown across a range of California vineyards.
SPEAKING OF SIDEWAYS: THE DVD CONTEST
Since I have just 10 prizes to distribute, it's taking me a while to act as judge and jury; but I expect to notify winners - and acknowledge all of your entries by E-mail - during this week. Several of you have asked whether we'll reveal the winners and publish their entries. I'll request permission from the winners when I notify them, and depending on their responses, will likely put some examples online if they agree.
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Cartlidge & Browne 2003 California Pinot Noir ($11.99)
Very dark reddish-purple, black at the center, very dense and dark for a Pinot. Fresh, appealing aromas loft from the glass, ripe black cherries accented with a dash of subtle spice. Fresh and juicy fruit flavors fulfill the nose's promise, tart black plums laced up by zippy acidity. It's not what you'd call "Burgundian," but good forward fruit and proper acidic balance, in a wine that accurately reflects the grape's California style, all add up to an exceptional lower-price Pinot. (April 7, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Pork or poultry in bold-flavored preparations serve it well; it was fine with a quick dish of shredded chicken in a light, not-too-fiery chipotle cream sauce over penne pasta.
VALUE: It wouldn't surprise me to pay $20 or more for a New World Pinot Noir of this quality. Worth shopping, as it's widely available for well under $10, at which point it's a no-brainer.
WHEN TO DRINK: Delicious now, might gain complexity with a few years' maturing in a proper wine cellar.
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California Wine Club:
Top medals and ratings in our Signature Series!
Twenty two medals, two 90-plus ratings, three outstanding wines and one place to get it all!
The California Wine Club's Signature Series is an upper-level club featuring only the highest rated and most coveted California wines. This month's, Signature Series selection includes the Bargetto Winery 1999 La Vita Red Table Wine (10 medals), the Bargetto Winery 2001 Pinot Noir (12 medals) and the Harrison Vineyards 2001 "Carneros" Merlot (93 points Wine Enthusiast Magazine and 90 points Wine Spectator Magazine). Less than 600 cases of each wine was produced, making these wines nearly impossible to find!
This three-bottle shipment is available for $162, which includes all shipping and handling. To sample this month's Signature Series selection or for more information call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
Five Rivers 2003 Central Coast Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($9.39)
Clear garnet in color, not too dark, this Pinot from Sideways country offers typical Central Coast Pinot aromas of red-berry fruit with distinct notes of cherry cola and brown spice. Crisp and tart flavors mirror the nose in a flavor that's varietally correct but seems lightweight on the palate. Still, it challenges the conventional wisdom that Pinot character can't be found for less than $10. (March 22, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: As good a choice as any to wash down an anchovy-topped pizza.
VALUE: No complaints at this single-digit price. It may pay to shop around, as I've seen it advertised by online vendors as high as $12.99 on Wine.com, at which price it's an iffy value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Pinot can surprise you in the cellar, but I wouldn't count on this simple wine as a long-term ager.
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French Wine Explorers:
Time's running out to join our June Rhône Valley Tour
In just under two months, a small group of lucky wine lovers will join me in France for an unparalleled journey through the best of the great wines, delicious food and luxury lodging of the Rhône. We still have a few places left in this strictly limited tour, and it would be a real shame to let them go unfilled. As 30 Second Wine Advisor readers, I would love to have the opportunity to meet and share wine and fellowship with you on this memorable seven-day, six-night tour.
This is a first-class tour, featuring meals at several Michelin-starred restaurants, including La Vieille Fontaine at l'Hotel d'Europe, which is one of the best and most elegant restaurants in the region; another exceptional meal will be at Le Grand Pré, which is one of the author Patricia Wells's favorite local restaurants. Accommodations will be similarly first-rate, including several days at l'Hotel d’Europe, offering the height of old-world charm and elegance in the historic center of Avignon, close to all the major sights, restaurants and shopping.
We'll be enjoying VIP visits to some of the best wine-producing estates of the region in the prestigious appellations of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape; and in a very special event that few wine-loving visitors are privileged to enjoy, we have an invitation to the Echansonnerie dinner, a private, gala dinner and dance for the wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and their families and friends, in the historic 14th century wine cellars of the Papal Court at Avignon.
For U.S. tourists, the tour is priced in dollars, not Euros, and the price is all-inclusive, protecting you from the weak dollar exchange and ensuring full value for this once-in-a-lifetime tour. And please be assured that the tour will be first-class and VIP but never stuffy ... we're looking forward to an exciting, friendly and casual week of touring the Rhône as an intimate group of wine-loving friends. If you love wine and love the Rhône, you'll find this a truly unforgettable experience, and I do hope you'll join us.
If you have any questions at all about the tour, please feel free to get in touch with me personally at email@example.com.
For more information, visit French Wine Exporers' Northern and Southern Rhône tour page,
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Bucko's Wine Reports: Spring 2005 releases
Italian Wine Guide: The Latest from Tuscany
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Last week, however, we went on a vacation schedule because of my travels, skipping the usual Wednesday Wine Advisor and Thursday FoodLetter. Here's the index to last week's columns:
Wine shipping: Court to rule soon? (April 8, 2004)
Falanghina (April 6, 2004)
Monday potpourri (April 4, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Perfect pizza (April 7, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, April 11, 2005