Wine doesn’t get much snootier than pinot noir. The grape is troublesome to grow, it’s difficult to turn into quality wine, and the wine is almost always pricey. In fact, save for the Burgundy region of France, a stretch of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and parts of California, most of the rest of the world has given up on pinot noir. (And, frankly, a lot of pinot from the rest of the world should be given up on.)
Plus, pinot drinkers – as demonstrated by the movie Sideways – can take their enthusiasm for to unreasonable lengths. This produces a clubbiness that rivals that of red Bordeaux or Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, two other leading causes of wine snobbery.
Which is a shame, because pinot is actually a food friendly, easy drinking wines. It doesn’t have the overwhelming tannins (that bitter astringent taste) that cabernet and merlot do, and it offers a berryish fruitiness that pairs with everything from barbecue roast lamb to grilled chicken to salmon. Yes, even salmon, an example of how just how much fun pinot nor can be.
Fortunately, there are a number of producers who understand this dilemma and are doing something about it. They don’t see pinot as an excuse to gouge the consumer, but as an opportunity to sell well-made, inexpensive wine – usually for about $10. Does it taste like the $70 or $80 a bottle stuff that makes pinot-a-philes sniff and spit? No, but this is not necessarily a problem. The problem is being too much of a snob to give the less expensive wine a try.
• Mark West California Pinot Noir 2006: Remarkably consistent from vintage to vintage, something that’s not easy to do. Look for lots of raspberry, a classic pinot flavor, and even some vanilla. This is not a subtle wine, but may be the best U.S. pinot for less than $15 (and it’s sometimes on sale for less than $10).
• Les Jamelles Pinot Noir 2005: Les Jamelles, in the south of France, makes some of the best cheap wine in Europe, and its pinot is no exception. This wine isn’t as fruity as a California or Oregon pinot, with more blackberry than cherry or raspberry, and has a bit of the earthiness that red Burgundy is known for.
• Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir 2005: A big, jammy wine (think strawberries) from the Gallo empire. It doesn’t have some of the vanilla that the others do, since it saw less oak during the aging process. In flavor, it’s probably between the Les Jamelles and the Mark West.