One of the questions that the Wine Curmudgeon gets asked all the time is “What’s a good, cheap pinot noir?” To which I answer, “Hardly any.” Pinot noir is too costly and too difficult to grow for there to be much quality wine for less than $15, and especially for $10.
There are decent wines that say pinot on the label for $12 or so, like Mark West and several pinots from from the south of France. There’s nothing wrong with these wines, and I have recommended quite a few of them. But they’re less pinot-tasting than more expensive wines, and they’re riper and juicer than the best from Oregon and Burgundy.
Which is why I was so surprised to taste – and enjoy – the Cycles Gladiator (about $11 – and yes, it’s the one with the banned label). In this, it may well be the most pinot noir-tasting of the $12-and-under-class. It certainly has the most pinot character, and it's less jammy and less fruity, with more earthiness, than the other wines at this price.
It’s light enough to drink on its own, and will pair with almost anything from salmon to chicken to takeout pizza. I drank it with roasted eggplant topped with herbs, garlic and breadcrumbs, and it did the job.
One note on the vintage: I tasted the 2006, which I got as a sample earlier this year. The current vintage is the 2008, so there may be some vintage difference.