Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Excellent Pinot Noir...Under $20 ???

I was happy to read Aric Asimov's article about what he calls a "rebellion" in California Pinot Noir. I have always believed that the preponderance of syrupy fruit bombs among made-in-the-USA wines is more about decision making than about terroir. I've had graceful and complex Oregon Pinot Noir, energetic and resonant Long Island Cabernet Sauvignon, and balanced and delicious California Chardonnay. But those are the exceptions - the rule seems to be jammy sleep-inducing wines with little balance.

This rebellion notwithstanding, the problem for consumers continues to be one of price. The American wines that I'm referring to are all expensive, sometimes very expensive. Is it truly impossible to make excellent wines in the balanced and energetic style, that retail for under $20?

I looked at Asimov's list of producers he recommends at the conclusion of his article, and only one of them offers a wine that retails for under $30 - Au Bon Climat. What's up with that? Burgundy isn't cheap either, but most producers make a Bourgogne or even a village wine that retails in the $20 range - and these can be fantastic wines.

So here is a challenge for American producers of Pinot Noir: make a wine as good as this one, a beauty from the Pfalz in Germany, the 2006 Weinhof Scheu Spätburgunder, $17, Savio Soares selections. This wine is airy and fresh and it offers what to me is the essence of Pinot- ripe and juicy fruit, but elegant and energetic. It has great balance and acidity and although it isn't a complex wine, it is an absolute pleasure to drink. Low in alcohol at 12%, it compliments many types of food. I can honestly say that this is the finest under $20 bottle of Pinot that I've ever had. And Savio Soares brings in natural wines, so although I don't know the exact details, I'm sure that there is no weedkiller spraying, acidification, chaptalization, spoofulation or other 'izations' or 'isms' going on here.

How does Weinhof Scheu make this great of a Pinot, ship it to America, and sell it for under $20? I don't know. But surely our cool climate Pinot producers can match this feat. Can't they?


fillay said...

If you think about a lot of US wine regions, growers have to compete in local land markets with "lifestyle" homebuyers or vanity winemakers, who drive up prices and make it hard to produce an affordable product and pay their mortgage. Northern California and Long Island definitely fit that mould, but even emergent regions like northern Michigan aren't immune from price creep.

As for all this talk of value coming out of Europe, isn't the elephant in the room EU agricultural subsidies?

BTW, check out Navarro's Method a l'Ancienne. Not $20 anymore, but proof that conditions do exist in the US for excellent quality at reasonable prices. I'll also give a shoutout to Blue Mountain in the Okanagan - their current release clocks in at just under $20 with current exchange rates, and they perenially make a pinot that will break your heart (too bad none of it comes into this country...).

Wicker Parker said...

I don't know if Yamhill Valley Vineyards's pinot is as good as the Scheu, but they produce my pick for under-$20 domestic pinot noir. The 2007 I tasted was a bit thin (and also only 12.2%) and the 2006 was a bit soft, but both showed balance and typicite. The 2005 was really, really good and had a lot of peppery character. The grapes are grown in the deep clay soils of the McMinville AVA.

Iris Vineyards's 2006 from the southern end of the Willamette Valley is showing well now. It has some stuffing but isn't some inky powerhouse.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

A good wine for under $20... Surely, there's someone we can ask?

Anonymous said...

August cellars in the Willamette Valley can be hit or miss at about $16 but I've had some lovely lithe, funky, complex wines from them.

Also Ici/La Bas, Jim clendenon's project in Menocino comes in a touch over $20 but is also delicious, cool climate inspired vineyard designate (I believe) pinot.

Still, 9 times out of 10 I'd spend that money on quality estates from France that IMO offer better value.


Do Bianchi said...

The only one I've ever been able to drink is Sinskey.

Brooklynguy said...

fillay - not sure i understand your idea about competition, the way you're presenting it. competition brings prices down for products, generally. if you mean that it makes the price of land higher, maybe, but there are folks who have their land for 30+ years now and make very expensive Pinot. And expensive wine is fine, but there should be more inexpensive wines in these producer's portfolios.

hey WP - good to see you. i used to drink Yamhill Valley PN quite a lot, up until 2004 or 5 I think. I always liked it and used to buy it for about $14. Then the price went up in my area and I found Bourgognes that were the same price. That would be fun, to check back in on that wine.

Hey JD - i have no idea who you could be referring to.

Brian - thanks for those suggestions - never heard of them.

jeremy - i forgot about sinsky. i like the wines a lot, but now they're all at least $25, right?

Anonymous said...

Haven't tasted it yet (will as soon as I see a bottle in a store) but the 2007 Au Bon Climat pinot noir, the basic bottom of the line Santa Barbara bottling, has been recommended to me by a highly knowledgeable source.

Definitely second Fillay's motion about Navarro. Even their basic Mendocino bottling, which probably costs no more than $15, is excellent value. Their very fine top bottling (Deep End Blend), sticker price of which is $49, is solid value compared to all the over $60 pinots out there.

Anonymous said...

Weinhof Scheu Pinot Noir is carried at Fermented Grapes in Brooklyn, on Vanderbilt Avenue. I get it there, and I agree that it is the best pinot under $20 out there.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Henri - Astor in NYC carries that wine, I believe.

Anon - Fermented Grapes, that's my (formerly) secret source too.

Anonymous said...

An excellent pinot noir from france it s pinot noir from Alsace (north east france)

RougeAndBlanc said...

Thanks for tips on 2006 Weinhof.

Anonymous said...

Neil - Try Copeland Creek's 2005 pinot noir. An excellent value at $17 to $19. Gregg