Whether it is the influence of the movie Sideways or a change in tastes, according to Wine.com, Pinot Noir is now the second most purchased variatal on its site. Thin skinned and difficult too grow, the Pinor Noir grape provides a unique flavor profile that is typically lower to medium body with more bright red fruit than dark. The range of the grape is extensive and can sometimes fool tasters because it can produce so many different feels.
$10: Mark West Pinot Noir
Self-titled as “Pinot for the People,” the Mark West has delivered a consistently high quality Pinot Noir at the same $10 price for more than a decade. Lighter color in the glass, this medium-body wine provides the kind of cherry and raspberry fruit that you would expect from a Pinot twice the price as well as the signature Pinot-spiced finish. Although it lacks the deep complexity of the top-end Pinots, the Mark West is one of the most versatile wines we buy, satisfying friends with a wide range of tastes and pairing with just about anything we might serve. Regardless of vintage on the shelf, you can be assured that the Mark West Pinot Noir will not disappoint and is an outstanding value at the price.
$15: 2011 Hahn Pinot Noir
My experience with Hahn doesn’t go back as far as some of the other Pinots, but this is a recent find that I recommend. The Hahn Pinot color and nose is a darker cherry and has a touch of spice and black pepper in the front palate. The medium acid is well balanced and the characteristic Pinot finish lingers longer than I would expect at this price. Again, a wine that pleases a wide variety of tastes and pairs well with many different flavors.
$20: Meiomi by Belle Glos
Priced a little above an everyday wine for most, I find that the Meiomi delivers the greatest value at the price of any of the West Coast Pinots widely available at retail in Texas. Deep crimson in color, the Meiomi is extremely soft and smooth with rich dark berries, blackberry and a hint of vanilla in the palate. Medium acid and a lingering finish of light spice always leaves me wanting another glass soon after I hit empty. Not surprising, this wine is produced by the Wagner family, the same team that makes Caymus, Conundrum and Mer Soleil.
$25: Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
The next two recommendations are both similarly priced Pinots from the same Willamette Valley area of Oregon, but made in two different styles. The Argyle Pinot Noir is of the lighter and more fruitful style with a nose of bright cherry and raspberry fruit and soft tannins in the palate. Although I didn’t taste it in my glass, Wine Spectator also details notes of watermellon. This wine is a good value for the price for a group with a wider variety of tastes or those who prefer the lighter side of Pinot. If you are willing to spend a little more, the Argyle Nuthouse and Reserve are also excellent and worth trying.
$30: Ponzi Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Produced just 17 miles north of Argyle, the Ponzi Pinot Noir runs on the fleshier and spicier side of Pinot Noir, with a ruby color in the glass and tart black cherry on the nose. In the mouth, the Ponzi reveals ripe black cherry, raspberry, plum and almonds. The lingering finish pulls in a spice that pairs well with its dryness.
$50: Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard
Big brother to the Meiomi, the Belle Glos Clark & Telephone is a super-concentrated and hyper-flavorful Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. Amazingly soft and velvety, the deep complexity of this wine is reflected in the wide range of fruit and spices different reviewers pick up in their tastes. Notes from my last bottle showed predominance of layered ripe raspberry, blueberry and blackberry with an earthy cinnamon spice. The finish on this wine is the longest and softest of any California Pinot Noir I’ve tasted. If you can only drink one Amercian Pinot Noir this year, save your pennies and make it this one.