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Hunting for a rare wine? Try a top-value pinot

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch puts an under-$20 California pinot noir to the test and finds it to be a great "everyday" wine and more.
/ Source: TODAY

Suddenly, and for good reason, everyone seems to be talking about value in wine, just as I have been here in recent weeks. So, when a reader, William from Florida, wrote to ask if I could recommend a good inexpensive pinot noir, I was immediately excited by the challenge and started to look at possibilities I hadn’t tasted yet.

“I struggle to find an everyday ($10 to $15) pinot noir that has the depth and complexity of more expensive pinot noirs,” William confided. “Can you suggest a well-known and available ‘everyday’ pinot noir that is acceptable?”

I think he speaks for legions of wine enthusiasts who love pinot noir but are frustrated by the high prices that excellent pinots command, whether they are from Burgundy in France or from California or Oregon, three major areas on the pinot noir map.

As I read William’s e-mail, my thoughts turned quickly to California, partly because there is a great deal of pinot noir at all price points produced there, and partly because I wanted to shift my focus to the United States after writing my last few columns on European red-wine values, including bottles from Spain, Italy and Austria.

The perfect opportunity to catch up on some California pinot noirs and to pair them well with food came the other night, a rare evening when the boys were out and the parents could enjoy a grown-up dinner just for two. We were having one of my favorite meat dishes — organic pork chops seared in a cast-iron skillet with chopped fresh rosemary and oregano and then drizzled with a simple sauce made from deglazing the pan.

Pork, with its mild taste, is made for the delicate flavors of pinot noir, which I usually prefer in a classic, lighter Burgundian style to some New World wines that are made in a dense-fruit, high-alcohol style.

And so we sat down with our dinner and a couple of California pinot noirs I had on hand. It turned out that one was very good indeed, and one — well, not so good. Clos du Bois’ 2006 North Coast Pinot Noir is an under-$20 home run (sorry, William, at a suggested price of $18 this one is a few bucks more than you wanted to spend, but is well worth it).

The broad “North Coast” designation is a tip-off to the fact that the grapes come from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The wine, which is light in color and medium bodied, is notable for its bright acidity, which I find sometimes lacking in California pinot noirs. It helped the wine cut right through the concentrated pan drippings on the pork chops and made it a refreshing counterpoint to the meat. Raspberry aromas give way to cherry and blueberry in the mouth, accented by subtle vanilla and spice notes. Alcohol is a moderate and welcome 13.5 percent. I would certainly put this one up against Burgundy at the same price.

As for the other wine, while it may have been a few dollars cheaper, it was completely undistinguished and lacked the brightness we enjoyed so much in the Clos du Bois. It shall therefore remain anonymous. To William’s point about depth and complexity, the Clos du Bois had it. Availability? With 105,000 cases produced — that’s 1,260,000 bottles — it should be relatively easy to find. This is “everyday” pinot noir — and more.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at