The surge in popularity that pinot noir enjoyed after the movie Sideways has calmed, but the sales of wine made from that grape are still strong. Supply and demand, along with the difficulty involved in growing good pinot, have kept prices high, but two wines in our tasting proved you don't have to take out a bank loan to score a fine example of the variety. And despite entries from around the globe, pinot noir from Oregon scored a hat trick, taking all three of the top spots. Here are the panel's favorites:
2010 Grouchau Cellar gc Commuter Cuvee Pinot Noir, $15.99
The wine opens with light but lovely dark berry and cherry aromas colored by nuances of earth and leather. This is a well-integrated, elegantly structured wine filled with ripe cherry and plum fruit flavors that are nicely balanced by bright, food-friendly acidity. This is a charming bargain you can feel good about buying--part of the proceeds go to a charity promoting bicycle safety.
2006 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir, $42
Five years after the vintage, time in the bottle has resulted in a multi-faceted complexity. The aromas are a mix of spicy dark fruit layered with touches of herb (tarragon), fresh dill, earth, coffee, rose petal and smoke. Soft and smooth on the palate, mature tannins underscore the creamy cherry flavors, mingling with cigar box, leather, chalk and rose hip: classic Oregon pinot noir.
2009 Witness Tree Chain Saw Pinot Noir, $16.99
A bit reserved at first, this wine opens up nicely with a little time in the glass. Patience reveals bright cherry fruit aromas backed by enticing hints of sage and soft oak. It's an impeccably balanced wine with bold, ripe berry fruit playing against tart cherry. The finish turns creamy and is marked by smooth tannins. Another definite bargain.