A Pinot for Every Budget!

What is so special about Pinot? Well, you know you have a Pinot Noir in your glass if it feels smooth and glossy as silk on your palate (due to the lower tannins). It will tend to have a lighter body and colour, and elegant yet complex flavours, yet some can be deep and intense. You will likely recognise berry and cherry aromas as well as some mushroom or barnyard qualities. These flavour components make it a lovely match with any kind of mushroom or truffle dish, also fowl – pheasant and duck are particular favourites of mine – and more robust fish such as grilled salmon.

If you’ve ever sipped a red wine from the French Burgundy region, then you are familiar with the Pinot Noir grape. It is also happens to be a particularly persnickety grape variety to grow and tends to keep wine makers on their toes and tugging at their hair throughout its journey from tank to barrel and bottle. But it is this very combination of volatility, delicacy, variety and mystique that has captured many a wine drinker’s heart. Perhaps Paul Giamatti’s character sums it up best in the classic scene from the movie “Sideways”.

Here are three Pinots that I really enjoy, all at different price points so you can always have a good glass at hand!


Chalone Monterey Pinot Noir – $13

I like Chalone’s Pinot and it’s a great everyday value. I find this to be a consistent, pleasant “Monday to Thursday” coiffing wine, nicely balanced between good fruit, some earth and spice and a good feel in the mouth. A perfectly enjoyable bottle with a variety of foods. Their website gives a passionate description:

“Fragrant heirloom roses, ripe black cherries and a touch of tobacco invite the senses into this approachable and enjoyable Pinot Noir. The red fruit brightens across the palate, picking up raspberry and spice. Soft and silky through the middle, the wine crescendos on the finish, leaving a vibrant, juicy memory in the mouth—an excellent match to wild mushroom flatbread drizzled with a touch of truffle oil.”

Chalone is the oldest producing vineyard in Monterey County, devoting over 300 acres to growing the Pinot Noir grape.


Pinot Noir Carneros 2008 – $18 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo 2009 – $26

I was introduced to Jed Steele’s wines some years ago through an old chef friend of mine who swore by them; they were an affordable fixture on his classic French wine list keeping company with the Romanée-Conti and Cos d’Estournel when no one else had ever heard of his wines. Why? Because they were, and remain, some of the best wines for the money. Mr. Steele is now in his 44th year of producing his California wines and shows no sign of slowing down. He keeps the very personal touch he is known for in the way he runs his business – final bottlings are often under 1000 cases – and deals with clients, and this care and craftsmanship spills generously over into his wines.

Steele makes several Pinot Noirs, all lovely, but I come back to his Carneros again and again. What I love about this wine is that it makes me fall in love all over again every time I open a new bottle. There is something special about this wine. It’s truly a “Pinot Lover’s” Pinot. I also recommend the Sangiacomo Pinot for slightly more, but still a steal for the quality.

“This vineyard, given its coastal influence, produces a wine with bright strawberry and cherry flavors, balanced with hints of earth and tobacco. Our approach for Carneros Pinot Noir has always been to produce a classically-styled “Pinot-lover’s Pinot”, with moderate oak, high-tone fruit flavors, a rich nose, juicy palate and long finish.”


Auteur Shea Pinot Noir – 2009/$60, 2006/$145

I am extremely lucky to know a couple of very generous sommeliers, and they have given me entrée into worlds of taste that I would never have ventured to on my own. This little jewel of a wine is no exception. I had the recent pleasure to sip the 2006 bottling in very good company and it quite frankly blew us all away. It was is if we were rediscovering the grape for the first time. Each aroma came bounding from the glass clear as a bell…Blackberry!..Rosemary!..Horse stable!! All the components stood out yet blended perfectly, nothing heavy-handed here. The inherent magic in these grapes had been tended by deft hands in its making offering up one of the most memorable Pinots I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. If you’re looking for a special wine, this is it.

Auteur is a small outfit with even smaller bottlings – a boutique winery if there ever was one – and they are feverishly obsessed with their creations. Lucky us!

From their site on the 2009: “Deep ruby in color, true depth is revealed with a powerful nose of boysenberry, cocoa, blackberry, cherry, and lilac. The palate echoes these dark fruits with blueberry and dried cherry, along with cinnamon, cola, and violet notes. At first the tannins are firm, but with air they soften, resulting in a smooth, silky mouthfeel that seamlessly unfolds layer upon layer of flavor toward a long, dark-fruit finish. This is a wine that already seems complete; however know, you are tasting only a glimpse of its future. It should continue to evolve for years to come, and has the potential to develop into one of our finest Shea pinots to date.”

Do you have a Pinot and food pairing that really wowed you? What’s your favourit Pinot?


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