Excellent Pinot Noir is hard to find.
Finding excellent inexpensive Pinot can be nearly impossible (see sidebar), requiring a holy confluence of factors to get it right.
Made by Davis Bynum Winery, the 2000 River Bend was one of the last vintages under the supervision of Gary Farrell (of the famed Williams Selyem & Rochioli) and is from a few acres of estate grown Dijon clone fruit.
Here are our tasting notes:
"An impressively balanced wine with plump and fleshy aspects offset by just the right amount of acidity. Good tart cherry and cranberry fruit, nicely in concert with some light earthen flavors. Smooth on the palate with almost no noticeable tannin. THE 'Thursday night' Pinot!"
The wine spent 5 months in 20% new French oak, is not fined or filtered, and is the top inexpensive Pinot we've tasted this year.
Bynum's estate labeled pinot fetches $25-35 while single vineyards are $40-60 and the "Le Pinot" (made exclusively from fruit from Rochioli's East Block) is $100+, if you can find it. This is a great opportunity to try Pinot from one of the best in the Russian River without breaking the bank.
Why is "Value Pinot" So Hard to Find?
Everyone wants great Pinot Noir — when it's "on", it can be ethereal.
But what about when you are a little less ambitious: you want a great bottle on a Thursday night but don't want to spend $30+?
Unfortunately, more often than not you're likely to be out of luck. As John Hager comments in his book New World Pinot "Serviceable pinot noir is not an oxymoron, but it sure comes close."
There are a variety of reasons why it is so difficult to find well priced pinot. First off, pinot doesn't respond so well to mass production. Chemically, it has a strong tendency to oxidize and also has an extremely low tolerance for sulfur.
Its delicate transparency also exposes flaws that would go completely unnoticed in other, heartier varietals.
Winemakers aren't even safe once the wine is bottled. Notoriously fickle in the cellar, a Pinot that tastes great out of barrel can change into something much less pleasing.
In short, when we taste great Pinot under $20, we get really excited.