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Wines Under $20

Pinots at Every Price

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The Tasting Room was getting overloaded with wine once again, so it seemed like a good time to taste through a passel of Pinots (which raises the question of whether groups of wines ought to have names a la "pride of lions" or "exaltation of larks", e.g. "crowd of Cabernets" or "symposium of Sauvignon Blancs" or "bog of fruit-bombs", i.e. "The wine critic fought his way valiantly through the fifty-bottle bog of fruit-bombs, but, in the end, his palate was obliterated and he drowned.").

In any case, moving right along, here were the winners out of the 22 wines we opened today.

2007 Cono Sur Pinot Noir ($9) This is labeled with the deeply terroir-specific tag "wine of Chile," but who cares—for nine bucks, it's surprisingly appealing Pinot. The nose isn't much to speak of, but it's got some appealing berry flavors, a leafy tobacco note, and the winery's carbon neutral, too. Can't argue with that. 

2006 J. Daan Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($24) I know zip about winemaker (and owner, I assume) Justin van Zanten, save that he was assistant winemaker at Andrew Rich, but I'm interested to find out more. This is a graceful, light-bodied Oregon Pinot, the nose a bit faint at the moment, but with evocative floral-strawberry-raspberry notes and a hint of earthiness.

2006 MacPhail Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($45) James MacPhail has been getting a lot of praise for his Pinots from a variety of wine writers, and based on this wine—one of his two basic cuvées, the other being a Sonoma Coast bottling—it's deserved. Floral, spicy aromas and ripe but focused flavors—sort of raspberry liqueur, if you can use that term without implying overripeness, which this wine isn't in the least. My note says that it "sorta glows"—in terms of flavor, not color—which if you ask me is something Pinot ought to do.

2005 Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) This had a touch of reductiveness when first opened, but some good swirling got rid of it (decant the wine, if you buy it) to bring out pretty black cherry and cola notes. The black cherry continues in the flavor, along with brushy spice notes; plus it's got a silky, sexy mouthfeel that is really impossible to resist. Technically this comes from the Petaluma Gap area, just north of San Pablo Bay. Winemaker Michael McNeill is making some terrific wines here, white and red, and they're well worth checking out.

2006 Paraiso Vineyards West Terrace Pinot Noir ($40) I visited Paraiso ages ago when I was doing a story on Gary Pisoni, and thought at the time their wines were good but not much more. In the past couple of years they seem to have hit their stride, though—I thought Paraiso's 2006 Riesling was a steal for $14, and this Pinot was an unexpected star of this tasting. Very aromatic, with licorice, cinnamon and dark cherry notes, it's ripe and full-bodied, but those cool Santa Lucia Highlands winds must have had an effect, because it's also got a firm enough backbone of tannins to support the fruit. You could pay a lot more for Pinots that aren't nearly as good.

 

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