The Pinot Noir Bargain Hunt We’re conditioned to expect wines from the “heartbreak grape” to be expensive, but there are a few notable exceptions. When we’re not drinking red Burgundy, here’s where we look for our Pinot fix.
Along with death and taxes, one certainty we’ve come to accept is that wines from Pinot Noir tend to be pricey. There are two main factors driving this: (1) its fragility and low yields make it a costly variety to grow; (2) people love it, and are usually willing to pay more for it. The popularity of Pinot Noir worldwide has led to its being planted in many places it probably shouldn’t be: It’s an early-ripening variety that prefers cooler climates and lower-fertility soils, as in its presumed homeland of Burgundy, France. Hot climates cause it to ripen too fast, creating flabby, jammy styles that lack the aromatic complexity that is Pinot’s calling card.
So, the question around here is: Where are the best Pinot Noir values to be found? Since SommSelect was first founded, we’ve proclaimed repeatedly that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the ultimate source of value-for-dollar. But lately, we’ve seen some other regions of the world assert themselves—so much so that we featured some of our favorites in a recent edition of our “Explore 4” club subscription.
When it comes to stretching your Pinot Noir dollar, here’s where to look. Or, try our one-stop shop here.
Riesling is Germany’s calling card, so it’s easy to forget that Germany is also the world’s third-largest Pinot Noir producer. Baden, Germany’s southernmost wine region, has a long history with the “Pinot” family. Be it blanc, gris, or noir (or, weiss, grau, or blau), there’s a trove of great-value Pinot to be found here.
Most of Germany falls within Europe’s Zone A—the coolest band of growing zones. Baden is in Zone B, along with Alsace and Champagne. The region’s vineyards were planted by the same Cistercian Monks who established Pinot Noir in Burgundy.
Bordered by the Rhine River and the Black Forest, Baden has diverse soils—everything from loess (silt) to volcanic tuff to limestone, the most prized Pinot Noir soil of all. Beyond Baden, meanwhile, there are equally stunning Pinots to be found in other German growing zones, including Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Rheingau.
Producers we love: Burg Ravensburg; Ziereisen; Bercher; Shelter; Enderle & Moll
Everything we just said about Germany above is true of Alsace, France, too: It is, after all, just across the Rhine River from Baden. Plantings of Pinot Noir in Alsace are said to have more than doubled since 1980, at least in part because climate change has enabled producers in this cool, northerly zone to ripen grapes more thoroughly.
Pinot Noir only makes up about 11% of the total vineyard area in Alsace, and much of that has historically been reserved for use in sparkling crémant wines, but as the quality of still reds has continued to rise, a movement has been afoot to increase their profile. Historically, Alsatian Pinot Noir wines sourced from Grand Cru vineyards were not allowed to carry the vineyard names on their labels, but that is soon to change. Right now, however, these wines continue to be incredible bargains.
Producers we love: Beck-Hartweg; Emile Beyer; Boeckel; Barmés-Buecher; Albert Mann; Ginglinger; Pierre Frick
The Southern Hemisphere has its share of acclaimed Pinot Noir terroirs. The cool, southerly regions of New Zealand—especially Central Otago—are now regularly mentioned in the same sentences as Burgundy, although they often command similar prices. In Australia’s Yarra Valley, we’ve come across some delicious and well-priced Pinot Noirs, while on the island of Tasmania, an exciting new Pinot Noir frontier is coming to life.
Over in South America, meanwhile, it’s not just Patagonia for Pinot Noir—the Malbec-heavy heights of Mendoza are very much in play for Pinots of finesse. One look at Mendoza, in fact, and you can’t imagine anything but greatness coming from there: It is truly one of the most striking wine regions on earth.
Mendoza’s vineyards climb to some of the highest altitudes in the world, in a dry, cool, “high-desert” climate. The intense luminosity at these heights allows for bold, ripe reds from Malbec, but in the right spots, with the right approach, Pinot Noir also finds its sweet spot.
Producers we love: Bodega Chacra (Patagonia); Zorzal; Domaine Nico; Wapisa
Argentina’s neighbor to the west, Chile, shares not just the Andes Mountains but a profound French influence on its wine culture. As wine lovers learned firsthand during the Chilean wine boom of the ’80s and ’90s, that mostly meant Bordeaux-style whites and reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc remain the dominant varieties, but as Chilean producers delve deeper into their diverse terroirs, cool-climate Pinot Noir is finding its voice.
One thing we’ve noticed about Chilean Pinots (including the one we selected for this pack) is that they tend to combine both “New World” and “Old World” sensibilities. There’s plenty of generous ripe fruit, but also nice mineral character and balancing freshness, especially in coastal regions like the Aconcagua and Casablanca Valleys. It’s a Pacific influence not unlike that found on the extreme Sonoma Coast, but the wines end up being half the price!
Producers we love: Clos des Fous; Cono Sur; Kingston Family Vineyards; Matetic
More from April’s Newsletter
The Butterfly Effect Founded by the Mondavi brothers of California’s RAEN Winery, The Monarch Challenge is a collective effort among winegrowers and scientists to eliminate the use of chemical herbicides in vineyards. In addition to destroying soil health, chemicals such as glyphosate (used in Roundup) have contributed to the decimation of the Monarch Butterfly population. By Ian Cauble, MS
Through the grapevine
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