How to Find Budget-Friendly Pinot Noir

Finding varietal pinot noir with that little thing called terroir

The bottom line, there is a lot to like at $20 when it comes to pinot noir.

Last week I wrote up some reviews on "value priced" pinot noir, and I received a few comments asking if it was worth spending a few more dollars on wines costing a bit more. It was a fair question, and one I myself had explored just a week or two early when I compared "value priced" sauvignon blancs with wines costing just a few dollars more. The answer to the question is that of course you can get a better wine at a higher price point but, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.
There were some standout wines in this group, the 2010 Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir is not my style of wine but it delivers a ton of flavor and fruit for $20, so not only can I say that it’s notably better than the "value priced" wines samples last week, but it’ll also give some wines twice the price a run for their money, particularly with consumers looking for this rather intense style. Following on the heels of the Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir is a tightly packed group of four wines, all offering distinctive expressions of pinot noir where terroir begins to play a role. A bit surprisingly my favorite of the bunch was also from Santa Barbara, the 2011 Byron which was really a very satisfying glass of pinot, lean, focused and with admirable varietal character!
Of course there are also wines that didn’t appeal to me, as can be the case with a fickle grape such as pinot noir. Let’s face it, rating and reviewing wine is an inexact science at best, and people have vastly differing palates, but I do believe that most people, given a set of wines, can make a fair assessment as to the relative quality and/or enjoyability of those wines vis a vis each other. On thing that consumers often value more than reviewers is more. More oak, more weight, more tannin, more fruit. In fact I think that this has been the commercial strategy of the wine industry, and certainly the California pinot noir industry for much of the past two decades.
We are moving beyond the more is better paradigm, focusing on things like nuance and complexity as opposed to more intensity, though that remains a valid and sought after expression of pinot noir. My point here is that with pinot noir in particular, a grape that is equally capable of both nuanced and powerfully styled wines, it’s tough at times to arbitrarily decide that a wines is not that good because it’s produced in a  style you don’t particularly like. I try as best I can to identify why I don’t like a particular wine, which is why both the wine review and the numerical score associated with it have value. 
The bottom line, there is a lot to like at $20 when it comes to pinot noir. There are wines that begin to show real refinement, complexity and nuance but if you are looking for subtlety and drinkability, you may very well be just as happy sticking to the top offering in the "value priced" end of the market. I find appealing wines ay both prive points, but the best here really do start to be interesting to me as opposed to merely enjoyable. 

Here's how to find value pinot noir.

— Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth