The question: My wife and I favour white wines and lighter reds (e.g., Beaujolais and pinot noir). We have found several mid-priced Beaujolais that we like, but, perhaps as a side effect of watching Sideways, I am uncertain whether a decent pinot noir can be found for $15. Before we waste a lot of money sampling mediocre pinots, can you help?
The answer: Darn that movie. It made us all thirsty for pinot but left us searching in vain for an affordable fix. …
Just like Sideways, good, inexpensive pinot belongs to the world of fiction. Chile has entered the bargain field with such offerings as Cono Sur, a decent quaff at $10.95 in Ontario. But with no more than $15 to spare, I would tend to opt for just about any other grape. Pinot should be supple and medium-bodied, with flavours of fresh berries and earth lifted by moderate acidity. All too often inexpensive pinot tastes anemic and sharp, as though someone had taken good pinot, watered it down and added a squirt of lemon juice.
Henry of Pelham in Niagara does a very good job with its entry-level offering, but it sells for $16.95 in Ontario. That's pretty much the starting point. Louis Jadot also makes a very fine, entry-level Burgundy (a.k.a. pinot noir) called Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir, which sells for $18.70 in Ontario.
Thin-skinned pinot demands a lot of attention in the vineyard. To ripen properly and achieve sufficient fruit concentration, vines must be pruned to yield small crops with few bunches. Less fruit per acre means a higher selling price. Pinot also tends to perform best in cool climates in which yields are naturally low, versus hot, sunny plains that can produce bountiful flavour from other grapes – Australian shiraz, for example.
If you can come up with an extra $5 or so, I'd suggest exploring New Zealand, which regularly turns out very fine pinots for about $20. And Tinhorn Creek from the Okanagan Valley is a standout at $19.99 in British Columbia.
E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear on The Globe and Mail website.