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A pair of provocative Pinots

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, and Alice Wentworth

The Pinot Noir grape produces many of the world’s finest, and most expensive, wines. Best known are those from the Burgundy region of France. There is a growing consensus that outside Burgundy many of the best Pinots are being produced in California, Oregon, and New Zealand. Wine critic Robert Parker’s website, in fact, shows that over 90% of non-Burgundy Pinot Noirs rated 90 or above hail from these three places.

Many of these top-rated wines, of course, are quite expensive. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, and Pinot being an excellent choice for the feast, it was time to hunt down some affordable choices. The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 23 Pinot Noir wines from California, Oregon, and New Zealand, all priced under $25.

While there were fine examples from all three areas, the staff’s top two choices were both from California. The Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and the Lincourt 2010 “Lindsay’s” Pinot Noir both possess succulent Pinot Noir fruit, excellent balance, and persistent flavors. The wines each cost $22 a bottle.

Interestingly, the grapes for these wines come from two regions that many consider “insider choices” for good quality Pinot Noirs at less than astronomical prices. The Santa Cruz Mountain Winery Pinot was produced from grapes sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands, which run along the southwestern side of Monterey Valley. The Lincourt was made from fruit grown in the Sta. Rita Hills, located in Santa Barbara County about 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

What these two areas have in common are well-drained soils and cool microclimates that allow Pinot Noir grapes to ripen slowly. They also aren’t nearly as trendy as regions such as Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley, so bargains do exist.

It’s a tough choice, but whether you select the Lincourt, with its subtly spicy hint of oak, or the Santa Cruz, with its effusive red-berried Pinot fruit, you will have a fine accompaniment to your Thanksgiving meal!


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