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Best of the West Coast Pinots $20 and under

Northside Staff

Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Alice Peters, Kelley O’Neill, Jason Wentworth, Chris Coronel, Jay Reed

In 2004 the movie Sideways hit Ameri­can screens. The film details the sometimes hilarious exploits of two bud­dies hitting the wine trail in California. In one memorable scene, a main character waxes poetically on the beauty of wines made from the Pinot Noir grape. This scene alone led wine drinkers all over the U.S. to investigate for them­selves, creating an unprecedented demand for Pinot Noir.

This interest in Pinot Noir has continued. Unfortunately, demand has led to increased prices, and good Pinot Noir cost­ing less than $10 a bottle has become a thing of the past. In fact, a close inspection of many “California” Pinot Noir labels will indicate that less expensive fruit for many of these wines is in fact sourced from France, Italy, or even Germany.

Operating on the assump­tion that it currently costs a bit more than $10 to get an ex­ceptional bottle of Pinot Noir, the staff at Northside Wine and Spirits recently blind tasted 33 Pinot Noirs priced under $20 from California and Oregon, two states many consumers look to when seeking a good value Pinot Noir.

The wines tasted were a mixed bag, with only a third meriting above average reviews. Those from the cooler vineyards of Ore­gon, the state many consider tops for Pinot, did not fare well, as the top-scoring wines were all from California.

The first-place wine was the Johnson Family 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir, priced $19.99 per bottle. Interestingly, “John­son Family” is not actually a winery, but a label created for its distributor, David Bowler Wines. The Bowler website states that the Johnson Family wines are produced by a “well known... winemaker,” the identity of such presumably a trade secret.

The wine itself is a real beauty, with a spicy, almost Burgundian nose replete with an intriguing whiff of ginger. The palate is full of delicious red and dark fruit flavors framed by a judicious dollop of new oak. This unfined, unfil­tered wine is absolutely delicious, with a finish that goes on forever. It is a wine that would fit comfortably into a tasting of Pinot Noirs priced $30 - $40. Try it with simply roasted chicken or duck, pork ten­derloin, grilled salmon or tuna, fla­vorful mushroom dishes, or a holiday turkey roast.

If you would like the full tasting list along with the rankings, please email us your name, phone number, city, and zip code to

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