Some wine grapes have more cachet than others, and pinot noir ranks high on the list. As the red grape of France’s Burgundy region, pinot noir has a distinctive place in wine history, and it continues to produce some of the most beguiling and sought-after wines on earth. However, pinot noir is also difficult to execute well at affordable prices. Why? It’s among the most ancient of quality wine grapes, genetically closer to a wild vine than most. Its vines are famously fickle in where they grow well, making more interesting wines in cooler regions than hardier plants like cabernet sauvignon. It is more frustrating to grow than its peers, too, thanks to lower fruit yields per vine and thinner skins that make its crop more susceptible to rot and insects. These factors and more have led to a situation where there is great demand for pinot noir, but where those under $20 tend to be disappointing in flavor, tasting sour and weedy or flat and syrupy, depending on the climate. Luckily, California vintners have been planting more pinot noir recently, using better clones of the vine, which has improved the quality of bargain bottlings like this one. Though it falls on the jammy end of the spectrum and its vanilla oak scent may be too strong for fans of drier European examples, this entry-level offering features a pleasant version of pinot noir’s “red fruit” flavor profile, reminiscent of strawberry jam, raspberry sorbet, or cherry-vanilla ice cream.
Leese Fitch Pinot Noir, California. $10.99 (regularly $13.99; sale price through Jan. 27). PLCB Item #7656.