Pinot noir is known as the "heartbreak grape," and not just because its wines can be achingly beautiful. It is probably the hardest of all grapes to grow, performing well only in very narrow conditions of climate and terrain. Even in suitable vineyards, this ancient vine gives paltry crops of thin-skinned grapes that have little natural resistance to rot or insect pests.
This helps explain why wine lovers who've acquired a taste for pinot noir are so often heartbroken; pinot noir that truly tastes like pinot noir is expensive to make, so affordable bottlings are often disappointing.
Luckily, the global expansion of the wine industry in recent years is yielding new options for pinot noir devotees, as cool climate regions from around the world rise to the challenge. Among these, the most promising is New Zealand.
Surrounded by frigid ocean currents but drenched in sunshine, regions like Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island are quite suitable for growing pinot noir, and the wines are often reasonably priced. This reliable wine is a perfect example; it is bracingly fresh in its strawberry and pomegranate flavors and features that funky streak of earthy flavors, reminiscent of wild mushrooms, that gives pinot noir its je ne sais quoi.
Brancott Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir, New Zealand, $12.99 (regularly $16.99, sale price through Nov. 26), PLCB Item No. 4045.