California isn’t known as a hotbed for value. And more than most, Pinot Noir is the variety that makes wine lovers wince when it comes to price.
So California Pinot Noir? Impossible to find a bargain, you may think. But that’s not strictly true…
Sure, for wines under £15 you’ll be better off with some of the excellent Pinots that Chile is producing. Particularly from the cool climate of the Leyda Valley, which punched above its weight at Decanter’s New World Single-Vineyard Pinot Noir panel tasting.
But if it’s affordable California Pinot Noir you want, try these 20 recommendations below – the best of a selection under £50rrp at the Essential California tasting in London in March. (Possibly the last big wine event in the capital before the Covid-19 lockdown.)
Tasting more than 70 Pinots on show, it’s clear that while many still proudly boast the colour, extraction and oak that California has long been known for, increasingly more are turning to perfume, acidity and fruit purity.
Alcohols seem more tempered too, with most sitting at 13.5%. And those recommended wines at 14% or 14.5% had enough fruit weight and fresh acidity to balance. The welcome Californian movement towards elegance thankfully shows no signs of abating.
The AVAs to know
Pinot Noir grows across the Golden State, but there are AVAs in which it really shines. As you’d expect, these are along the Pacific coastline, where cool sea breezes temper the summer heat.
Santa Barbara County (especially Sta Rita Hills) and Sonoma County (particularly Russian River Valley) are the key regions in terms of plantings and quality, with excellent pockets in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, the Central Coast, Monterey and Lodi.
According to California wine expert Karen McNeil, California’s top Pinot Noir AVAs are stylistically difficult to tell apart. ‘General consensus says that Anderson Valley (the most northern) and Sta Rita Hills (the most southern) produce the lightest, most ethereal examples.
‘But I can immediately think of 10 Sonoma Coast wines that would fall into this category too. As is often true in California, the producer’s philosophy and hand are impossible to ignore.’
With the average price of these 20 wines still around the £30 mark, they aren’t cheap, but nevertheless represent good value when compared to similar quality from Burgundy or other top New World Pinot Noir regions.