Critic's rating: 90
There's probably no harder thing to find in the wine world than a good, cheap Pinot Noir.
The grape doesn't lend itself to budget viticulture. It wants to be picked by hand and gently crushed, not shaken off its vine by a machine and roughly tossed around in a giant tank.
Mainly, though, Pinot Noir wants to grow in a cool area, with plenty of fog. In California that's a problem because cool spots are on the coast, where the real estate is most expensive.
Chile's Casablanca Valley solves this problem, at least for the moment, before the world recognizes what the Chileans have there. The region has a deserved reputation in Europe as the source of consistently good, cheap Sauvignon Blanc. But the Pinot Noir isn't well known, though wines like this could change that. So the land is still cheap, which means the grapes and wines are cheap too.
This is not a boutique wine: it's a big brand. Look at that price. I'd like to spin the fiction of terroir, of some curmudgeonly seventh-generation grower sleeping among the vines in summer, in touch with their inner souls, coaxing out all their complexity. (Hmm, maybe I should get a job writing some wine marketing.)
But it would be fiction. For this price, we know how the wine was made. And yet, the grapes must be really high quality, because this wine is superb.
The French have a word they use in English: "nervosity." Like all terms that don't translate well, I'm not sure exactly what they mean, but I believe it's in this wine. This wine has great freshness: in fact, it reminds me more of young cru Beaujolais, in a good way, because young Pinots are so rarely this fresh. The bright cherry fruit is initially almost Life Saver-like, and there's not a lot of complexity. In fact, if you opened this wine in a big tasting with a bunch of more expensive Pinots -- as I did -- you might miss it. I first thought, clean and fresh, good value for the price.
Then I had dinner, with my six favorite Pinots from the tasting. The other five all cost at least three times as much. One cost 11 times as much. And this was the bottle I emptied. I admired the profundity of the other wines, but I kept reaching to refill my glass of this wine. So I admit, I adjusted my rating upward from my initial impression, and James Laube would disapprove.
But it's a genuine Pinot: light-bodied (13.8% alcohol), fresh, real. It's not going to inspire you to soliloquies. But I'll bet it's the best $9 wine in every store that carries it.
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