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Inexpensive Pinot Noir Taken for a Taste Drive

A close look at three entry point pinot noirs.

Something a little different this week.

I have been hugely impressed by the quality of the contributions to the site’s Comments Section.

Opinions are thoughtful, well informed and respectful of differing opinions.

Best of all, though, there is none of the crass – and often just plain nasty – contributions that seem to litter many social media posts.

In short, it is a mine of information, help, wisdom and shrewd judgements.

So, why not move some of that content mainstream.

Happily, MidWeeker Richard was ready to oblige and today’s post contains his thoughts on entry point pinot noir.

He has carried out a blind tasting at home and that is something I would strongly recommend.

There are few better ways of learning more about wine than tasting some side by side, and doing it with a couple of friends helps to spread the cost.

Finally, I really want to be able to use more subscribers’ views. So any more volunteers?

I will happily help with any editing.

The images provided should help you to find the wines on The Wine Society website.

Over to you Richard

“Previous MidWeek comments have discussed the possibility of finding a really good Pinot Noir for around £10 – perhaps even one that tastes like red Burgundy!

I remember Eddie being very enthusiastic, and making a strong case for the 2022 Spätburgunder, Bio, Ruppertsberg, from The Wine Society.

By the time I got to order, though, the 2022 had sold out – and, I remember Eddie commenting that the 2023 was not quite as impressive 

As a “PN Pauper” I am frequently buying inexpensive PNs, and decided to raid those available for a home blind tasting, to compare and contrast.

The wines, all from The Wine Society, were:

(1) The Society’s French Pinot Noir 2023 @ £8.50;

(2) 2021 Clay Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir @ £9.95;

(3) 2022 Kumeu River Pinot Noir Village @ £11.95.

And the results.

  • Wines 1 & 2 were both a mid-red colour and had decent acidity and red fruit flavours.

Both were quite smooth, no meanness, although 2 (from California) had a more warm fruit feel – it was my wife’s clear favourite.

  • Wine 3 (a New Zealand option) was distinctly paler and had a more interesting nose, and a savoury quality as well as some raspberry fruit. 

All three were good wines, and one couldn’t complain that – as happens with some inexpensive versions – they lacked the authentic taste of typical pinot noir.

For me, red Burgundy is pale, often a touch lean and under-stated, but above all else has a trace of “farmyard” in the nose.

Consequently, Wine 3 was the nearest of that trio to red Burgundy style.

Although I would happily buy more bottles, it did exceed the magic £10 price point.

Conclusions

So nice wines, but still no dead cheap red Burgundy substitute, and I am beginning to liken my task to going into a garden centre with my wife.

It is possible that we could leave without her buying a plant – possible, yes, but after 40+ years it has never happened … and probably never will!

Perhaps, a similar outcome awaits my quest for that magical £10 PN …. but, at least, the task of tasting those I encounter on the journey is an agreeable one!”

Editor’s Tailpiece

Thank you, my friend. Really helpful stuff and much appreciated.

Enthused by Richard’s views, I took my own look at the second wine he considers here.

If anything, I would go further and give a firm thumbs up to California’s 2021 Clay Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir (£9.95 at The Wine Society and 13.5%).

With fruity aromas and modest acidity, it has a centre-piece of nicely earthy raspberry, red plum and blood orange flavours.

Subsidiary constituents include baking spice and chocolate hints but only limited tannin.

A good call, Richard; well done.

Views on that piece to the Comments Section please and can those offering future content please form an orderly queue via email …  <brian@midweekwines.co.uk>  

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38 responses

  1. I’m a big fan of the Meiomi, a Californian PN. It’s mass produced but the flavours are fantastic, hints of vanilla, very smooth, very drinkable. I buy it in the U.S. and bring a few bottles back on my regular trips. Has anyone managed to find a similar PN over here at all?

    1. That wine certainly seems to win many friends, but I cannot find a current UK supplier. I fancy that the company is part of the Constellation group so perhaps it is branded differently over here.

  2. Recent enjoyed a Pinot Noir from Chile’s Casablanca for just £8.50. Under the 30 degree Irresistible label it scores well for such at such an inexpensive price point. Showing spicy red fruit with a characterful light tannic finish it is food friendly and will please many.

    1. With you 100% on that one Stephen. …. “Plum, cherry and raspberry flavours enlivened by just the right level of orange centred acidity”.

  3. The Mcbains Crossing pinot noir from the Lidl wine tour (recommended by Brian in a newsletter if I remember rightly) in June was excellent. Shame it isn’t regularly available.

    1. Welcome to the Comments Section Gerwyn and yes “Guilty as charged”. I did indeed recommend it and, like you, hope that Lidl use it to fill a gap in their core range provided continuity of supply can be achieved.
      Do keep letting us know what you think.

  4. Don’t shoot me down here, and I might be a heathen to some, but I don’t like PN. Lord knows I’ve tried! I’ve found a few from Willamette up in Oregon and Yakima in Washington State, but vinuous PN joy largely eludes me. However, that was a good piece of research, Richard, and I’m about to place a Wine Society order, so I’ll tag on a bottle of Clay Creek. Like you, my search goes on!

    1. I feel exactly the same way about rosé wine. Can’t stand the stuff, but I still try just in case there’s ‘the one’ out there that I actually like!

    2. No question of being a heathen Howard. A bit like TV programmes, I think we all have one or two widely acclaimed wines that do not resonate with us. However, I won’t reveal my bottled equivalent of Happy Valley!

  5. I’ve tended to find that the higher up the price scale you go in red Burgundy, the worse the value for money. So if you are comparing against entry-level wines – which is all most of us can afford – these pinots compare really favourably. I’ve also enjoyed Les Calcaires (Sainsbury’s £7.75) surprisingly from the Loire rather than Languedoc. And perhaps the Loire offers an even better alternative to cheap Burgundy in the shape of a different grape – Cabernet Francs from Saumur, Chinon, St Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and the like?

    1. I love those Loire Cabernet Francs David and think there is some interesting value to be found there. Sainsburys ran one for years at about £8 last time I saw it but it seems to have disapeared from the shelves. I am still not sure that they exactly hit the PN spot though.

    2. I am with you on Loire reds, David – I used to think it was only Eddie and I that raved about them but find many “like minds” nowadays. I thought the first vintage in Sainsbury’s of Les Calcaires was excellent but subsequent ones less so altough that may just be me.

      1. Brian … all … Sous bois eh?, The point where that certain characteristic of mainly French pinot noir and cabernet franc overlap and to a degree some Bordeaux offerings that include franc in the cuvée as well. Vicariously called earthiness, vegetal, stalky, hedgerow, grassy, forest floor, however the French translation works with any of this wine it’s a trait that I suppose may be off-putting to some. It can often recede anyway when drunk with food.

        Do we ever find so much conjecture with merlot, shiraz or malbec but it’s why those varietals exist with pub bottles on offer in this country when PN and CF rarely come over the counter to service the majority palate here. Asking for a glass of Chinon or Saumur can be like a foreign language in the hospitality industry in Britain! Excuse a little joke … but I suppose that’s why we see little of it on supermarket shelves here either.

        I’m not sure how much sous bois applies to more fruit-forwards South American pinot, but New Zealand seems to have it too.

        I suspect not the USA as much and looking at the online notes at TWS they apparently have a much sweeter offering next up the price ladder from the Clay Creek with their District 7 Monterey 2021, at £12.50!

        But for me the reason that pinot noir, especially Burgundy, attracts so much discussion/attention is no secret. Certain estates in Burgundy produce the most expensive wines in the world. But who can afford that Romanée-Conti? Enough that we can drive up to the gates of the estate, stare and dream. However somewhere very close by, maybe there are parcels of land where grow vines that may have the potential for such greatness. Maybe wines from these estates are not well known yet and may be affordable? Ha! Still an unlikely scenario I know, but lots of fun to be able to hunt around.

        A half bottle of TWS Domaine de La Noblaie cabernet franc from Chinon for tea tonight. Luckily, very affordable …

  6. Another wine to look out for that’s a similar style to Pinot, is South African Cinsault
    Wine Society’s has a couple from Duncan Savage. Dirt track at £9.50 and above £10 but at £12.95, the Generation Series South African Red is punchy! Waitrose have Stellenrust’s Manor Cinsault, which is £10 or £11 but often on offer or one to buy in a sale, as I do
    Well worth a try for a light style red

    1. Yes, agree about Cinsault. I have much enjoyed Dirt Track in the past, and Ken Forester’s The Misfits. I do have a couple of bottles of the Generation Series in my racks, I think bought after a tasting, so must have liked it! Have seen the Stellenrust on the shelves, and was tempted, so good to get a recco.

      I have had some super PNs from SA’s Elgin area, but they have been around £20 – £25.

      Was also looking to try some of the lighter versions of Grenache, which I understand are sometimes called to be PN at blind tastings, and vice versa.

      I see a future tasting coming up … “Great value PN Alternatives” – Cinsault, Grenache, Xinomavro, Nebbiolo?

      1. That sounds like a superb tasting! I also like the Jeunes Vignes Xinomavro from Thymiopolous at TWS, it has gone up in price since it was first launched at £10.50. Think it’s now £13 but still a great wine
        KF Misfits also great, forgot about that one! Definitely give the Stellenrust a go. I know the winemaker quite well, so much attention to detail and still a family farm
        I love the lighter style Grenache but they all seem to be more expensive..

    2. A good suggestion, Lisa. Oz Clarke describes cinsault as having “raspberry coulis” flavours which does indeed sound pinot-like. And, of course, cinsault was crossed with pinot noir to create pinotage all those years ago.

  7. I would recommend the Zana Pinot Noir particularly when it’s on offer at Sainsbury’s
    It’s become my house red, taking over from the Malbec blended by Yellow Tails who are responsible for Black Stump sold by Laithwaites

    1. It does indeed and that country has been producing some excellent pinot noir at very competitive prices.

  8. I applaud Richard’s efforts to find the Holy Grail of an affordable top notch Pinot Noir.My mum’s advice would be -you have to kiss many frogs before you find The One.Then looking sideways at my dad, would add”Sometimes The One does not exist.”.
    But we can turn to Phil Spencer and Kirsty for more prosaic advice-at a certain price level,compromises are inevitable.
    Which brings me to Paul Turner’s above suggestion of Sainsbury’s Romanian Zana Pinot Noir 12.5% and reduced from £8.25 to an unbelievable £6, until 23rd August.
    Brian has previously recommended this very tasty PN.
    So what is the compromise?
    Some might think it is a bit too sweet, whereas others would describe it as agreeably ripe.I am in the latter camp.But I would suggest that 20 minutes in the fridge would make the argument largely redundant.
    So perhaps not the Holy Grail but certainly worth the Champion’s Cup.

    1. Thanks for your applause, Paul.

      Deep down I think I know that I won’t find great PN for £10, like I know I won’t be a single figure handicap golfer, and Bob Dylan won’t be playing at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion any time soon. I guess I just like journeying in hope.

      Compromise is good, and very recently posed myself an additional challenge – finding a PN I enjoy for under £5. In this I was successful, so no-one can call me a Wine Snob!

      1. I have had many PN across the entire width of the range. I have stayed in Burgundy on many occasions and attended numerous tastings, but I have never been able to like PN. I much prefer the meaty beaty big and bouncy reds rather the lighter weight PN. A few years ago I was given a bottle of Waitrose Blue Label Romanian PN and it was delicious and it was certainly a lightbulb moment. Either my tastebuds have changed or it shows that you just need to keep at it.

        1. Welcome aboard David. I don’t think you are alone in not enjoying pinot noir. The important thing is to focus on what does actually float your boat not what conventional wisdom says you should enjoy.

    2. Good advice Paul and a perplexing question – when does “ripe” tip over into “overly sweet” or “minerality” into something negative?

  9. Hi All
    Thanks Richard for an informative piece. It’s not easy to find a really good PN at an affordable price, and the only one I can find in my tasting notes book is an Aldi one by Pierre Jaurant which we enjoyed. At a bit more money, I tasted the Josh PN at Majestic, which was really good so bought some. I think perhaps this is where Brian’s adage of spending just a bit more comes into play. At £15.99 a bottle it’s not an everyday wine, definitely a treat bottle. That said, more expensive doesn’t always mean better, and while every wine is only good/bad in the nose/mouth of the drinker, I tasted Erath PN at the local Majestic last week and thought it was bloody awful, wishy washy Ribena. At £24.99 (£19.99 mix 6) they can keep it! I’d have to agree with Paul on the Romanian PNs, I’ve heard a lot of good things about them. Will see if I can pick up a bottle of the Zana next time I’m in Sainsbury’s.
    Cheers and happy hunting for that elusive PN

    1. Hello Rhiannon,
      Two other entry level PN’s to consider.
      Asda Extra Special PN Leyda valley £8
      and the Co-op Irresistible 30 degrees PN £9- mentioned above by Brian and Stephen above.
      Well worth a try especially if on offer.

  10. Nice move this Brian and well done Richard with the input!

    Can I make a distinction between trying to find an authentic Burgundy substitute for a decent price, and what I’m happy with in general terms where Pinot Noir for restrained money is concerned.

    The thing is, where the elusive under-a-tenner bottle of Bordeaux is concerned there is no knowing from which area of the Gironde it might come from nor what are the grapes that can be involved. A straight-ahead Merlot from St Emilion is exactly that, but many other appellations deliver with cuvées that will likely feature all kind of percentages of Sauvignon, Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot etc.

    Red Burgundy is ONLY ever Pinot Noir and here is the dilemma that I think can only be resolved one way. Treat every PN as a stand-alone on its own merits regardless of where it comes from, but somewhere hopefully along the way discover the Burgundy evocation, but only IF that is what characteristics we are looking for. Naturally not everybody will want that …

    This last couple of months I’ve tried a cheap, labelled-Burgundy from Asda that was very poor, a New Zealand PN from Asda that my wife liked, TWS French offering spoken about by Richard, the Romanian Zana from Sainsbury’s bought 6 months ago that’s still ok-ish but needs drinking up, and a English PN rosé from Aldi that I liked a whole lot, though of course made a la white not true red wine fashion. There have likely been others that I forget.

    The only bottle of PN I’ve had in the last 6 months that really got me to where I wanted to be was TWS Spätburgunder, Bio, Ruppertsberg 2022, (and almost there too the 2023 when I had the first bottling, that seemed not yet to be hitting the heady heights of the previous vintage).

    This German was both best-Burgundian in every sense, a cracking red wine that fulfilled all expectations, and under £10. My hope is the 2023 can come through in the bottle eventually.

    In the meantime with the stand-alone possibilities for just a good PN to enjoy I do wonder if Chile is not the place to be looking harder that might give us more fruit-forward examples, or the 2021 Clay Creek, USA both Richard and Brian endorse, that I’ll try with my next TWS order.

    1. I suspect that Chile is very much the rising star here. It seems significant that Sainsbury’s House Pinot Noir recently switched from Romania to Chile.

      1. Chile has seen the value of wine imports to the UK rise 40% in the first quarter of 2024, new data has found, making it the South American country’s top market in terms of value.
        Greater than China or the U.S.
        According to Drinks Business.

  11. I’ve commented before on my fascination with English wine and I was curious at the time that Brian’s recent review for English Wine Week (6 June 2024) didn’t recommend any English reds. Was this an oversight or simply that nothing made the cut? I have come back to this today because it is relevant to the current discussion.
    There is significant Pinot Noir now produced in England. In the past, English reds made from varieties such as Regent, Rondo and Dornfelder were hardly going to convince drinkers that England was a serious red wine producer but as planting of PN alongside chardonnay and pinot meunier has proliferated to produce champagne style sparkling wine it was inevitable that producers would see what they could do with PN as a single varietal red wine. In the past year or so I have been exploring a range of PNs from my corner of SE England (Kent) and found almost all of them good, and some very good. The only downside of course is the price which may not come under the MWW criteria but will seem good value as an alternative to bog-standard Burgundy. On the basis of ‘drink less, drink better’ my current favourites are:
    Top-notch: 1) Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2022 (£40). 2) Simpson’s Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2022 (£27) – available from The Wine Society,
    Smaller producers: 1) Chartham Pinot Noir 2022 (£25.99). 2) Barnsole Pinot Noir 2022 (£20.65)

    1. Hi Keith,

      I was intrigued to know, given the meteoric price levels in Burgundy, whether English PN is now becoming good value. Thanks for your recommendations.

      I have just bought a 2022 Balfour PN from M&S, after a glowing recco by Jane MacQuitty in last Saturday’s Times. Listed at £23 but on offer at £22. I also have a 2020 PN Précoce from a Flint Vineyard visit 2 years ago.

      And I have just signed up for a Wine Society Zoom tasting on 16th August – to celebrate “International Pinot Noir Day”! The (optional) Tasting Sample case looks truly splendid and includes the Danbury Ridge Essex 2021 Pinot Noir (£37). I was thinking of adding my above 2 wines to the tasting.

      So I’m very much looking forward to this event. I may ask my wife to set up a quick blind test for me an hour before the Zoom starts. I find it very helpful, if often humiliating, to compare my notes and judgements with that of the professionals!

      (BTW – in error, the sample packs aren’t listed, as they usually are, in the TWS events page, but if you search for sample packs they come up, and can be ordered)

      1. Hi Richard,

        Thank you for the heads up on the WS Pinot Noir Zoom tasting on 16 August. It’s exactly what I need. As luck would have it (or not) I’m going to the WS Members’ Lunch in Stevenage on that day so cannot guarantee to be home to join an online event at 18.00. If I register presumably there will be a recording to watch afterwards?

        1. Yes, they publish all Zoom activities on their YouTube channel, and via their website link of “Recordings of Past Events”.
          I think the YouTube version is published live, but worth checking with them.
          In the past, due to date clashes, I have opened my sample packs some days after the event, alongside watching the recording. You miss the chance to interact, of course, but if you send questions to the Tasting Team beforehand, they generally do raise them on the night. I have done just that a couple of times.

    2. The omission of reds was not especially significant. All the ones I wanted to consider were between vintages – not too surprising at this time of year.

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