I don’t mind being the one responsible for showcasing the major red grape of Burgundy.

While we were learning about the geography of Burgundy, the instructor had us taste four “Burgundies” – Pinot Noirs of the world.  In the photo you can see them and they couldn’t be more dissimilar.

The wines were:

  • 2010 Gevry-Chambertin – Burgundy
  • 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – Oregon
  • 2011 Five Rivers Pinot Noir – California
  • 2009 Wild Rock Pinot Noir – New Zealand

In the photo, you can see them in order from the Gevry on the left to the Wild Rock on the right.  They looked very different despite being made from the same grape.

Pinot Noir Glasses

The Gevry -Chambertin was exactly what you’d expect from a budget-priced but good quality Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  There was a little funkiness interlaced with raspberries, leather, black cherries and smoke.  It had a deep rich color, medium viscosity, and medium finish.

The Willamette Valley was much more translucent, almost having the appearance of a dark rosé.  It was distinctly garnet and as could be expected from an Oregon Pinot, had Burgundian characteristics; that is, just as many earthy traits as fruity ones, with surprisingly grippy tannins.

The next wine was a “California” “Pinot Noir” that was completely lacking in any Pinot character whatsoever. It looked fine in the glass, but the nose revealed raspberries, cotton candy, and jujubes.  It had a distinctly candy-ish artificial taste on the palate and the finish was nonexistent.  Thank goodness. I certainly didn’t want to have that lingering in my mouth! In this case, “California” means that the grapes could come from anywhere within California.  Mystery wine.

The fourth wine was a New Zealand Pinot Noir.  Once again, the Burgundian characteristics were apparent in this wine.  Red/garnet in color, medium/medium light in viscosity with black cherries, raspberries and faint leather on the nose. The taste reflected the aroma with a little more minerality on the palate, but it had an unfortunately unpleasant finish that was medium-short and a little funky.

We had tasting pours of course, and the Gevry was the only one I finished.  We still had more Burgundy, Alsace, and Rhône to cover.  I love this geography stuff!

Thanks to Dan (instructor, main photo) for this special lesson.

But something kept bothering me.  The “California” “Pinot Noir” was a super-economical (cheap) Pinot, and it was particularly nasty.  No, it wasn’t faulty; one of my classmates declared that it was her favorite because it was so sweet.


I own several Pinots, all California, all exquisite, and not one of them tastes like that. Of course, the Pinots are Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem, and Asuncion Ridge, among others.  All are delicious, but each one costs a little (or a whole lot) more than what the average sane person may be willing to pay.

Back to the Surprising Wine Store

While picking up a few grocery items as Fresh and Easy, I sauntered over to the wine aisle.  They have quite a few labels that they carry exclusively and some that I’ve seen in only a few other places, and some can be of surprising quality and value.

I saw that they had 2012 WineWrights Pinot Noir on sale at the great price of two bottles for $15.00.  I snagged a couple.

As is my habit, when I got home, I put a bottle in the fridge to chill a bit for later consumption.  I always like my Pinots a little on the chilly side.

Big mistake.

Instead of chilled enjoyment, I got some rocks, flint, gravel, and metal. Not a drop of fruit to be found. I frowned in disappointment. However, being the wineaux that I am, I let it sit in the Pinot noir Montereyglass and slowly let the temperature rise just a bit. Ah. About half an hour later, I was happy to smell and taste a Pinot Noir that was worthy of the name.  In fact, it was quite yummy, especially for the price.

As it turned out, it was a Monterey County Pinot Noir, which is one of my favorite California regions, along with everything in the Santa Barbara AVA and all things Sonoma Coast.

I was happy to find – albeit on sale – that a budget Pinot Noir can be tasty.  While it didn’t lend itself to ethereal contemplation of the universe, it saved the reputation of budget Pinot Noirs that the “California” “Pinot Noir” had nearly ruined.

So here’s the price breakdown:

  • 2010 Gevry-Chambertin – $28 – $30
  • 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – $18 – $22
  • 2011 Five Rivers Pinot Noir – $7.00 (overpriced)
  • 2009 Wild Rock Pinot Noir – $22 – $24
  • 2012 WineWrights Pinot Noir – 2/$15.00, regularly $10.99 at Fresh and Easy

So enjoy!  There are many Pinot Noirs out there ranging from exquisite to swill.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, but understand that you may run into some that aren’t so good, especially those at a lower price. Pinot Noir isn’t called the “heartbreak grape” for nothing!


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