DAVID LAWRASON calls it his desert-island wine: versatile, light, and chillable. The added bonus? With Thanksgiving dinner hovering on the horizon, his beloved pinot noir is the perfect complement to turkey
Until the 2004 hit film Sideways exposed pinot noir to the masses, it was a wine suffering from rarefied self-importance — and priced accordingly. A 500-year reign as the only red grape grown in Burgundy created a mystique that the ornery, low-yielding, thin-skinned, heartbreak grape needed to suffer in cool climates and be grown in limestone-laced soils for its greatness to be evoked and appreciated. Burgundy’s top wine, Romanée-Conti, is the world’s most expensive red, a bottle selling for $10,000 on release.
But in the 1980s and 1990s, some daring Burgundy-inspired pinot pioneers began to gain respect for their efforts in cool pockets of Oregon, California, New Zealand and, yes, Ontario. Their top wines were exciting — and expensive (charging $50 a bottle was a bit of a stretch when their experiments didn’t quite pan out). Still, the New World winemakers persevered and succeeded, spawning the cult following uncovered in Sideways, which chronicled a pinot-swilling road trip through southern California. Since then, pinot has been on everyone’s lips. Versatile, light, refreshing, and chillable, pinot is my desert-island wine — as long as the food on the island is really good and includes rare red meats, all manner of poultry, grilled salmon, pasta, risotto, and any recipe incorporating mushrooms.
In recent years, pinot has gone even more global, expanding into cooler nooks of Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and parts of Europe not previously on the pinot’s GPS. There are suddenly hundreds of “commercially priced” pinots out there. And so I offer a world tour of pinots under $25 — a survey of how pinot is doing from the perspective of a man who still believes that it’s the world’s greatest grape.
Amity Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir
$24 I Willamette Valley, Oregon I 89 points
Amity’s Myron Redford was an early ’80s pioneer in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley, near Portland, and has stayed with a Burgundian footprint while some Willamette neighbours tilt toward a softer California style. This pinot noir is coarse and edgy, loaded with complex cranberry fruit inlaid with oak spice and barnyard notes. LCBO 124594.
Rosehall Run 2009 Cuvée County Pinot Noir
$21.95 I Prince Edward County, Ontario I 89 points
This cool limestone-laced region on Lake Ontario south of Belleville is North America’s newest stage for the pinot noir passion play, growing from zero to over 30 wineries in the past decade. This light, crisp, floral, cran-cherry-scented example embodies the charm, precision, and minerality of County pinot. Available through the winery only.
Barwick 2010 White Label Pinot Noir
$15.95 I Pemberton, West Australia I 88 points
Great value! This far-flung cool corner of southwest Australia is very promising, if barely on the global pinot radar. This offering is light-to-mid-weight, fairly smooth and juicy, with classic pinot cran-cherry fruit, tobacco smoke, and underbrush character. Tannins are fine; there is some heat. LCBO 215194.
Hahn 2008 Pinot Noir
$18.95 I Monterey County, California I 88 points
New commercial-scale plantings in Pacific-cooled Monterey County are delivering better value than such established California regions as Carneros, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Barbara. This charming easy-drinking pinot packs complexity and richness with generous oak mocha, cranberry-sour cherry jam, leather, and meaty notes. LCBO 226555.
Lenswood Hills 2010 Pinot Noir
$17.35 I Adelaide Hills, South Australia I 88 points
Pinot was considered folly in hot Australia until the emergence of cooler sites in Tasmania, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and the forested slopes in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. This energetic, tense light red blasts classic cran-cherry fruit with floral, cinnamon, and pine forest. It’s zesty and a touch green, with gritty and juicy acidity. LCBO 215095.
Stoneleigh 2009 Pinot Noir
$19.95 I MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND I 88 POINTS
New Zealand is becoming a world leader with pinot noir, especially in the under-$25 category. This is a generous, complex pinot, maturing and ready to go, with nutty, woodsy, and marzipan notes around cherry/raspberry fruit. It’s medium-to-full-bodied with a sweet-and-sour palate. The length and complexity are very good to excellent. Drink over the next 12 months. LCBO 54353.
Bouchard Aîné & Fils 2009 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
$16.95 I Burgundy, France I 87 points
Under $20, most basic burgundy (called bourgogne) is scrawny and tart. But the generous, warm 2009 vintage has packed in good ripeness and weight with sour cherry fruit fitted with cedary spice and wood smoke. It’s mid-weight, a touch sweet, and juicy, with peppery spice and some new oak tannin and resin. LCBO 665406.
Cono Sur 2010 Pinot Noir
$10.95 I Central Valley, Chile I 87 points
Chile is warm for pinot noir, but Cono Sur, a large and innovative winery, has taken it under its wing, designing a separate winery just to make it. It’s not graceful, but few deliver better pinot character so cheaply, with vibrant cranberry, cherry, cinnamon, and green herb flavours. LCBO 341602.
Cave Spring 2009 Pinot Noir
$17.95 I Niagara Peninsula, Ontario I 86 points
Ontario’s cool climate and limestone-based soil are more like Burgundy than any place in the world, so expect classic cool-climate, high-acid, low-alcohol wines with cran-raspberry fruit. This is a pale, light prototype with herbs and some toasty oak. Quite complex and accurate for the money, if sour-edged. LCBO 417642.