You rarely find the words "excellent" and "inexpensive" in the same sentence as Pinot Noir.
But yesterday I found that rarest of rarities—an $8 Pinot Noir that is an amazing buy, with a very good rating.
It’s the 2008 RedTree California Pinot and in my blind tasting I was wowed by this wine’s elegance, balance and complex mix of baked cherry pie, rhubarb and blueberry flavors.
The story behind it is also interesting. This is the debut Pinot from RedTree and most of the grapes come from the Central Valley appellation of Lodi, and even the producers admit there's a bit of a mystery about the makeup of this wine, of which they say they will make about 35,000 cases.
The winery is owned by Roy and Rachael Cecchetti and is dedicated to value wine. I talked with Cecchetti and winemaker Bob Broman about the wine and learned a few new things.
"To produce Pinot Noir in any quantity is quite difficult," said Cecchetti. "Frankly I was shocked when [Bob Broman] showed me these wines blind." The grapes from Lodi are under contract to RedTree and Broman blended the base wine "up," said Cecchetti, by adding small amounts of Central Coast Pinot.
“Basically we pick a [varietal and stylistic] mark that we look for and put together a blend that has really nice varietal character,” says Broman, who has worked as a winemaker for several California wineries, including Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and St. Supery. "For me Pinot Noir has to have the right varietal character, be soft, smooth and velvety, red [color] but not too dark."
The wine was aged with oak chips instead of in oak barrels, which give it a very subtle spicy wood edge. "I really focus on the taste and complexity that I’m getting." To achieve the right flavor profile he adds what he described as simply "red blending wine."
When I asked him what grapes were in the "red blending wine," Broman insisted he didn’t know, but that it’s common to buy bulk wine samples that have already been assembled, and the percentage of blending wine added is small enough that the wine can legally be labeled as Pinot Noir.
“We don’t know [what grapes] they are,” he said. “It sounds like I’m being evasive, but I don’t know what it is. We’re simply focusing on the flavor.”
Pinot is the most delicate of reds, so it’s likely a red blending wine would be mostly Pinot. But some wineries add a dash of Syrah for color and backbone.
In this case it matters less what’s in the wine than what it tastes like, and this one is yummy Pinot Noir and easy to drink.