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Discovering a Rarity: A Great $8 Pinot Noir

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 22, 2009 1:50pm ET

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.


Robert Dwyer
Wellesley, MA —  April 22, 2009 7:55pm ET
Fascinting stuff, James. A great $20 Pinot is tough, but $8? That's amazing. It sounds like they were successful in blending a remarkable value Pinot Noir. At 35,000 cases I hope some will make it out to me in MA.This touches on a point that I'm particularly interested in and that is the steroid-esque inclusion of Syrah in Pinot Noir. Some find this to be taboo, but for me I've got no problems with it as long as it conforms to regulations for the appellation and it is delicious.Cheers!Robert DwyerThe Wellesley Wine Press
Jonathan Merer
denver, co —  April 22, 2009 11:00pm ET
James, what did you rate this wine, or do we have to wait for the tasting notes...Also, I read your article about the 87 Beringer merlot you "found" in your cellar recently. I'm curious, about how many bottles do you have?
Kasey A Carpenter
Fort Worth, Texas —  April 22, 2009 11:21pm ET
yeah, I'd guess syrah.
Michael Bonanno
April 23, 2009 5:54am ET
James, have you had that italian pinot that suckling reviewd that was 90 pts, an 06 I believe, and like 8 bucks? That was nice, and now i am going after Red Tree. .
James Laube
Napa, CA —  April 23, 2009 1:54pm ET
Michael, no, haven't but will...Jonathan, I'm sure that was the last.
Scott Rynkowski
Grafton, MA —  April 23, 2009 4:15pm ET
Robert, I went to red tree's site, and then called the MA distributor, Turnpike liquors on RT9 Southboro, I'm sure you've driven by it, should have some. As should Colony Market on rt85 also in Southboro. Didn't ask about Wellesley.
Andrew Benallack
Mornington Australia —  April 24, 2009 12:44am ET
Hi James,How many points did you give the wine?I am interested to understand the true value of the wine via pts rating. regards Andrew
Russell Quong
Sunnyvale, CA —  April 24, 2009 11:04pm ET
Spanning the two recent blog posts (value and Pope Valley), I thought the Pope Valley 2005 (?) Cabernet Sauvignon at Trader Joe's for $8 was a gem about 9 months ago. Fresh, pure red/dark berry with nice acidity. I had a hard time finding it, so others must have caught on. (The Pope Valley Merlot was not terribly good, though.)
Robert Dwyer
Wellesley, MA —  April 25, 2009 3:20pm ET
Hey Scott- thanks for checking for me! I appreciate it.I just picked up a bottle at Cambridge Wine & Spirits (it was the last bottle they had, but they said they'd be getting more in next week). It was pretty funny- I was looking around in the Pinot Noir section and couldn't find it. When I asked the store clerk he pointed me over to the bargain bins with the big orange stickers on them. $7.99 on sale! (plus no additional tax in MA of course.) Now I know why they kind of chuckled at me when I asked if they had the 2008 vintage. :)
Andrew Benallack
Mornington Australia —  April 30, 2009 10:12pm ET
Hi James,When will we be receiving your pts rating on this wine?Regards,Andrew Benallack
Phil Carpenter
San Diego, CA —  May 1, 2009 7:57pm ET
Mr. Laube, thanks for heads up on this. Local wine store here in San Diego is selling it for $5.99! I bought a bottle for the heck of it and I'm truly surprised. I let it open up for two hours before drinking. I'll spare the folks a review...but what a QPR steal for $5.99!!
Kc Tucker
Escondido, CA —  May 4, 2009 8:41pm ET
It's not a bad Pinot, nor is it fantastic. It tastes like a $5.99 Pinot.
John Denune
San Diego —  May 5, 2009 4:20pm ET
I agree it's not a bad Pinot, nor is it fantastic, but to me it tastes like a lot of $20-$30 Pinot I've had over the years, so at this price point, it's a very nice daily drinker.
Kelly Lang
Portland, Oregon —  May 10, 2009 8:34pm ET
James, i think you hit the wall on this one. I bought a case of this stuff and it was awful. I am willing to sell what i have left for half what i paid!! Very bad stuffSorry, I was hopeful there was such a deal. not true. ugh!
Robin Ault
CO —  June 5, 2009 10:34am ET
I too made the mistake of buying a case of this Pinot only to be completely disappointed, so much so that I would proclaim it as the worst Pinot Noir I have had the misfortune of tasting. Buyers beware.
Steven Glazer
Orinda —  June 17, 2009 6:59pm ET
I just tasted it and would call it pleasant and nice. It is certainly a great value. Thanks for the review.
Kevin Muth
Cincinnati —  July 7, 2009 7:43pm ET
Bought a case at Costco......for $5.99 plus 10% case not to bad. I have had much worse Pinot at the 15-20 price range. This wine is certainly enjoyable as an everyday drinking Pinot!
Jack Potter
July 20, 2009 2:29pm ET
Mr. Laube:This is terrible industrial swill! How could you possibly lead us to buy this wine? I poured it down the toilet, after one or two sips.

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