Friday, January 31, 2014

The wine times they are a'changing ...

Good Pinot Noirs for $10 and $20

Some days I wake up and realize that I've been writing about wine for a long time. I don't even want to count the years, but let's just say that I wrote my first wine column at The Louisville Times, where I was also a news reporter, in the early 1980s. Stop calculating! I just said I don't want to count the years!

I'm particularly conscious of this time span, though, when I stop and think about what's changed on the wine scene since those days.  The Wine Spectator was a tabloid newspaper. Robert Parker was a wine-loving lawyer in Maryland who put out a little newsletter for his friends.

There was no Internet, or at least none that any of us knew about.  Good wine came from France, lovable wine came from Italy, cheap sweet wine came from Germany, and only a few of us east of the Mississippi knew that California was starting to make some amazing wines in addition to all that stuff in big jugs. What's more, hardly anybody paid more than $6 for a bottle of wine.

And then there was the conventional wisdom that we'll examine in today's sermon:  Pinot Noir was a finicky grape that didn't really grow well or make interesting wine anywhere but in Burgundy.

This may even have been true, although a handful of pioneers - not least Josh Jensen of California's Calera - were working hard to change that. Still, even into the 1990s, Pinot made outside Burgundy had a lot to prove, and a fair amount of prejudice to overcome from wine enthusiasts who thought they were savvy.

Talk about change!  Nowadays, splendid Pinot comes from all over the globe, and it comes in a variety of styles that aren't all made in the Burgundian model.  California is a Pinot-land beyond question, and some might argue that Oregon Pinot at its best can exceed the quality of the Golden State's.  Travel around the world, from Northern Italy's <i>Pinot Nero</i> to Germany's Spätburgunder and on to New Zealand and beyond, and you'll find fine Pinot all over the place.

And if the average price tag of wine in general has risen significantly from those $6 days, there's still plenty of excellent Pinot to be had for $20 or so, and more than a few exceptional bottles as low as $10.

Today I highlight  two California Pinots - one at each of those price points -  that I would be happy to drink with dinner any night.  Click on to this week's edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor for the full column and my notes on the $20 Meiomi 2012 Pinot Noir and the $10 Mark West 2011 California Pinot Noir.