David Lawrason picks nine great, affordable pinot noirs from around the world
Pinot noir is my desert island wine. It’s light and refreshing, and it pairs with just about any food. I adore it. For centuries, Burgundy, with its cool climate and limestone-rich soils, was one of the few places on the planet that could coax great wine from the famously precious, thin-skinned grape. As a result, pinot prices were inflated—one of the world’s most expensive reds is Burgundy’s Domaine Romanee-Conti pinot, which sells for $11,000. In the 1970s, under the disapproving gaze of the French, winemakers started planting pinot in Oregon, New Zealand, California and Ontario. The resulting wines were often exciting, though still expensive. Then 2004’s sleeper hit Sideways chronicled a pinot-swilling novelist’s road trip through California wine country and propelled the wine into the limelight. The heartbreak grape, as it’s known to vintners due to its finnicky nature, is now grown all over the globe and is much more affordable. While some may lament the popularization of the once-elite grape, I’m thrilled it’s more widely available. Here, nine bottles under $25 from Ontario, Australia and everywhere in between.
$24 | Willamette Valley, Oregon | 89 points
Amity’s Myron Redford was a mid-’70s pioneer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He has stayed true to the French style, while some Willamette neighbours lean toward a softer, California style. This one is coarse, edgy and loaded with cranberry fruit, oak spice and barnyard notes. Perfect with steak. LCBO 124594
$18 | Niagara Peninsula | 86 points
Ontario’s cool climate and limestone-based soil are similar to Burgundy’s. As a result, this pinot delivers classic high acid and low alcohol, with cran-raspberry fruit. It’s a pale, light prototype with herbs and toasty oak spice. Complex for the money, although sour-edged. LCBO 417642
$19 | Marlborough, New Zealand | 86 points
New Zealand is emerging as a leader in pinot noirs under $25. While cheaper versions are often confected, this one avoids that pitfall. It’s pale, with perfumy rhubarb-cherry jam fruit, plus evergreen notes. It’s mid-weight, smooth, sweetish and hot on the finish. Chill lightly. Vintages LCBO 626390
$16 | Pemberton, Western Australia | 88 points
The far-flung, cool-climate corner of southwest Australia is promising for pinot, although it’s barely on the radar. This red is light- to mid-weight, smooth and juicy, with classic pinot cran-cherry fruit, tobacco smoke and underbrush character. Tannins are fine, but there is some heat. LCBO 215194
$11 | Central Valley | 87 points
Chile’s climate is too warm for pinot noir, but Cono Sur has designed a special section for growing it. This one isn’t graceful, but it delivers good pinot character for $11, with vibrant cranberry, cinnamon and green herb flavours, set in a hot, tannic frame. Serve with your Thanksgiving turkey. LCBO 341602
$17.50 | Adelaide Hills, South Australia | 88 points
Unlike most of Australia, Adelaide’s hills are cool enough to grow pinot. This energetic, tense and light red blasts classic cran-cherry fruit with floral, cinnamon and pine forest aromas. It’s zesty and a touch green, with gritty, juicy acidity. Best for casual dinners of pizza or grilled chicken. LCBO 215095
Most Burgundy pinot noirs under $20 are scrawny and tart. But this warm vintage produced good ripeness and weight with sour cherry fruit, cedary spice and woodsmoke nuances. It’s mid-weight, a touch sweet and juicy, with peppery spice and some new oak tannin and resin. LCBO 665406
$20 | Monterey County, California | 88 points
Some commercial-scale vineyards in Pacific-cooled Monterey deliver better value than more established California regions like Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Santa Barbara. This easy-drinking pinot packs complexity and richness with oak, mocha, cran–sour cherry, leather and meaty notes. LCBO 226555
$22 | Prince Edward County, Ontario | 89 points
This cool, limestone-laced region on Lake Ontario is North America’s newest stage for the pinot noir craze. This light, crisp, floral, cran-cherry–scented example embodies the charm, precision and minerality of County pinot. Available at the winery or online. rosehallrun.com
Scores: David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality.
A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.