Cheap Pinot Noir -- Not an Oxymoron?

Dave Nelson

Finding good pinot noir for under $30 is a tough task, but there's hope, in the form of a positive trend arising from our nation's recent, ahem, financial difficulties: Top wineries have been releasing value-priced bottlings. When we spot a pinot noir that fits this profile, Gut Check involuntarily reaches for our corkscrew.

Today's offering comes from Copain Wines, and the hand of talented winemaker Wells Guthrie. A producer of high-quality pinot noir and syrah since its inception in 1999, Copain made a deliberate stylistic change in the direction of their pinot-making with the 2006 vintage.

Unhappy with how previous efforts were standing up to age, he began picking earlier, aiming to get ripe fruit with less sugar. (If you want to geek out, Wells has published a four-part video on YouTube that explains it all.) For a producer, particularly one whose wines garnered a lot of "points" from the vinoscenti, to abandon a commercially successful path because he is not satisfied with the wines requires major cojones.

So we know Wells has balls. But has his effort borne fruit?

2008 Copain Pinot Noir Tous Ensemble Anderson Valley ($23, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar)

This wine screams California pinot noir: looks like rubies, smells like cherries. But there's more -- those telltale earthy undertones that let you know you've got your hands on the real deal, plus whispers of smoke and spice. The magic of pinot noir comes through loud and clear, in this wine's uncanny capacity to be satiny and subtle and, at the same time, light and engaging.

It's the red-wine equivalent of a dream date.

The Verdict: Thrill

OK, 23 bucks is not cheap. But pinot noir costs more because it's a fickle wine made from fickle grapes, and you're not going to find many $23 pinot noirs, period, let alone really good ones. Copain is a popular label for many restaurant wine programs, so you might find it on a list or two around town. Even at $45 it'd be a fine wine for the money.

33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar 1913 Park Avenue; 314-231-9463

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