As I've noted before in this blog the search for cheap Pinot Noir is a bit of an obsession for many in the wine community. Like Ahab seeking Moby Dick or Monty Python pursuing the Holy Grail, wine enthusiasts chase after each new whiff or rumour of inexpensive wines that capture the essence of the most mercurial, and therefore most sought after varietal, Pinot Noir.
The problem with Pinot Noir is that not only is it tough to grow, it's also tough to make wine from after you grow it. Pinot Noir is genetically unstable, the fruit of any season may not even resemble the fruit of the parent vine in size, shape, cluster, flavour or aroma. To give you an idea of how tough it is to keep track of Pinot Noir consider that Cabernet Sauvignon has twelve identifiable clones, or types if you will, whereas Pinot Noir has forty six recognized in Burgundy alone and as many as 250 to 1,000 different genetic variants worldwide, according to an ongoing study at Cornell University. So the Pinot Noir you grew last year may not be the same as the one you grow this year, even if the weather was identical, making consistency a bit of a problem. Even after you grow the Pinot Noir the fermentation process is fraught with risk as the grape's high number of amino acids cause it to ferment violently often speeding the process beyond a winemaker's control, toss in difficult colour retention due to thin skins and a propensity to acetification, souring, and you have to wonder why anyone bothers.
Well they bother because when everything aligns the results are simply sublime, little Jesus sliding down your throat in silk pyjamas, or velvet trousers, and all that. Great Pinot Noir is one of the true treasures of the wine world, I'm not sure anything else compares, but finding reasonable representations at the $12-$20 range is much harder than with almost any other red varietal except perhaps Nebbiolo. Still we try, endlessly we search the shelves in the hopes of an epiphany and occasionally we are rewarded, I've written before about The People's Pinot Noir and Little Yering Pinot Noir and last night I tried another contestant.
Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir is from an old, established in 1875, and massive, over 2 million cases produced annually, Chilean winery. I haven't spent a lot of time drinking the wines of Santa Carolina, I've occasionally bought their Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon when it goes on sale, although at $12.99 it's already good value but have not tried the Pinot Noir recently, or their highly regarded Syrah which retails at $17.99.
Anyway I grabbed a bottle of the Reserva Pinot Noir and popped the cork last night to go with a herb crusted pork roast and the results were pretty good. Let's temper the expectations folks, this is after all $14 Pinot Noir, but the wine was varietally true and enjoyable. The nose was fragrant with strawberry, rose petal and a hint of tomato and the flavour followed up with more strawberry, a bit of black cherry and a touch of earthy rhubarb/beet, all perfectly normal and correct for the variety. The weight was a little light however and the high alcohol dominated slightly, the finish was reasonable but after the bottle had been open thirty minutes or so the wine began to assert an overly acidic tone.
Overall I'd give this bottle a moderate recommendation, it's real Pinot Noir and reasonably priced but I'd probably be inclined to spend the extra $3 and buy the People's Pinot Noir, still if you want Pinot Noir under $15 the Santa Carolina is just fine.