Cheap Wine That Doesn't Suck: Good, Cheap Pinot

Cheap pinot noir is a moron. Cheap, good pinot noir is an oxymoron.    

Pinot noir, you see, is the Sarah Palin of grapes -- flighty, erratic, unpredictable, hard to handle -- though unlike the nitwit from Wasilla, the result can be anything but simple and stupid. It's that ornery nature that demands exceptional skill from the winemaker, not to mention exceptional fruit, typically produced from low-yielding vines planted in limited areas with precise ranges of temperature, amounts of rainfall, and compositions of soil.    

Good pinot noir is almost always expensive. Great pinot noir, which is almost always to say the finest wines of Burgundy, is on a financial plane with Ferraris, Palm Beach real estate, and taxpayer bailouts of thieving Wall Street greedheads.    

But every once in a while, a winemaker gets hold of some good fruit, makes a good pinot noir, and sells it for a price those of us who weren't born with collateralized debt obligations in our mouths can actually afford. The 2007 Robert Mondavi Private Selection, for example. It costs $11, which in the world of wine is damned near the equivalent of free. Although it doesn't display any of the prized earthy, leathery, "barnyard-y" aromas and flavors characteristic of fine Burgundies (not that many California pinots do), it delivers rather elegant strawberry and raspberry flavors with an undercurrent of spice and a tart, lingering finish.

Like most pinots, it plays well with all kinds of food, from meaty fish like salmon and tuna to a thick, juicy veal chop or hearty roasted pork. Let's see Sarah Palin do that.

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Bill Citara