Finding a good QPR (quality price ratio) Pinot Noir can be a bit tricky. Pinot is such a temperamental grape—when it's off, it's not very good but when it's good it's magic in a bottle. Perhaps more than any grape, Pinot Noir expresses it's place or terroir more than just about any grape. And it does so pretty dramatically.
Because of how temperamental it is, Pinot Noir is all over the place in terms of quality (read: how much you like drinking it). The grape requires more work in the vineyard and in the winery, which ultimately affects price. You don't see many $10 Pinots for a reason. It's not like Chardonnay, Cabernet or Merlot where you can produce the wine more cheaply. With that said, when you find a Pinot Noir for about twenty bucks that blows your socks off, it's something special.
When I tried the 2007 Domaine Carneros Avant-Garde Pinot for the first time at the winery I said, "@#%! how much is this????" I had to do a double take to look at the price tag. This wine is a Rick's Pick for a few reasons:
1. 2007 is a stellar vintage in California, especially in the Napa area. Most wineries has great fruit to work with, which is 75% of what determines quality.
2. Domaine Carneros produces exceptional sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They don't work with many grapes, but luckily Pinot Noir is one of them.
3. Carneros is known for having a great climate for growing grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Carneros is located at the south end of Napa Valley. Most wine drinkers may not realize how close Carneros is to the bay. It butts up against the San Pablo bay, which in turn brings cold air off the water over the grapes. Pinot Noir loves cold air.
4. Domaine Carneros is a fabulous winery, and one of the few wine clubs we belong to. They are owned by the Tattinger Champagne house in France, so their approach to wine making is exceptional. I've yet to find a wine of their that wasn't made with precision and quality.
5. The X-Factor I talked about in my 7 Things About Wine post mentions an element you can't quite describe. A Pinot Noir of this caliber normally goes for $50 easy. Considering the fact the Avant Garde goes for less than $25 we buy it in bunches.
Get your hands on a bottle and get some in your glass. Swirl it around and let the fresh aromatics of strawberry, dark raspberries and black cherries take over your senses. There's a delicate choreography of spicy vibrancy that unfolds across your palate like two dancers on Dancing with the Stars. It's surprisingly complex and well balanced with just the right amount of funky earthiness and a kiss of oak, letting the fruit show through. Well done!