We are growing tired of talking about the impact of the award-winning movie “Sideways” had on pinot noir. But the truth is that the impact of the movie not only drove sales of pinot noir — it drove prices. So it was a good movie, but it really didn’t help those of us who are priced out of the best pinot noir.

Searching for a decent $15 pinot noir is like searching for a reasonably price Mercedes-Benz. If you want to travel with the big boys, pony up.

It’s not impossible to find a reasonably priced pinot, if you are willing to lower your expectations somewhere south of a great burgundy and north of $20. We were pleasantly surprised to find some gems in this category, even if these pinot noirs didn’t have the complexity of a $60 version.

The hot demand for pinot noir drives producers to do crazy things, like grow the grape in areas that make no sense. Italy and Australia come to mind. Then there is Red Bicyclette, a wine owned by Gallo but produced in the Langudeoc region of southern France. Just recently, a French court convicted a group of winemakers who sold Gallo a “pinot noir” that was actually a blend of merlot and syrah.

Then there is the issue of the 2008 pinot noirs from Monterey County. Wracked by persistent fires, the vineyards produced grapes that took on a smokey or “wet ashtray” flavor when vinified. Most producers made their pinot noir under a different label or sold off the grapes, but buyers should be cautious about buying an $8 pinot noir — it may be too good to be true.

Even at these prices, you may find the following wines too expensive. But it’s the best we could find:

Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2007 ($21). Produced by the resepectable Talbott Vineyards, this pinot noir named after the youngest of the Talbott’s children has good complexity for the price. Ripe berry and cherry flavors with notes of plum and cinnamon. Good mouthfeel. It is our favorite in this category.

La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey 2008 ($24). Nose of ripe strawberry and a bit of spice. Very smooth and harmonious in the mouth with no hard edges, just ripe fruit and a mouth filling strawberry experience with a mineral note. A wonderful wine to drink by itself, or with salmon and pork dishes. This was a favorite of several diners during a dinner.

Cambria Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Julia’s Vineyard 2008 ($25). If you want to experience what California can do for pinot noir at a reasonable price try this beauty. Spicy lead pencil nose with spicy, black cherry and cedar flavors in the mouth. Great length. Pleasing now but should evolve well over the next two to three years.

Greg Norman Estates Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2008 ($15). A good pinot noir for the price, this Santa Barbara version sports ripe cherry flavors, a wet forest character and a dash of sweet vanillin oak. Very soft texture.

Flock Monterey Pinot Noir 2008 ($15). Another overnight label of Don Sebastiani, Flock is a terrific line of wines focused on a number of California appellations. We like the bright berry and spice flavors of the pinot noir, but all of them wines are well-made.

Kendall-Jackson California Pinot Noir 2007 ($18). Earthy pinot noir with black cherry and currant flavors and a touch of sweet vanillin oak.

Sebastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007 ($18). An excellent value in this usually expensive category, the Sebastiani pinot noir delivers lots of cherry fruit with nuances of vanilla, chocolate and allspice. Soft mouthfeel and lingering finish.

Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2008 ($20). This pinot delivers a lot of fruit for the price. Cherry aromas, medium body, soft in the mouth and dotted with vanilla and spice.

Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2008 ($20). One of the few reasonably priced pinot noirs that delivers quality, this Santa Barbara wine has spicy aromas and ripe red berry flavors.

Ecco Domani Sicilia Pinot Noir 2008 ($15). From Italy, this simple pinot noir is balanced with cherry aromas and ripe blackberry flavors.

Erath Winery Pinot Noir 2008 ($19). Here’s a consistent winner from Oregon. Forward cherry flavors with a touch of coffee and smokiness.

Wild Horse Central Coast Pinot Noir 2008 ($22). Easy but lush strawberry flavors with a hint of vanilla and oak.

 

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have visited vineyards all over the world and have been writing a newspaper wine column for more than 20 years. Contact them at: [email protected]

 

– Relishmag.com