The 2016 MacMurray pinot noir from St. Helena, California, is available locally at Big Red Liquors ($19.99). Photo by Rodney Margison


Pinot noir is perhaps my favorite wine. But there are some pinots I can’t abide, or they can’t abide me. And I have friends who don’t like any of them. There is really no accounting for taste.

Pinot noir literally means “black pine,” for the pinecone shape of its grape clusters. The wine’s flavor is distinct and instantly recognizable with an upfront layer of bright cherry and a background of earth and dark berries.

In top quality pinot noirs, including the famous French burgundies, the flavor profile can be profound. The French describe it as “cherry and old meat,” meaning fruit essence over something dark, almost off, and compelling.

Vintners consider it a difficult grape. The vine is picky about soil and weather, the grape is subject to damage from wind, frost, and various forms of fungus and virus, and production is sensitive to yeast selection and fermentation techniques.

Here in the consumer world, it continues to be difficult. Locating an affordable bottle of good quality pinot noir is difficult. A few years ago, I could easily find a drinkable pinot noir for around $10. Now it’s $15 to $20; $30-plus for one that really shows some character. Cost for the upper tier wines, including the French burgundies, is stratospheric—$100 or more.

I’ve had some excellent bottles at all levels. Unfortunately, a few burgundies did not sit well with me. They tasted of burnt rubber. It has happened rarely and must be a defect in my palate, as others drinking nearby were singing their praises. C’est la vie.

I found several reasonably priced pinot noirs from Washington, Oregon, and California, but each was flawed by undeveloped flavor and bitterness.

Only a few showed some merit. The 2017 Seaglass ($12.99, Big Red Liquors) from Santa Barbara County, California, brought upfront juicy flavor in a medium bodied wine with no obvious flaws. At the low end of the cost spectrum, this wine was a true bargain. A 2019 Ocean View from San Louis Obispo in California’s Central Coast ($16.99, Aldi) carried the pinot character in a light body with some odd bitterness on the finish. Given the reasonable cost, it was a good find.

The 2018 Joel Gott from St. Helena California ($17.97, Big Red Liquors) brought the pinot noir character in a medium body, with only a slight bitterness marring the flavor. Once again, cost made it a bargain.

And a 2016 MacMurray ($19.99, Big Red Liquors) brought fresh, jammy fruit and the iconic pinot noir character without flaws in a wine with medium body. Although slightly more expensive, it was a superior wine with its definition of flavor and fine balance.

Keep looking. Trust your palate. And I will drink to that.