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Wine Review: Notorious pinot noir humbles finest winemakers

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Pinot noir is probably the most misunderstood and often neglected grape variety in the entire library of wine.

The grape is responsible for some of the world’s most astounding successes as well as its most abysmal failures, and it’s notorious for bringing down wineries and humbling the finest winemakers. It is a variety that does not age in a slow and steady progression, as do most wines, but rather in a series of deep sighs. It is also the grape that is responsible for some of the world’s most expensive wines. As you probably can tell, it is a very intriguing and challenging grape variety.

In France, the location of the vineyard is of such importance that often a great vineyard is located just across a tiny dirt road from one that produces only mediocre fruit. A 125-acre walled section called Clos de Vougeot (“clow de voojay”) is shared between 82 individual growers, some of whom have been in production since the 1400s. Believe it or not, even with the ferocity of World War II, the combatants on both sides specifically avoided any action in Burgundy that might disturb the ancient vineyards. And the 1945 vintage was considered among the finest ever produced.

On America’s West Coast, pinot noir grows very well, but it rarely achieves the fame of the great French Burgundy wines; they also do not reach their prices. This is not to diminish the American pinot noir wines in any way. They are, for the most part, very American and reflect a style of their own, stressing full flavor, aroma and plenty of fruit. Here are some very affordable pinot noir wines that illustrate what an American pinot noir can do.

Moobuzz 2013 Monterey Pinot Noir ($20)
To create this wine, Moobuzz’s vintners select fruit from vineyards in Monterey County, Calif., an area that has become famous for the quality of its pinot noir grapes. This wine is resplendent with the aromas of mushrooms, plums and summer flowers, while the flavor accents pomegranates, blackberries, cherries, strawberries and chocolate. There is also oak and vanilla in the background to add further complexity. This is definitely not the best pinot noir ever tasted, but it’s recommended without question.

Pennywise 2013 California Pinot Noir ($12)
This wine glories in its full-fruit flavor that the pinot noir can present at an affordable price. It is all too rare when a pinot noir wine puts the fruit up front, but this Pennywise most certainly does. The aroma is powerful, stressing dark black cherries and red summer berries intermingled with an earthy element that adds even further interest. These aromas are carried through to the flavor and then continue on to the finish, which is relatively long and fruity. Finding a pinot noir that is drinkable and presents quality while selling in this price range is almost impossible.

Leese-Fitch 2014 California Pinot Noir ($12)
This wine is a true child of California and reflects the fine hand of August Sebastiani. It is 92 percent pinot noir, blended with a bit of grenache and barbera to round out the flavor and aroma. The result is an excellent expression of the incredible possibilities of the pinot noir grape. The color is a bright cherry red, and the aroma is heavy with the scents of cherries, red raspberries, oak and, of all things, a hint of root beer. These aromas carry over to the flavor where they meld with a layer of warm spices. Although this wine is California fruity, it also has the softness and smoothness of a classical pinot noir and is therefore definitely worth the attention.

Nixa resident Bennet Bodenstein is a wine columnist and manages He can be reached at


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