Pinot a hard grape to grow, but payoff is sweet

Pinot noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow. It is fickle and if not picked at the right time can seem too acidic, easily rot or produce over-ripe fruit. The irony is that with its current popularity, one would think that it was highly reliable and climatically flexible.

Part of pinot noir’s allure for many winemakers is that it’s the ultimate challenge. If you can make pinot noir, you should be able to make anything. But there is a difference between making pinot noir and making it well. I have been a long-time fan of this grape.

With its explosion over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to taste a lot of great wines from new producers such as TR Elliott in Sonoma and Pyramid Valley in New Zealand. On the other hand, I’ve tasted a lot of wines that have too much alcohol, flavors that taste like artificial candy and price tags that belong on a Prada purse.

I have the utmost of respect for vintners who make really good pinot noir and, throughout the world, there are a lot of hard-working, talented folks who do. Here are three that won’t break the bank.

Domaine Edmond Cornu Bourgogne Rouge, 2005 (Burgundy, France): This estate makes outstanding wines from Corton as well as possibly the best wines in Ladoix, I think. The Bourgogne Rouge is composed of fruit from both Ladoix and Chorey-les-Beaune, where the Cornu family has several small parcels. With mushroom, cola, herbal-spicy-earthy notes, red berry fruit and light tannins, this a must for people who love Burgundy. Suggested retail: $25

Mount Eden Pinot Noir, Saratoga Cuvee, 2006 (Santa Cruz Mountains, California): Mount Eden is one of the most historically important estates in California. Home to some of the old Paul Masson vineyards, it also produces some of the most long-lived wines from pinot noir. The Saratoga Cuvee, made from Santa Cruz Mountain and Saratoga fruit, is meant for early drinking but still provides plenty of satisfaction. Brimming over with coffee, spice, forest floor aromas and cherry, raspberry fruit, it lives up to the Mount Eden. Suggested retail: $29

Kunstler Pinot Noir, 2005 (Rheingau, Germany): Originally from what is now the Czech Republic, the Kunstler family has been making wine for four centuries. Today, Gunter Kunstler, whose father, Franz, emigrated to Germany, is in charge of this terrific estate in the Rheingau. While Riesling is the focus of its production, pinot noir is not an afterthought and one sip of this wine is all the proof you need. Light-bodied, it has delicate strawberry, blood orange fruit flavors with an overriding, aromatic minerality. Suggested Retail: $29

Patricia S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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