With Bottles from $12-20, an Excellent Vintage for California Pinot Noir | Wine Enthusiast
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With Bottles from $12-20, an Excellent Vintage for California Pinot Noir

Something clicked for California Pinot Noir in 2019. Several lower- and medium-priced wines from the vintage taste like they should be twice as expensive, opening a wonderful window of opportunity for consumers shopping in the $12 to $20 range.

Both large and small wineries produced outstanding values, drawing on vineyards from all over the map: North Coast, Central Coast, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. It’s not that price came down in most cases, but quality came up. What happened? Some of it is due to weather.

“2019 is the greatest vintage since 2007 down here,” says Santa Barbara-based Doug Margerum, producer of the stunning, $20 Valle de Inez 2019 Pinot Noir. “It was a very, very cool, mild summer and morphed into a cool fall harvest,” he says. The extra hang time allowed fully developed flavors and a smooth, well-controlled harvest and fermentation.

Other winemakers and a major broker of grapes and bulk wine told us that a big surplus of Pinot Noir grapes in 2019 was a boon for some brands, keeping down prices on grapes and bulk wine. This allowed winemakers to upgrade their blends with better quality juice without having to raise suggested retail prices.

Expect the best of these bargains to taste a little brighter and better balanced than usual, without overpowering alcohol, and with vivid fruits and complex spices. Overdosing with oak flavors was rare in these wines, letting the variety’s tantalizing cherry, raspberry and black tea nuances shine through.

An image of bottles of California Pinot Noir
A styled image of red wine glass and bottles of California Pinot Noir. / Photo by: Ashton Worthington / Styling by: JJ Chan

93 Valle de Inez 2019 Pinot Noir (San Luis Obispo County). This vintage of Doug Margerum’s more affordable label is a complex and delicious stunner, beginning with opulent aromas of black cherry, wet loam and light mint on the nose. There’s a tight line of stony, loamy minerality on the palate, balancing the wild raspberry, mulberry and black-pepper spice flavors. Editors’ Choice. —M.K. abv: 14% Price: $20

92 Kendall-Jackson 2019 Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir (California). Vivid fruit, toasted oak and black-tea flavors find excellent balance and make a great impression on the palate as this full-bodied wine layers complexity on depth. It shows a nice tension in the texture, lifting black-cherry, rhubarb and hints of mushrooms. Editors’ Choice. —J.G. abv: 14.5% Price: $20

92 Sketchbook 2019 Pinot Noir (Mendocino County). Nicely taut and well balanced, this reliable wine wraps its intricate cherry, black tea and black-currant flavors in light tannins and braces them with snappy acidity. Many flavor and textural elements combine for a harmonious balance. Editors’ Choice. —J.G. abv: 13.5% Price: $18

91 Bogle 2019 Pinot Noir (California). Rich black-fruit notes fill the aromas and flavors of this saturated and full-bodied wine. Gorgeous black cherry and blueberry flavors are wrapped in fine-grained tannins for a mouth-filling effect. Best Buy. —J.G. abv: 14.5% Price: $11

A styled image of glasses and bottles of California Pinot Noir
A styled image of red wine glasses and bottles of California Pinot Noir. / Photo by: Ashton Worthington / Styling by: JJ Chan

91 Tassajara 2019 Pinot Noir (Monterey). There’s a touch of game on the nose of this affordable and complex bottling, which also shows aromas of smoked berry, clove and garam masala. Roasted strawberry and red plum meet with game, orange rind, herbs and cracked pepper on the well-seasoned palate. Editors’ Choice. —M.K. abv: 13.5% Price: $18

90 Benziger 2019 Pinot Noir (Monterey County). Light raspberry and cranberry aromas are wrapped in caramel and herbs on the nose of this bottling. Oregano and marjoram flavors kick off a complex palate, where dried purple-flower, roasted plum and zesty lemon-peel flavors also pop. Editors’ Choice. —M.K. abv: 13.5% Price: $20

90 Bonterra 2019 Made with Organic Grapes Pinot Noir (Mendocino County). A broad mouthfeel and generous fruit and spice flavors make this velvety and layered wine easy to love. It boasts subtle cinnamon, black plum, clove and vanilla flavors on a full body, all wrapped in soft tannins. —J.G. abv: 13.8% Price: $18

90 Verraco Ridge 2019 Pinot Noir (Monterey County). This is a solid deal for a widely available wine. Aromas of smashed cranberry, pomegranate and crumpled red flowers meet with muddy clay on the nose. The palate is rich yet still shows some finesse, blending grilled cherry and cranberry with dried wild-herb flavors. Editors’ Choice. —M.K. abv: 13.7% Price: $20

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