Pinot on a Budget 

Five affordable pinot noirs prove how great the grape can be.

Wyndham Estate Pinot Noir Bin 333, S. E. Australia, 2001, $10. Usually Australia is simply too warm to produce interesting pinot. The grape can taste like an overinflated tire in the sun instead of the soft cherry flavor that is the lighter style of the grape. Its light, agreeable cherrylike flavor and light color are amazing for an Australian pinot noir.

Alamos Pinot Noir, Argentina, 2002, $11. Their last vintage was superb red wine but bore absolutely no resemblance to pinot noir. This wine is a different story. With pinot, it has to be about complexity — some sherries with a touch of strawberry thrown in and the remembrance of the taste of the wine long after you have tasted it. Go Argentina.

Pinot Express, Benton Lane Winery, Oregon, 2001, $11. Three inexpensive pinots in a row is a miracle. Oregon always can pull it off because of the sophistication of the wineries and their local audience. These people know their pinot. The problem is that we usually extract a heavy toll for that knowledge; their wines have become very expensive. Some things have changed — namely an abundance of grapes, which means the occasional pinot or two at an absurdly reasonable price. This is a perfectly light, luscious and delectable Oregon pinot noir.

Echelon Pinot Noir, Central Coast, 2001, $12. California keeps inching into the pinot budget sweepstakes by virtue of its discovery of its big three growing areas: Carneros, Russian River and Central Coast. These are places where the grape excels. This Central Coast pinot doesn't hit with pinpoint accuracy, but it certainly delivers good pinot flavor at a budget price.

Santa Barbara Winery Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, 2000, $21. A new arrival in these parts, this wine delivers the pure, poised fruit of the grape. This is the kind of pinot that will make you believe it is worth the effort to seek out the great ones. When it is seamless, there is no other grape quite like it. S



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