Pinot noir is among the most ancient of fine wine grapes, and perhaps that accounts for some of its uncommon qualities. Most other grape varieties used for making wine have been more thoroughly domesticated, the result of careful breeding that selects for vines that offer the deepest color and strongest flavors, but that are also easy to grow and generous in their crop yields. Pinot noir is quite the reverse. Its grapes make pale-looking red wines that are flavorful but not forcefully so. It is a fickle grape that prefers cool climates and has poor resistance to rot and disease. Pinot noir is also notorious in the wine trade for producing less fruit per vine than its competitors, making it difficult for vintners to produce satisfying wines at affordable prices. Despite all this, it is the untamed aspect of pinot noir's flavor that makes it so desirable. Where other red wines taste predictably of fruit desserts, from cherry pie to blueberry cobbler, pinot noirs can be far more earthy, with an outdoorsy scent that can be more reminiscent of walks in the woods than of baked goods. It can be hard to find decent pinot noirs for less than $20 a bottle, but this winery's reserve bottling reliably combines the best of both worlds — a luscious raspberry jam flavor and a savory scent of wild mushrooms and herbs.
Angeline "Reserve" Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, Calif. $13.99 (regularly $16.99; sale price through April 1). PLCB Item #2202