With a NH state retail of $16.99 this wine delivers true, albeit one-dimensional, pinot character for the money. With a price and package to please this wine will surely score big in the competitive under $20 Oregon pinot noir category.

Jezebel’s color is a deep ruby suggesting rich fruit extract (perhaps achieved with a long cold-soak?) and her nose is a pleasant balance of smoky oak and true pinot fruit with a hint of forest floor aromatics. Jezebel delivers perfect balance of tart cherry fruit to finishing acidity and is a wonderful mid-week accompaniment to dinner (I enjoyed this with white rice, wilted broccoli rabe and sauted swordfish). The wine’s silky mouthfeel is marred only by a persistence of warming alcohol. The wine is medium-plus in extract and offers a pleasant weight and texture to the mouth, while avoiding all the extremes common to most pinot at this price point: charred oak and over-ripe fruit flavors.

I recommend this wine for someone desiring a good Oregon pinot for under twenty bucks. This one is for simple enjoyment and offers a bit more weight and polish than most for the money. Jezebel will never be the center of one’s attention but start your weekend meal with this wine followed by something more substantial and you will be pleased. Recommended!


How is it that so many inexpensive pinots can be absolutely horrible and over-the-top with oak, alcohol and over-ripe fruit and appear to actually command the greatest market share, while an incredible value and downright delicious pinot such as Esser Cellars Pinot Noir can seem to be overlooked? Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing sexy about it’s package but what a wonderful wine!

This wine displayed a beautiful red transparency which only hinted at some loss of color around its edges. This is traditional pinot at an incredible price. At first its nose was straightforward red fruits (raspberry, cherry and some strawberry) but as the wine opened up (which it needed time to do) it rewarded with subtle cola, licorice and the most judicious employ of oak. This wine is beautifully balanced from its start to long finish and is made in such a purist style that I fear many will quickly dismiss this wine as too simple, too plain. Fresh fruit flavors and enticing aromatics were all at threshold and held my interest throughout dinner (and after)!

Perhaps wines such as these are best enjoyed privately…..as if you wouldn’t want your friends to know that something so inexpensive could be so well made and UNDERSTATED, dare I say elegant? This is certainly not the Hawaiian shirt of pinot (like so many others from California) but rather the simple, plain white linen, pressed-crisp and worn loose on a cool summer’s evening, classic. Highly recommended!

What an honest and satisfying wine at a bargain basement price: Clos de la Belle Marguerite is outstanding everyday Burgundy. Think of her as “Grand Cru-Lite”. Indeed, I have had many Premier Crus that can’t hold a candle to this wine at thrice the price.

The wine opens, after much needed aeration, with wonderful soft aromas of red fruits. Bright strawberry, raspberry, tart cranberry and red cherry flavors are all fresh in perspective. From this backdrop emerge acacia, fennel, smoke and cedar, some forest floor and a hint of Brettanomyces. This wine offers wonderful, restrained aromatic complexity and with her absence of alcohol sting, the nose was invited to inhale deeply.

Marguerite’s palate is very light weight and lean in texture. Her generosity of aroma is only slighted by her reticence in mouthfeel: this wine is not silky in the mouth. Yet, this shortcoming should be excused when Marguerite’s cleansing acidity is considered. This wine is built on a solid structure and is food wine at its best. In fact, this wine comes alive with food, showcasing aromatic complexity and refreshing acidity throughout a meal.

This is traditional pinot noir and outstanding Burgundy for the money: beautifully simple. Highly recommended!


Another well made inexpensive pinot that I found uninspiring. To be honest, I was on the fence about this one for the duration of its drinking. The pinot fruit successfully avoids the common pitfalls suffered by so many domestic PNs at this price point, but it is too cloying and a bit astringent in it’s finish to be enjoyed for more than a single glass.

2003 Angeline Pinot Noir has a deep transparent, ruby and very fresh complexion, akin to lean merlot, while her nose showcases ripe pinot fruit. The wine needed some aeration to blow off a little excess sulfur from the first pour to the last. The aromatic nuance that it does offer is due to pretty good oak integration (some vanilla, dust and masculine spice) but its nose is straightforward in the fruit department: black cherry and raspberry preserves. Definitely not a wine that rewards with layers of aromatic depth.

Therefore, I approached this wine with hopes that its palate would be finely balanced along a smooth textured-fruit and lean acidic beam. I found this wine to be too full and cloying in rich fruit extract, lacking the grip necessary to carry its full frame, and although the wine finishes with some acidity, it seemed astringent to this taster.

If you search for a wine that offers jammy textures and some quenching acidity this wine would be acceptable. While certainly a well-made wine I believe this pinot appeals most to those who prefer a wine which is in the middle of the road: traveling somewhere between big oak and extract and aromatic nuance and traditional winemaking. Perhaps this is mass-produced pinot at its best but I believe there are many other wines far more interesting for similar money. Therefore, I can not recommend this wine.

I know that having great expectations only sets you up for great disappointments, but I will admit that I opened this bottle with more than the ordinary amount of anticipation. Not, mind you, for its lowly appellation, but rather for the great reputation of its producer. I have had other Girardin wines (most recently an incredible Pommard Premier Cru) that have been REAL good. Sadly, I can not say the same for this disappointment.

My experience with Girardin’s wines has shown me that they benefit greatly from aeration and I don’t mean a few minutes of glass swirling either. I mean an hour or more of serious-in-a-decanter kind of aeration; these wines need to stretch their legs a bit.

Girardin’s Bourgogne Rouge is a deep and rich ruby, nearly plum-purple in the glass. In the nose, Cuvee Saint-Vincent is very straight forward black cherry fruit, almost juicy with an underlying “Brett” character that added some aromatic interest. I must admit that to find a wine making flaw, such as Brettanomyces, to be the only interesting aromatic quality of a wine is not saying much. It was not excessive in this wine but present all the same. The oak which it did present was very subtle, of high quality and in the background. Yet, in the end, the wine was real simple to the nose.

Cuvee Saint-Vincent was very disappointing on the palate! This wine is terribly out of balance favoring tart acidity at the expense of fruit extract and mouthfeel. To say this wine is lean is an understatement! This wine is way too acidic for the degree of fruit that it offers.

Ultimately, this wine offered no depth, fruit or real aromatic nuance. One’s left asking what was on offer from this wine. I guess even respected producers can falter and who knows, maybe I am being unduly hard on this wine considering its price point, but I do believe there is better for similar money (see my review Beautifully Simple). In the end, I learned that when searching for really great wines from Girardin (truly one of the better producers in Burgundy) I will pony up the money necessary to make greatness happen! This wine, however, I can not recommend.

What do you get when a big name Napa Valley winery, famous for its big and brawny merlot, takes wing and migrates North-Northwest to the Anderson Valley? Migration Pinot Noir! And if you can get past a glass or two, I think you’ll agree that this wine may be the merlot lover’s pinot noir all season long.

Migration shows big beet and pomegranate reds in the glass and to the nose sweet oak and black cherry fruit. The pinot fruit narrowly avoids being over-ripe and raisined (I thought Anderson Valley was famous for its cool climate?) while presenting a decidedly ripe perspective with black fruit dominating the palate. This, of course, is delivered in a sweet oak frame. I did find a pleasant cocoa quality beneath the surface of sweet vanilla and barrel char, but in the end felt that too much new oak was employed.

Upon tasting Migration the senses are apprehended: this wine is big, real big and dominates the palate with a rich and chewy fruit texture. The mouthfeel is very viscous, bordering on unctuous, and finishes with too much residual sugar to be enjoyed for more than the above mentioned couple of glasses. The little acid that this pinot does offer is buried beneath gobs of chewy fruit extract; I found this wine to be a poor choice for the dinner table.

While being opulent in style, this wine would perform well in a room crowded with food-friendly, lean pinots, for its heavyweight, rich mouthfeel commands one’s attention, but Migration would falter time and again during mealtime due to its cloying residual sugar and dearth of refreshing acidity. It reminded me of a half bottle of Duckhorn Merlot that I enjoyed by the fire during a weekend snowstorm after having dinner: big, chewy, oaky and warming. Yet, the Duckhorn had some great tannin and grip to stand up to its weight while this poor fowl is left stranded, weighed-down, with wings heavy from sticky fruit extract. Not recommended!

Talley Vineyards was first mentioned to me as being a great producer of pinot noir nearly two years ago. I first bought a bottle of their Estate Pinot Noir while in Napa Valley one year ago. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in a mildly compromised state of sobriety, a circumstance complicated by the companionship of a new lady-friend, and excitedly drank my coveted Talley Pinot. Sadly, that bottle went down without much fanfare. Last night and with one year past, my lady-friend and I being better acquainted, circumstances permitted for a more proper evaluation.

Talley Estate Pinot Noir shows garnet with brickish hues near the rim of the glass while its center is deep beet red. The effects of nearly five years bottle age have softened the wine and created a seamless and aromatically generous pinot noir. The wine rewards with an attractive gamey character, warm licorice and acacia in the nose while its fruit backdrop is red and ripe in quality. Raspberry, strawberry and cranberry are sealed in a mellow oak envelope; this wine rewards generously with a soft and seductive nose. In fact, I came back to this wine again and again for its nuanced and captivating aromatics. This wine has it going on!

While the Talley Pinot can be enjoyed for its nose alone, the palate was equally rewarded. A masterful balance of extract to acid distinguish this wine as anything but ordinary, with tart cherry/cranberry flavors playing off soft oak and spice. A subtle ripe tomato broth-like character added depth to the standard pinot profile of red fruit. The mouthfeel was silken, maintaining balance between full and lean, while finishing very long indeed. This is very well-made wine.

This pinot was seamless, very well-integrated and an absolute pleasure to drink (and this is their entry-level offering!). In fact, Talley Estate Pinot Noir may be the standard-bearer for under $30.00 California pinot. Highly recommended!

Now here is a pinot that knows just what it wants to be! To be sure, La Crema Pinot Noir is simple and fruit forward, but it is refreshing to find a pinot that does this so well offering great value in the process. La Crema is well-known for their chardonnay which enjoys a cultish following, representing a significant step-up in quality from the usual Kendall-Jackson set. This pinot is a worthy companion to its paler sibling and is a great wine to enjoy with food.

2003 La Crema Pinot Noir is a transparent and ruby red. This wine is lightly extracted and perfectly balanced from start to finish. It offers bright cherry and raspberry aromas and although decidedly fruit forward, La Crema is in no way over-ripe in fruit character. This is real pinot…..just simple! The palate is rewarded with a soft texture which is smooth and balanced, finishing like tart cherries in the mouth. The little oak this pinot does present is well-balanced and pleasant.

In the end, La Crema impressed me in that it never tried to be anything more than what it was. Unlike some similarly priced pinots that are over-wrought and cooked-through, the simple fruit flavors and excellent balance that La Crema Pinot Noir presents are both honest and refreshing: welcome guests at my dinner table! Highly recommended!

I have had this wine before. During this past winter, which here in New Hampshire was quite cold and snowy, this pinot was enjoyed with two lady friends over dinner and with a great fire roaring away. The wine made an impression in that setting so I was excited to have it again.

Talbott Vineyards is a family-owned and operated winery focused on quality: there is no phantom company operating this winery! Talbott focuses on chardonnay and pinot noir exclusively and is the fruit source for many other great wineries in California’s Central Coast. In fact, one can find Sleepy Hollow Vineyard on more than a few bottles of quality (and pricey) pinot.

Talbott’s 2000 Logan Pinot Noir is garnet in color with developed brickish hues from nearly five years in bottle. In the nose, the wine is sweet cherry fruit, nearly candied in quality, with very pleasant vanilla from excellent use of oak. This pinot is very polished and integrated, showcasing the softness that can come from bottle age. On the palate, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard is finely balanced possessing an extremely silky mouthfeel. This wine is very rewarding in its softness and elegance. Some subtle leafy qualities are evident beneath a tart rhubarb flavor that was very satisfying; this wine offers wonderful and interesting fruit to the nose and palate.

Unfortunately, this wine is marred by a persistent alcohol which I found to be fusel. Inhaling deeply, the nose simultaneously discovers pretty fruit and polish, laced with ethyl acetate and sting. This was subtle to be sure but especially dissapointing when considering how great this pinot is in so many other ways.

In the end, I did like this wine and believe that Logan Pinot Noir is an excellent choice for a heartier meal, and who knows, no longer needing heat to stave off Winter’s chill, it may be Spring demanding less alcoholic pinot. Recommended!


You’ve got to love it when you live in a state (NH) dominated by a liquor store system that doesn’t know what to do with really good wines that DON’T HAVE big ratings or snob appeal. In this system, little gems like WillaKenzie Aliette Pinot Noir are eventually found heavily discounted on liquor store shelves. I’m sure wineries such as WillaKenzie would love to discover that some of their most allocated and nationally coveted wines are relegated to price-chopper status here in the Granite State! But why complain, right?

WillaKenzie Aliette Pinot Noir shows a deep and dense plum-purple in the glass. This was a surprise considering its bottle age and caused me to wonder about the maceration techniques used to extract such rich color. I definitely prefer a more lightly extracted style so to see such a dense and uniform color was disappointing. While some vanilla, forest-floor and even licorice are evident, Aliette predominantly shows black cherry and plum fruit flavors. In fact, I found Aliette black-fruited to a fault with little more to offer.

This Pinot’s forte is its texture. Aliette is medium to full in weight with a mouthfeel that is rich and round, soft and plush. While I would have preferred more acidity, the wine’s alcohol content was nicely balanced and never hot. I couldn’t help but want something more from Aliette’s palate, which lacked a certain depth of flavor (not a desirable trait for a wine originally priced at $33.99), but this is hardly a winemaking flaw.

The use of new oak, however, was VERY well done: especially considering that 100% new oak was employed! This strongly illustrates that oak quality and method of employ matter far more than the quantity of new oak used in winemaking. Obviously very good cooperage is being used by WillaKenzie Estate and in a way that does not grossly overpower the wine, skilled winemaking for sure!

In the end, I really enjoyed this wine and while not the most captivating PN I recently have had, WillaKenzie Aliette Pinot Noir is very well made and best suited to those favoring pinot with a silken mouthfeel. Recommended! I would recommend this wine more strongly if it retailed for under $25.00!