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Four inexpensive Pinots Noir

by Tom Cannavan, 08/01

I recently opened a quartet of Pinots Noir, puchased over the past year or two for between around £4.00 and £10.00 from British supermarkets or high street stores. This is the result of a little group tasting. The wines included examples from Burgundy, Romania and two wines from California. Really there was little to distinguish the four examples on quality. The Californian examples were, as might be expected, jammier and riper, full of sweeter fruit, but the Old World pair made up for this in their earthy complexity. Given a 280% price premium, these particular Californian wines didn't show that well against the Romanian wine. I've tasted many cheaper US examples - like the Redwood Trail or Fetzer - that were just as good. The Romanian wine won out on bangs per buck it has to be said, with good fruit, some good Pinot character and good balance.

The tasting was not blind. The first two wines are currently in stock, the latter two were bought some time ago.

River Route (Romania) Pinot Noir 1999 - Thresher/Victoria Wine £3.99
From the DOC Bartaça, this has a light, pale ruby colour and a nicely smoky character to soft berry and strawberry fruit with hints of damp, sweet earth. On the palate more soft strawberry and raspberry fruit, medium-body and a bit of sour acidity in the finish. This adds a savoury element and is not unpleasant. Simple but balanced and tasty.

Tesco Finest (France) Oak-aged Burgundy 1998 - £6.49
Made by négociant Louis Josse, this has a light ruby colour and a nose of damp earth and autumn leaves. There is decent soft berry fruit. On the palate the red fruit flavours are creamy and ripe before a grippy mix of tannins and acids kicks in. These rather clamp down on the finish, but it's a decent, flavoursome Pinot.

Ramsay (California) Pinot Noir 1997 - Oddbins £9.49
This has a deeper, glossier colour. The nose is light and spicy with clove and ginger aromatics from new oak. The palate has good cherry fruit with an orangey acidity and some tannins. There's a sweetness of coffee bean, charry oak and medium body, and the fruit is quite jammy and ripe. Uncomplicated, juicy Pinot.

Calera (California) Central Coast Pinot Noir 1995 - Majestic £10.99
Medium ruby colour, tawny at rim. Nose of spice and berries. Quite jammy with an undercurrent of earthiness. On the palate there's a silky texture to quite robust berry and vanilla flavours with a smoky, cedary edge. Moderate acidity and tannins add a little savouriness, and it has decent length. Probably the marginally more complex wine, but I'd rather chip in an extra pound for three bottle of the River Route.