Saint Clair “Vicar’s Choice” 2008 Marlborough Pinot Noir

Yes, he’s drinking Pinot again. The quest for a good $10 bottle of Pinot Noir is something of a holy grail for us Pinotphiles – usually fruitless (sometimes literally) occasionally disastrous, rarely successful. So how does this entry from New Zealand stack up?

First of all, at $11.49 from Costco, it almost meets the price cutoff for entry but hey – close enough for government work, as my Dad would say. I confess I’ve had limited exposure to Kiwi Pinot Noir, through no deliberate intent on my part – I just haven’t gotten around to tasting as many as I should. By reputation, Marlborough Pinots are lighter-bodied, complex and delicate – very much a “feminine” expression of the grape if you favor such descriptors – with soft tannins and great aromatics. And this Vicar’s Choice entry does not disappoint.

In no way, shape or form is this a “big” wine. It checks in at only 13% ABV and in the glass is a light garnet in color, not especially deep or intense, with an ruddy earthiness that gives it the appearance of an older wine. You’re immediately struck by the perfume with this wine – and I don’t use that word by accident. This is a highly aromatic wine, suggestive of lilac, earth and very light red fruit.

I was struck immediately at the light mouthfeel – an immediate impression that may turn off some more used to California Pinot. But as the wine breathes it opens up both in terms of fruit and body, becoming a medium-bodied wine with a crisp, bracing acidity that almost gives the wine an effervescent quality. Though the flavors are subtle they are quite complex – hints of herbs, strawberry, currant, mushroom, and a little cola. I was almost reminded of a Belgian ale in that the wine has a tart, yeasty quality – the fruit is aromatic but not especially sweet. The finish is longer than you would expect based on the initial impression, and it’s the perfume – the feminine – in the wine that really stays with you.

I think this is a terrific Pinot for the money, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s charms are subtle but diverse, and the Pinot character is true to the varietal – something I appreciate as you don’t always see it, especially in a $10 ($11.50) bottle. There can be no doubt that this is Pinot Noir from the first visual and olfactory impression. For a food pairing, I’d suggest seafood – perhaps a salmon or other more robust fish, or perhaps roast chicken. I think it would be lovely with a Trappist or other salty, earthy cheese. Frankly, the wine’s lighter alcohol and nuanced character make it a fine choice for stand-along sipping as well.

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