mark westFamously difficult to grow and difficult to make, Pinot Noir used to be primarily for connoisseurs. Budget Pinot was almost unheard of until Mark West came along in 2001 and figured out how to make large quantities close enough to the real thing to satisfy the average consumer. In the early days they called their product “Pinot for the People”. Now it’s owned by Constellation Brands, which pushes out close to a million cases of the stuff every year.

Thankfully it tastes like wine and like Pinot Noir, sort of. A mix of simple red and black cherry on the nose with floral notes and toasty spice notes from oak staves. It’s hard to find any earth there, but California Pinot Noir often lacks earth even at premium prices. The palate is soft but dull turning tart very quickly. There is plenty of acidity; if there were more it would be seriously out of balance given the meager fruit on the palate. The lightweight, delicate texture and restrained fine-grained tannins on the finish again fit the Pinot profile—but there is not a lot of flavor. Still, it is better than most of the cheaper, generic village wines from Burgundy which is the home of Pinot Noir.

If you’re craving Pinot Noir and all you have is a Hamilton in your wallet this is about the best you can do. Mark West deserves kudos for making the grape accessible to budget-minded consumers. I have yet to taste a cheaper Pinot that consistently does it better. But seriously, if you’re craving Pinot Noir hold on to the Hamilton until it doubles and trade up a notch.

In honor of the Pinot Revolution, here is Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power”. I know it’s a bit optimistic but we should always drink in hope.

Score: 83

Price: $10

Alc: 13.5%