RECOMMENDED: Mark West 2009 Pinot Noir, California. $9.99-11.99. 13.8% ABV.

This one is … different. To me, most Pinot Noirs taste spicy and white-peppery, and frankly that isn’t my favorite style of wine. However, the Mark West is a kinder, gentler Pinot. It’s smooth, clear, and well-behaved while fruity and complex. As it opened up, it became even more delicious and flavorful. I wouldn’t quite call it round, but it’s certainly oval and mouth-filling, with a fairly long but gentle finish. The wine didn’t clobber me with bigness, and it has yummy flavors of black cherry, mocha, vanilla, a little brown sugar, some oak, and a hint of strawberries.

I’ve started thinking of wines that cost less than $10 or $12, if they are tasty and different, as worthy of stocking up on. In fact, some people might call them “everyday” wines in the sense that you keep them on hand, both for your reliable “go-to” wines, and to crack open when friends stop by. The wines that are a little more pricey are what we serve on special occasions, from dinner parties to those wonderful “heck, let’s splurge” evenings. With that differentiation in mind, I would recommend the Meiomi Pinot Noir (see previous post) for a “special occasion,” and the Mark West Pinot Noir for “everyday” AND for special occasions if your preference is for a lighter style of wine. The Mark West Pinot Noir is a great value and we do keep it in stock. After all, their tag line is “Pinot for the People.”

The Mark West Pinot continues to rack up good press for its consistency, versatility, and reliability vintage after vintage. Robert Parker called the 2008 one of the top 50 best values of the year. It has landed in The Wine Trials Top 100 books for several years. In fact, the label has captured 10% of the U.S. Pinot Noir market.

LABEL NOTES: Mark West Winery specializes in Pinot Noir. Sourced primarily from California’s coastal appellations, these vineyards provide grapes of intense fruit aromatics and flavors. After a gentle crushing, the grapes were fermented in small tanks with daily punch downs to extract color and flavors. Pressed lightly, the wine was then aged in French and Hungarian oak for approximately eight months before bottling. Red and black cherry flavors abound with a note of spice from oak aging. Rich in texture with a lingering finish and versatile enough to complement just about any cuisine.

WEB: Check out their very creative and amusing Web site: Sister wine labels include Avalon, Bex (“Improve your Bex life”), and Four Vines (“Living in Zin”). Visit

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