Pinot noir is not only a difficult wine to make, it’s a difficult wine to make well — and it’s even more difficult to make well and sell for less than $20.

            A leading French red Burgundy is not the kind of wine one buys to drink with a weeknight dinner. Even the best introductory pinot noirs from Oregon, like Willamette Valley’s 2001 whole cluster vintage, still cost more than $15. So what’s a wary consumer to do?

            To answer that question, we convened the Advocate tasting panel to sample three Pinot Noirs, each retailing for less than $10. The results: If the wines didn’t taste exactly like a Burgundy or a top Oregon pinot, they were still drinkable.

            • Maison Nicolas Pinot Noir 2000. Yes, a French wine from a leading French exporter, but the only time these grapes saw Burgundy was if the truck they were on drove through it. Still, this tasted most like a Pinot Noir, with the trademark berry juiciness (although quite rough, as inexpensive wines can be). Serve with hamburgers or use as a cooking wine.

            • Parducci Pinot Noir 2000. This tastes more like an Italian red than a French Burgundy, and would be a natural with pizza and spaghetti. The Parducci is a serviceable weekday wine, especially for people who want to dip into pinots without getting their pocketbooks wet.

            • Rosemont Estate Pinot Noir 2001.  Pinot noir grapes require cool, wet weather. Australia is hot and dry. Nevertheless, the Rosemont is quite pinot-like. It’s more jammy than berry, as Australian wines tend to be, but pairs nicely with less hearty red meats as well as lamb or duck.

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