One of the questions that I get asked all the time is “What’s a good, cheap pinot noir?” To which I answer, “There aren’t many.” Pinot noir is too costly and too difficult to grow for there to be much quality wine for less than $15, and especially for $10.

There are decent wines that say pinot on the label for $12 or so, like Mark West and several from from the south of France. There’s nothing wrong with these wines, and I have recommended quite a few of them. But they’re less pinot-tasting than more expensive wines, and they’re riper and juicer than the best from Oregon and Burgundy.

Which is why I was so surprised to taste – and enjoy – the Cycles Gladiator (about $11, widely avaialable, and yes, it’s the one with the banned label). In this, it may well be the most pinot noir-tasting of the $12-and-under-class. It certainly has the most pinot character, and it’s less jammy and less fruity, with more earthiness. It’s light enough to drink on its own, and will pair with almost anything from salmon to chicken to takeout pizza. I drank it with roasted eggplant topped with herbs, garlic and breadcrumbs, and it did the job.

One note on the vintage: I tasted the 2006, which I got as a sample earlier this year. The current vintage is the 2008, so there may be some vintage difference.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.