A Perfectly Good Napa Pinot Noir from Trader Joe’s – oh, did I mention it’s under $10?

Fast facts:

  • Trader Joe’s Napa Valley 2016 Pinot Noir, Lot# 178 ($9.99 @Trader Joe’s; California)
2016 Pinot Noir Trader Joe's Napa Valley, Lot# 178
A nice winter weight Pinot Noir…

Several weeks ago, we reviewed a VINTJS Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Trader Joe’s. This Napa Valley wine from TJs makes for an interesting study in contrasts.

Whereas the Oregon Pinot was more Burgundian (or “old world”) in style, this Napa Valley Pinot Noir is – not surprisingly – decidedly New World. Where the Oregon rendition was restrained, light, and tart, this Napa version is ripe, fleshy and round.  It’s what we wine consumers have come to expect from California Pinot Noir.

While the wine is labeled Napa Valley, me thinks that is a marketing choice, for most of Napa Valley is too hot for this temperamental grape. The exception is the southernmost tip of the Napa appellation where the Carneros region (which straddles both Napa and Sonoma Valleys) produces exceptional Pinot Noir. But the cachet of Napa surely outweighs Carneros, at least to the average wine consumer.

And while I generally disagree with the tasting notes on a wine’s label, I found these (uncharacteristically on the front label) to be remarkably accurate. What is interesting though, is that some of the flavors are not ones you usually associate with Pinot Noir.

I have a theory for why that is…

Many wine consumers assume that if the label says a wine is Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or ANY varietal wine for that matter) that the “juice” must be 100% derived from that grape.  That is not the case.

In the United States, a wine can be labelled as a particular variety so long as a minimum of 85% of the blend is comprised of that grape.  My guess is that this wine is not 100% Pinot Noir.

That is not to imply that I didn’t like the wine.  I actually liked it a lot. But on the nose and palate I was getting notes of blueberry pie and spice that I commonly associate with Syrah. So my guess is that this is a blend of a light Pinot Noir that the winemaker decided to complement with a big dollop of Syrah, or Zinfandel – or both. It’s a common practice that adds complexity, depth and color to a wine – especially a wine like Pinot Noir which tends to be on the lighter side.

Fun fact about Pinot Noir: in Champagne, Pinot Noir (along with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) is a key ingredient.

Cheers!

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