St. Clair Vicar’s Choice Pinot Noir (2004)

May 15, 2006

Pinot Noir can be a love it or leave it grape, and I love it. More to the point, I’m a sucker for a good, affordable Pinot. On my last trip to a certain wine store, I must have been sending off subliminal Pinot-craving waves. A certain employee there (let’s call him the Doctor) picked up on my mood and intercepted me on my way to the staff picks section. Intrigued (and having a lot of respect for his impeccable taste), I followed him to the New Zealand corner of the store.

Stopping at the border between New Zealand and South Africa, the good Doctor pointed at the St. Clair ‘Vicar’s Choice’ Pinot Noir (2004 vintage). A true bargain and a veritable steal for $16.99, he said. It is difficult indeed to find a good Pinot for under $20, he added, sinking the hook in deeper. I thought about it, but decided that it was more than I wanted to spend. He saw the indecision in my eyes and swayed me by adding that the store had only received ten cases, and two were already sold. That did it. With some trepidation, I took the Stelvin-closed bottle home and opened it.

He was right. This is an excellent wine. It was clean, crisp, and slightly acidic. Packed with bright (almost sweet) cherry fruit, it also showed a long finish and a hint of tannic goodness make this darn near perfect. And for under $20, it’s even better. It is a textbook example of a well-made Pinot Noir.

But I felt it was missing something. It was almost too perfect. It was like hearing a Canadian Idol contestant from the Prairies covering an old Motown classic. Technically perfect – yes – but not my style. I don’t like my Pinots to be so clean and polite. I prefer it when they come swaggering up from the wrong side of the tracks, smoking a joint, wearing a tattered old Circle Jerks t-shirt and spitting on the sidewalk.

So while I must complement the folks at St. Clair for their very fine Pinot Noir, it’s not for me. Give me the smoky, dirty Mission Hill ‘Five Vineyards’ Pinot Noir any day. Or roll out the funky French carpet and send some fine Burgundy my way. Give me any Pinot that isn’t afraid to let it’s inner funk hang out (as long as the inner funk doesn’t remind me of an overripe durian fruit).

But save the almost-too-perfect Pinot Noirs for someone else…


  1. I agree. Though I haven’t tried the St.Clair I don’t enjoy that style. I love that elusive, gritty, dirty Pinot – send me a good Burgundy any day. I did really enjoy at the Wine Festival the Rochioli you poured. I have found California Pinots hit and miss; sone too jammy, some too acidic, some just right. The Rochioli has always been a hit, the winemaker has found a way to marry the clime of Russian River Valley and the strength of Pinot.

  2. If you liked the Rochioli, you might also like the Mark West Pinot Noir. It’s also very good – but for half the price!

    Glad to see you back in the blogosphere – any chance of new posts on your site?

    And were you at the Festival on the Friday night?

  3. Back in blogging. Adding new posts on Tuesdays, periodically checking for comments. Work has calmed down and I have some time to get back into the wine swing of things. I might try reformatting but havne’t figured out how to do that without losing data. I am bored with the look of what I have.
    Wine Festival – yes, was there on the Friday.
    I have tried the Mark West at a local restaurant – really liked it.

  4. Lucky Bastards, you actually found a Cali Pinot Noir that was in balance? I’ve been to cali 15 times in 2 years, I spend time in wine shops looking for the perfect “sideways” cali Pinot Noir and all I get are fat wines. Nothing I’d serve with a meal, an alternative to beer maybe.

  5. All I can say is try to find a Pinot by Rochioli.

  6. OK where in town could one find it ?

  7. The Kenaston Wine Market carries Rochioli – that’s your best bet.

    For $25ish, you might like the Mark West too. It’s not as balanced as the ($60ish) Rochioli, but still pretty good for a California Pinot.

  8. […] Regular readers will know that my Pinot preferences are no secret (and are detailed here). I like them funky and nasty, which can be difficult to do when you want to spend around $15. I had seen mixed reviews of this wine elsewhere, and I wasn’t entirely sure it would be what I was looking. But the store I was in didn’t have a great selection of Pinots, so I took the chance. […]

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