Pinot Noir isn’t an easy grape to grow and it isn’t an easy grape to vinify either. Combine those two points with low yields and you have a wine that tends to be pricey, wherever it hails from. And, Sonoma isn’t an appellation known for its bargains, whatever the variety may be. So, when I recently purchased a dozen Sonoma Pinot Noirs under $40, I was particularly pleased to find these three bottlings under $25. If you look around diligently enough, you’ll almost always find fine surprises in the wine world.

90
Johnson Family 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.1% $18
This wine is bold and boisterous with a mouthfilling richness that even a Cabernet Sauvignon lover could come around to. Yet, this Pinot is hardly heavy, even at 14.1% abv. Its rich blackberry and blueberry fruits are laced with licorice and damp peat. The finish is lightly grainy yet the tannins are smooth and the acidity is impressively well integrated. It is mind-boggling to try to grasp how a sub-$20 wine made of Pinot Noir (exclusively, presumably…the law does allow for 25% of another variety) can taste so good.
Drink: 2015-18

88
Adele Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 14.5% $24
This wholesome Pinot Noir is redolent of blackberries, black plums and black cherries. The palate offers a big burst of flavor that falls off quickly on the finish but hardly leaves the sipper feeling wanton. Rather, it invites another return to the glass! This bottling is more a Pinot Noir for food given its somewhat rustic and crunchy tannins. That’s a pleasant change in the arena of typically “glossy”, mouth-coating Sonoma Pinots.
Drink: 2015-17

85
Norton Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 13.3% $15
Pale cherry in color with a hint of cloudiness, this wine comes across as rather crude straight out of the bottle. It’s coarsely tannic – odd for a Pinot Noir, and though it only registers 13.3% alcohol, its acidity is initially discreet yet then begins to screech toward the finish. Though a hint disjointed, most wouldn’t complain about this as an average bistro wine at this especially forgiving price, even with its fast finish.
Drink: 2015-16