THE BLOG

Avoid This Inexpensive Red

06/11/2014 04:51 pm ET | Updated Aug 11, 2014

Any glass of red is good wine, so long as it tastes good in the moment, say many wine fans. But there's one inexpensive red you should seldom buy.

Pass on Pinot Noir, unless you're assured the wine is all Pinot Noir.

But why single out Pinot because it's cut with other grapes?

Turns out that blending Pinot Noir distorts the grape unlike no other varietal, often rendering it unidentifiable as Pinot. The 25 percent "other" grapes legally allowed in varietal bottlings blend seamlessly with grapes like Cabernet and Zinfandel, but take over and dominate Pinot Noir. Everything changes in Pinot blends: the color, the aromatics, the mouth feel, usually for the worse. Many tasters assume the blend they're drinking is all Pinot Noir. But it's not.

That's a problem for tasters new and experienced. If a first glass of "Pinot Noir" is big and overly ripe -- the blended style pervasive in restaurants and groceries -- tasters may come to expect these qualities in all Pinot Noir. Real Pinot Noir will appear light, short on depth and flavor and may ultimately disappoint.

Experienced tasters who have had a range of Pinot Noir from benchmark regions such as Burgundy, the Willamette Valley, and to a lesser extent from California, recognize the unique, ethereal qualities of the grape. Even the deepest, most powerful Pinot Noirs from the ripest vintages are different animals than their darker, more tannic and alcoholic cousins.

It's easy to overgeneralize, but Pinot Noir can appear so pale you can see through the glass. The body and mouth feel are more about subtlety and nuance than head-yanking power. For mouth coating, unctuous fruit, bolstered by sneaky loads of tannin -- power wine -- there are plenty of Zins, Shiraz, and Petite Sirahs. But that's not the essence of Pinot Noir.