Pinot Noirs That Sing, for Under $30

A mixtape of my most compelling picks 

In my mind, jazz and Pinot Noir will forever be linked. I fell in love with both during the late-aughts, an era defined for me by crowded clubs and virtuoso trumpeters, clinking glasses and purple-stained napkins.  

I pursued Pinots and live shows around New York in a fevered blur, the electricity of these new passions coursing through me. Now, a decade on, the wine — and the music — still give me a rush of emotion, but I appreciate them for different reasons.

Pinot Noir, to me, is the most nuanced of grapes. It is soulful and satisfying like no other, both clear and veiled in whispered tones — much like the music of my favorite players, including Jeremy Pelt. 

But as much as I love Pinot Noir, in recent years I’ve largely sought out other reds because good Pinot is just too pricey. 

Granted, there are plenty of generic Pinots I’ve tasted that are under $30, but those don’t sing for me. Most are overly ripe and simple — all fruit and no soul. But I’ve finally sourced a selection of value-priced Pinot Noirs I’m psyched about. These Pinot Noirs are: 

  • Wines of place

  • From small producers

  • Sustainably and organically farmed

  • Made with minimal intervention

  • Available at shops around the US

And as a nod to the magical bond between jazz and Pinot, I’ve paired each wine with an album from a favorite trumpeter (with a Bottle Service playlist on Spotify). It’s my thing; hope you enjoy.

What to Know

Pinot Noir is a wine of obsession. It seduces growers and winemakers, and drives enthusiasts and collectors wild. The grape’s ancestral home is the French region of Burgundy, where transcendent red Burgundies are made. Some of these wines sell for thousands of dollars — for a single bottle.

You may recall the film Sideways, where Paul Giamatti’s Pinot-loving character Miles opines, “Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can … coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet."

That’s not an uncommon sentiment among Pinot fans. Find one waxing poetic, and suddenly they’re declaring their undying love and comparing the wine to the most beautiful and ephemeral of musical genres (ahem).

To be sure, Pinot is a demanding grape. It is thin-skinned, prone to mildew and rot. It thrives only in specific, cooler climate regions around the world. Stateside, the key Pinot-growing areas are Oregon’s Willamette Valley and certain microclimates of California, with pockets dotting the landscape from Sonoma to Santa Barbara. In the Southern Hemisphere, excellent examples come from parts of Chile and New Zealand, where some of my favorite Pinot Noirs are made. 

In general, Pinot Noir wines have:

  • A translucent ruby color

  • Intense flavors (red fruit, flowers, earth, spice) 

  • High acidity

  • Light to medium body

  • Soft, silky tannins  

But that barely scratches the surface. Pinots from cooler areas are more mineral driven, with earth and spice notes, and a lighter body. Warmer examples are richer, riper, and more fruit-forward, often with higher alcohol. Winemaking choices also impact the wines: Some producers age their wines in oak barrels to add flavors and texture; others use whole-cluster fermentation to impart floral and spice aromatics, and more robust tannins and structure.  

But why, exactly, do people lose their minds over Pinot? In a word, its complexity

Let’s go back to that musical analogy: Jazz is built largely on improvisation, a skill that requires both technical ability and artistic creativity to execute well. A song starts out simply, then layers of sound build. Perhaps trumpet kicks off, then bass and piano come in. The players are riffing together on a theme, gradually working towards an apex that — in the best case scenario — leaves you enraptured. 

Same with Pinot Noir. It’s risky to make, and there are dozens of forgettable bottles for every one that transcends. But in the best examples, fruit purity and flavor intensity create a base. Sensations start building — texture, density, acidity, and astringency — playing in harmony and with an unparalleled, vivid clarity. On occasions when the notes have come together just right, sipping a great Pinot has left me speechless with gratitude. 

One can argue that other wines deliver such an experience. But for me, it’s Pinot. And after trying these bottles, maybe you’ll agree.

Four Pinot Noirs to Try

For these energetic, top-value Pinots, not just any jazz will do. Trumpet is what stirs my soul, and these are the albums that gave me the most joy over the past year. For ease of listening, here’s a Bottle Service Jazz and Pinot playlist on Spotify.  

Clos des Fous, “Pour Ma Gueule,” Pinot Noir 2019 ($15)

Sensational value. This wine is an incredible find. Pedro Parra is a terroir whisperer, one of the world’s most sought-after experts in precision agriculture. Clos des Fous is his own project with three close friends to push back on the glut of generic, industrial-made Chilean bottles, proving that exciting wines of place can come from the country. The partners grow their grapes in Chile’s most extreme regions, using minimal intervention techniques in the winery. This wine is a lighter-bodied, fresh style of Pinot (with a touch of Cinsault) led by red fruit and spice. It has a vibrancy to it that is rarely encountered at this price point. 

Jazz pairing: Only a revolutionary new voice will do here, and that’s Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who’s leading jazz innovation with new harmonic conventions and instrumental techniques, best heard on his album Axiom. He’s a key next-gen musician — challenging norms and building a new future for the genre. 

Le Machin, Pinot Noir 2019 ($20)

Mike Roth, of Lo-Fi in Santa Barbara County, is a new-wave California winemaker producing low intervention wines. Le Machin is his latest project, sharing the ethos of the main label but focused on organic grapes from the Santa Rita Hills. This wine has a wild freshness to it, with purple flower and red currant aromas, flavors of crunchy red fruit and forest floor, fresh acidity, and slightly drying tannins.  

Jazz pairing: Le Machin calls out for a new-guard player like Ambrose Akinmusire, whose album on the tender spot of every calloused moment finds his quartet taking jazz in new directions

Lemelson, Thea’s Selection, Pinot Noir 2017 ($25)

Lemelson is a sustainable-focused, organic winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, making classically styled wines that are terroir transparent. This medium-bodied Pinot shows layered aromas (wildflowers + black cherries) and flavors (blueberries + cola + forest floor + black tea) with rich, silky tannins and a long, persistent finish. 

Jazz pairing: This wine is best paired with an album that has classic, enduring appeal. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue fits the bill perfectly, with a sound that never ages. Every time I listen to this album, I hear something new.  

Birichino, Saint Georges, Pinot Noir 2018 ($29)

Emerging star. This project really excites me. Birichino is from Alex Krause and John Locke, alums of the legendary Bonny Doon winery. There, they learned to find expression and balance in California terroir. That mission comes through in this elegant Pinot Noir from a cooler area in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There’s a lightning bolt that runs through this wine, a streak of mouthwatering acidity and minerality that zips tastebuds to joyful attention, layered around silky tannins and a fruit core of black cherries and raspberries.

Jazz pairing: The music of Jeremy Pelt is my decade-long, fan-girl obsession. His latest album, The Art of Intimacy, is both understated and nuanced and dramatic and exuberant, much like this bottling. Maybe Birichino will become a my next Pinot obsession? Only time will tell.