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Need Pinot Noir and Merlot Recs...

I need some wine recommendations and I'm hoping you guys can help. I am making up a wine basket for my husband, and I'd like a few new wines to introduce him to. We're both new to the joys of wine, so any help would be really appreciated. He likes Pinot Noir, Merlot and a South African wine that is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. He really enjoys wine with a strong berry flavor. I'm looking for something in the $15-20 range, but lower is okay. I haven't yet decided if I am including chocolates or cheese in the basket. I may have to make 2 baskets! If anyone can suggest good chocolates or cheese with this kind of wine, I'd be grateful.
I live in Philly, close to New Jersey, so buying my wine in Jersey is an option. Thanks for your help!

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  1. Good Pinots are pretty tough to find under $20 in my opinion. If you can find an Oregon Pinot made by Erath or Belle Vallee Cellars those are pretty good and I think they both have at least one kind under $20. For Merlots my favorites are from Washington State, they are pretty cheap and you can find them everywhere, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest (I believe the former owns the latter... but they each have their own line of wines).

    1. Pinot is tough in that price range. If you can find O'Reilly's Oregon Pinot Noir, it is one of the best I have found in your price range. It is $16.99 locally in SOCAL. Chalone makes a Monterey PN (less expensive than there Chalone Estates PN) that is fairly widely distributed and not a bad buy in the same price range. It's currently on sale at BEVMO (a CA Big Box retaiiler similar to Total Wine in the east) for $11.99 with a non-sale price of $16.99. I recall that there was a TW in Cherry Hill at one time, if I remember correctly. If so, you can look on line to see what they have available in your price range.

      1 Reply
      1. re: scrappydog

        I took a quick look at the Total Wine website, and they appear to have neither of these selections, but they have Estancia Montery PN for $15.99, which would be comparable to the Chalone Monterey. I think it would be a possible choice.

        1. Try Pinot Noirs from the Otago region of New Zealand. That region of New Zealand makes some really good pinot noirs and they are reasonably priced. I would say that they rival Pinot Noirs from Oregon or even France for that matter. Wild Rock, Cupid's Arrow Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2007 is really good.

          2 Replies
          1. re: CHEFINTHECLOSET

            While I don't mind the renewing of old posts that show up in searches or in the side panels, you seem to be rather new to these boards so perhaps you'd appreciate a heads up to these.

            The post you replied to is from almost two years ago, so it's highly unlikely the original poster is still searching for her Pinots and Merlots. Reviving old topics can be informative and helpful if they're general in nature. When they're time specific.... not so much. If there happens to be someone out there looking the same specific info now, it's fine too, but unlikely.

            You're right about Cupid's Arrow BTW. Another down-under Pinot Value is 42 Degrees South, from Tasmania.

            1. re: Midlife


              I had not noticed the date - a "zombie," and just in time for Halloween!

              OK, the OP's 401 has tanked, and she did not invest in gold. Now, she's looking for a great PN and a Merlot for <US$4.00/btl., if my math is correct.

              Oh well, hope that she found what she wanted. Do not know why I did not se this post back in '07, but just flat missed it.



          2. Pennsylvania wine selection is controlled by the state. so you'll likely find better choices in New Jersey.
            Mark West pinot usually blows but the 2007 is nice. It's around $12 to $14 a bottle.
            Wine Searcher shows it on sale in New Jersey.
            I'd check out Erath and A to Z from Oregon, which is also sold in New Jersey.
            Havens is a respected winery that just went into banktruptcy under its new owners. THey have the Havens 2003 Merlot for $20 a bottle at the wine Library in New Jersey. This is maybe more serious than fruity but that's a great deal. I find Merlot okay usually but I like Havens Merlot.

            2 Replies
            1. re: SteveTimko

              Total Wine down here in FL sells Mark West PN for $8.97, pretty nice price.
              Lately, I tried D'Autrefois PN from France and liked it a lot...$9.99.

              1. re: SteveTimko

                Not a huge merlot drinker, but for the money, we pick up a case of the Columbia Crest Grand Estates every year for friends that like merlot. Not a bad deal in the least. Just found a bottle of the '03 that we had with friends over Labor Day weekend, and it was in a great place. Wish we had more of the '03's as it was delicious! Heck of a good QPR though.

                Still looking for that sub $20 pinot....haven't found one we've loved yet, but tons in the $20-$30.....actually, Iris (Oregon) comes in pretty high on the sub $20 list. Great bargain, and that reminds me that I have to find some more! -mJ

              2. Just a guess, but I'd speculate that the SA wine is the Glen Carlou Grand Classique. If so, you can choose it and use the difference for the Pinot Noir. As has been said, PN is not an inexpensive wine, for any quality.

                I recently received a rec. for the Beringer Napa (Carneros) PN, and it was surprisingly good for under US$30/btl. It actually beat my normal, go-to cheaper PN, the Acacia Carneros, at about US$25. I was surprised, as it had good fruit, but enough depth to satisfy.

                Merlot is another story. I am a big fan of Dan Duckhorn's Napa, Beringer's Howell Mtn., Bancroft Ranch, and few others. None fits into the price range. I'm sure that some exist, but I've just not managed to encounter them. The best was McMannis Family Merlot (forget the appelation), but it needs to be consumed early, as it did not age that well. For general lower-end Merlots, I do like Jos. Phelps' Napa, but again, it's above your price-point. Maybe others can help you out, as most of my Merlots and PN's are at least 2x the budget, so are moot.

                Good luck and enjoy,


                1. Lots of great 08 Oregon PN's hitting the market for under $20, 08 is a great year and even the cheap stuff is drinking very well.

                  1. Hi,
                    I'm the original poster. I followed some of the suggestions here, and bought 4 bottles of wine. I went to Total Wine in New Jersey. I can't recall what I bought, but I can tell you that my husband didn't buy any of those wines again, lol. I know I bought 2 wines that were considered very good by wine enthusiasts, one that was recommended on this board, and one that had, well a pretty label, lol. He liked what I bought, but didn't love them. So I gave up, and let him buy his own stuff, and gave him a gift card the following year!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ChrissyMc

                      Thanks for reporting back. Buying for another person is tough. I can hit my wife's palate, but she is a bit stressed to hit mine. She has gotten much better over 39 years of marriage.

                      Without knowing what worked, and what did not, it's tough to give you alternatives.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Thanks Hunt, but there are no alternatives when it comes to my husband, lol. I can guess his food palate, but not his wine palate, so I don't even try anymore. If he wants something specific, I make him write down. Thank you for your advice, though =)