The best red wines under $20

by Michael Cooper / 18 August, 2017

Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t any good local pinot noirs for under $20, $25 or $30.

About 1000 pinot noirs are crowding the shelves, including a multitude of distinguished reds in the $40 and above category. But can you buy a decent, satisfying pinot noir for under $30?

The good news is that intensifying competition between the wineries is producing better pinot noirs in the lower price brackets. If you prefer not to pay over $20, it’s wiser to select a merlot from Hawke’s Bay or an Aussie shiraz. But if your budget stretches to $25-30, you can definitely find some classy, rewarding pinot noirs.

$20 and Under

Left Field Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 •••½

This bargain-priced red from Te Awa was matured in French oak barrels (mostly) and tanks. Deep ruby, with mouthfilling body (13% alc/vol) and good depth of ripe cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing some savoury complexity, it offers fine value at $18.

Pa Road Marlborough Pinot Noir •••½

From te Pa, this partly barrel-aged red was grown in the Southern Valleys. Ruby hued, it is full-bodied (14% alc/vol), fresh and tasty, with plum, spice and dried herb flavours, showing some savoury complexity and a smooth finish. $20

Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2016 •••½

A drink-young charmer, this is a mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), ruby-hued red, with cherry, plum, strawberry and spice flavours, showing a touch of complexity, and a well-rounded finish. Priced right. $20

Seifried Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 •••½

Matured in French oak barrels, this sharply priced red is drinking well in its youth. Full ruby, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and savoury, with plummy, spicy flavours, showing good complexity and depth. $20

$25 and Under

Bronte Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

From Rimu Grove, this estate-grown red was matured in French oak casks. Deeply coloured, it is fragrant and full-bodied (14% alc/vol), with fresh plum, cherry and spice flavours, good ripeness and depth and some savoury complexity. Delicious young. $24

Delegat Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Offering fine value, this estate-grown Marlborough red was fully barrel-aged. Deep ruby, it is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), savoury and supple, with good flavour richness and complexity. Drink now or cellar. $25

Gibbston Valley Gold River Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 •••½

This is the pioneering winery’s red, which it describes as being for “immediate enjoyment”. Matured in seasoned French oak casks, it is deep ruby, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and buoyantly fruity, with generous plum and dried-herb flavours, fresh and smooth. $23

Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2014 ••••

This drink-young style from Pegasus Bay was grown at Waipara and matured for 18 months in French oak barriques. It is deep ruby, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and fresh, with strong, plummy, spicy flavours, savoury notes adding complexity, and a finely textured, persistent finish. $25

Thornbury Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Offering fine value, this Bannockburn red was matured in French oak barriques. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), it is sweet-fruited and supple, with generous, ripe-cherry and spice flavours, a touch of complexity, gentle tannins and excellent harmony. $25

Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015 •••½

This youthful, ruby-hued red was partly barrel-aged. Fragrant, with a plummy, spicy bouquet, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with vibrant fruit flavours, showing good depth, a touch of complexity and a smooth finish. $22

$30 and Under

Babich Family Estates Headwaters Organic Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014 ••••

Certified organic, this deep-ruby, single-vineyard wine was oak-aged and bottled unfiltered. Generous, savoury and supple, it is full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with concentrated plum/spice flavours, showing good ripeness and complexity. $27

Bannockbrae Goldfields Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Already delicious, this bright-ruby red was grown in the Cromwell Basin and aged in French oak barrels. It is mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), scented, savoury and silky, with ripe plum, cherry and spice flavours, showing good complexity and length. $30

Carrick Unravelled Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 ••••

An organically certified red that was barrel-aged for 11 months. Full-bodied (13.8% alc/vol), it is fresh and supple, with cherry, plum and spice flavours, woven with lively acidity, considerable complexity and the structure to age well. $27

Greenhough Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

This great-value red was hand-picked and barrel-matured for a year. Full, bright ruby, with a fragrant, ripe bouquet, it is mouthfilling (13.9% alc/vol) and sweet-fruited, with generous plum, cherry, spice and nut flavours, showing excellent complexity and harmony. $28

Millton La Cote Gisborne Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

Certified organic, this hill-grown, hand-harvested red has loads of personality. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it is savoury, with youthful, ripe-cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing excellent complexity, harmony and potential. $30

Mission Martinborough Barrique Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

A single-vineyard red that was matured for a year in French oak barriques. Mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), it has generous, ripe-cherry, plum and spice flavours, is complex and savoury, and has a firm, lingering finish. Well worth cellaring. $29

Paul Henry’s Own Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 ••••

This softly mouthfilling red from Invivo was blended with help from broadcaster Paul Henry. Floral, it is deep ruby, full-bodied (14% alc/vol) and smooth, in a sweet-fruited style with generous cherry, plum and spice flavours, and loads of drink-young appeal. $30

Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Palliser Estate’s second-tier label consistently offers good value. Already drinking well, this French oak-aged red is bright ruby, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), harmonious and smooth, with satisfying depth of cherry, plum, spice and nut flavours, in the classic, well-ripened, savoury regional style. $29

Rocky Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 ••••

Delicious young but ageworthy, this second-tier label from Prophet’s Rock was hand-picked and French oak-aged. Deeply coloured, it is fresh, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and supple, with rich, ripe, plummy, gently spicy flavours, savoury notes adding complexity and good harmony. $29

Te Kairanga Runholder Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

Bargain-priced, this is a deep-ruby, concentrated red with an inviting floral bouquet. Estate-grown and French oak-matured, it is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with rich, ripe, cherryish flavours to the fore, good complexity and a silky-smooth finish. Lovely drinking from now on. $29

Terra Sancta Mysterious Diggings Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Softly seductive, this estate-grown red was aged in seasoned French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Floral, savoury and supple, it’s a full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol) with gentle, ripe-berry, spice and nut flavours, a silky texture and good complexity and harmony. $27

Tohu Awatere Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Grown in the upper Awatere Valley and French oak-aged, this deeply coloured, mouthfilling red (13.5% alc/vol) from Kono NZ has strong plum/spice flavours. An exuberantly fruity style, with some complexity, it shows good intensity. $28

Vidal Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

This fine-value red was grown in the Wairau and Awatere valleys and matured in French oak barriques. Instantly attractive, it is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with fresh, strong cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing good ripeness and complexity, and a smooth, lingering finish. $26

Wooing Tree Beetle Juice Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

A single-vineyard Cromwell red that was hand-picked and barrel-aged. Deep ruby, fragrant and supple, it’s a refined, mouthfilling wine (13.5% alc/vol), with ripe plum and spice flavours, finely integrated oak, good complexity and lots of drink-young appeal. $28

Yealands Single Vineyard Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ••••

Estate-grown in the sweeping Seaview Vineyard, then oak-aged, this youthful, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), sweet-fruited red is already enjoyable. Vibrantly fruity, it has strong plum/spice flavours, with a touch of tamarillo and a well-rounded finish. $27  

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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