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February 9, 2011

The Grape Escape: Hey! Looks generic. Tastes artisanal

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a wine by its label. The ancient wisdom about literature works just as well for the modern wine consumer. Consider, for example, the witty latter-day wisdom that one should never buy a wine with an animal on the label, advice that targets industrial, mass-market wines adorned with kangaroos and penguins and such.

But follow the “no animals” advice to the letter, and you’d eschew such ethereal experiences as the pricey Piemontese reds of La Spinetta, with Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut rhinoceros on the label.

Bear in mind, the adage advises us not to judge a wine by its label. The stark, black-and-white generic product label of The Pinot Project California Pinot Noir actually adorns a surprisingly good and moderately priced pinot.

Let’s decipher that generic label:

The wine comes from an outfit called The Pinot Project, which a Google search reveals to be a project of the consistently reliable New York wine distributor Michael Skurnik.

The Pinot Project “vinted and bottled” the wine, which means, basically, bought the grapes but didn’t grow them on the property.

The Pinot Project is located in Calistoga, Calif., in the northern end of Napa County; but the “California” designation, without a more precise subdivision, means the grapes could have come from anywhere in the state, not necessarily from the high-rent districts.

It’s a good pinot noir at a fair price.

The Pinot Project 2009 California Pinot Noir ($14.99)

Very dark ruby with a clear edge. Good pinot black cherry with a touch of clove in the aroma department. On the palate, it’s dry and mouth-watering; snappy acidity and distinct, lingering tannins provide plenty of structure for black plum and cherry flavors. A versatile food wine for red meat, salmon, mushrooms, and cheese and egg dishes.