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Learning about wine is an art – it takes time and a lot of sipping and tasting. That’s why I am always on the lookout for solid wine information at the touch of my mouse. Fine Living is one such superior source for wine deals under $20.00

$20.00 is not cheap for wine. For $20.00 in a store you should be getting a highly enjoyable wine that won’t embarrass you if you bring it along as a hostess gift. Of course if you can afford it, by all means drink the serious vintages, but for normal evenings amongst friends, you are doing it wrong if you are spending more than $20.00 a bottle.

Pinot Noir is a wine I am a big fan of. I find it an easy drinking wine, a nice transitional taste for those accustomed to drinking white. Plus it’s only 12 weight watchers points per bottle. Refill anyone?

10 Pinot Noirs Under $20

Taking on the task of finding any pinot noir under $20 is daunting, let alone $10. This little grape can be bratty in the vineyard and needs to be handled with kid gloves in shipping and storing. All the extra effort that goes into making great pinot is usually reflected in the price tag. I’m happy to say we did find a few sips under $20; some that are just perfect for getting to know pinot, and some not so much.

1. Pietra Santa, Calif., 2006, $18
This seductive little redhead is a gem. From first sniff she invites you in, and with each sip she delivers a lovely party on the palate. This wine is very, very cherry. It’s bursting with ripe, red berries in the nose and in the mouth. Pair this with a summer risotto or a simple charcuterie platter, and she’ll dazzle with both.

2. Aria, Sparkling Pinot Noir, Spain, $12
So it’s not a still wine but it is a pinot, and one with pizzazz. This bubbly wine is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. It’s packaged all sexy in red and black, and it’s just as hot to look at in shades of deep pinkish red swirling around the glass. The bottle looks like it’s perfect for a hot date and, while I’m sure that would work, this sexy Spanish sparkler is so much fun as an aperitif, at a party or paired with salty and sweet prosciutto-wrapped figs.

3. Matua Valley, New Zealand, 2007, $14
Don’t let the screw cap fool you. This pinot from the famed Marlborough region of New Zealand is elegant and even a little rich. It’s not often a red at this price is such smooth sailing on the palate. It has soft tannins and good acidity, but it’s the twinge of vanilla laced through each sip that entices you back for more.

4. Pinot Evil, France, NV, $8
It’s almost unheard of to find drinkable wine under $10 and while it’s recommended retail price is $8, I found these monkeys on sale for $5.99. Say what? That’s right; don’t ever overlook the sale rack. Expecting swill, I was surprised to find there was no reason for me to spit this out. In fact, it was fruity and light. Don’t expect any wow factor, other than the price tag. This is a great red for white-wine drinkers looking to taste the dark side. Of this wine, at this price, I will speak no evil.

5. La Baume, Pinot Noir, France, 2006, $10
It’s not surprising this red is imported by the same folks as the pinot evil. They are succeeding in offering bargain buys in wine. The La Baume is a pretty red, but it is also pretty nondescript. It is easy to drink and not flawed in any way, but if you’re looking to get to know pinot noir you may want to choose another.

6. Joseph Drouhin, Vero, France, 2006, $19.99
This made the cut by a mere cent, and lucky for us it did. Like the other pinots here, it’s got great, red berry fruit but unlike them it has fun little pings of pepper and even a little black licorice. It is medium-bodied, making it a great match for steak au poivre. It’s got the acidity you crave in pinot, but its creaminess could even flatter a dinner of filet mignon.

7. Artesa, Carneros, Calif., 2006, $16
There are two reasons you should buy this bottle of wine. First, because it rocks, and second to fall in love with the Carneros region. This wine is packed with flavor and finesse. Think cherry pie a la mode. This wine will age gracefully. Drink some now and some in six or seven years.

8. Louis Jadot, Bourgogne, France, 2005, $18
Burgundy sets the standard for pinot noir and this pinot proves it. Taste side-by-side one of the New World pinots on this list and you’ll understand the term “earthy.” This wine is silky, medium-bodied and ends on a high note. Where some pinot can fall flat, this one delivers all the good stuff all the way through.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills, New Zealand, 2003, $19.99
There’s a reason this is the second pinot from Marlborough, New Zealand, on this list. Clearly they are pumping out quality juice at fabulous prices. This red is luscious with toasty oak, vanilla and juicy fruit. It is not likely to stay under $20 for long, so snatch up some now.

10. Premius, France, 2005, $12.99
The wine at first sip didn’t scream “Old World” on the palate. In fact, it didn’t scream anything. But give this girl a swirl or two, and you’ll find a pleasant plummy red with a hint of black pepper. It’s very light-bodied, making it a great pick for the first of fall’s cool evenings.

Note: Prices listed are based on the standard 750 ml bottle, unless otherwise noted and may vary depending on location and proprietor.

Maureen C. Petrosky is author of The Wine Club: A Month-By-Month Guide to Learning About Wine With Friends.

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