In my newspaper column “Grape Sense” I keep the wines to those under $20 or so. I do invest in some higher-end wines for special occasions.

Tonight is a bit of a special occasion for a very good friend, so before dinner I opened a bottle of 2003 Robert Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noir.

Stemmler was widely recognized as California’s Pinot pioneer for years and years before much of the wine world fell in love with Pinot. He retired in 1989 and sold the winery that still bears his name.

The 2003 Pinot is a beautiful wine with a beautiful nose that gives you the essence of good Pinot. It has that delightful “stank” or “barnyard smell” of a good Pinot. It’s a big fruit foward Pinot that has a silky smooth finish. I like it for the big mouthful of Pinot flavor as it hits the tongue. This wine generally sells for $32-$38.

That makes it a special occasion wine for me and for most others. For some people that is a lot of money for a bottle of wine – and it is! But you will have a better idea of where the price points make such a significant difference in wine quality.

I have seen Stemmler wine at Vine and Table in Carmel. The Carneros is fabulous Pinot. They also do another bottling that is just slightly more expensive from the Russian River Valley. If you have the choices and it’s just a couple of bucks, I’d recommend the Russian River bottling but both are great wines.

If you find either and like Pinot, buy them. I’d recommend letting them breathe at least a half hour if not an hour before enjoying. A good decanter will give them the oxygen to be just right when you are ready to pour.

The Stemmler wines are an old California name but worthy of others being sold at higher prices.

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