Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands Alternatives

On April 18, 2024, someone told me they like Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands but want cheaper options. Here are three similar wines to try instead.

Wine recommendations by: Jessyca Frederick

Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands

The ask

The wine: Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia
Likes: really don’t know. I’m new to wine but really liked the difference that it gave me
Doesn’t like: Of course too expensive, but I’m on a retirees income

BUY the Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands

About the wine

  • Region: The Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) are a subregion of Monterrey County (part of Californi’s Central Coast region). Monterrey produces a lot of Pinot Noir, and SLH is known for high-end selections and relatively affordable prices (compared with other premium California Pinot Noir regions).
  • Taste: Strongest: generally Pinot Noir offers red fruit characteristics (cherry, black cherry, red berries, and redcurrant), but sometimes it’s more earthy, sometimes it has cola notes, black tea, or white pepper, and sometimes it’s just pure fruit. The Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands tends to have raspberry and rose petal notes.
  • Mouthfeel: Tannins vary a bit, but younger Pinot Noir will be slightly more tannic. If you have the patience or can find back vintages, I recommend Pinot Noir with 5 years of age on it. That gives it time for the tannins to integrate (get smoother) and the fruit will still be vibrant. Some flavors related to aging will start to develop, but they’ll be subtle (fruit tends to taste slightly stewed, earthy and woody notes become more pronounced, etc.)
  • Why Pinot Noir is expensive: there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest reason is that the grapevines produce a relatively low yield of fruit per vine, making the cost of producing 1 ton of Pinot Noir up to twice as much as the cost of producing a similar-quality Merlot. It’s also easy to "damage" during winemaking and so it takes a lot of extra care during production.

I’ve picked out some Pinot Noir from SLH that’s more affordable, and ...

Also, I’d steer clear of the Belle Glos Pinot Noir bottlings. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t represent Pinot Noir well and it might confuse you.

My recommendations

Mer Soleil Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve

Mer Soleil Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve ($20-25)

Why I picked it for you: Mer Soleil is a fairly large-scale producer, so their wine tends to be more affordable. They produce what I would call a "value" SLH Pinot Noir. I haven’t tried this one, but it’s likely to be bolder than most Pinot Noir. It’s flavor profile is cherry, raspberry, and earthy.

Things you might not like: Since I don’t know which SLH PN you tried, I don’t know if you prefer earthier selections. If this one doesn’t work for you, consider whether it is the boldness or the earthiness when you drink it.

Buy the Mer Soleil Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve

Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir

Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir ($28-35)

Why I picked it for you: Morgan is a reputable producer (one of the earliest) in the Monterrey and Santa Lucia Highlands region. They are Pinot Noir specialists and this is their "entry level" bottling. It’s a good idea to get to know the best producers in a wine region while you’re getting your bearings. This bottle has all of the classic Pinot Noir flavors, and some of the SLH hallmarks, too. It’s another earthy (forest floor) selection.

What does 12 clones mean? Pinot Noir is often talked about (among wine nerds) in terms of the clones it is made from. A clone is a specifically-bred version of the Pinot Noir grape (or any grape). The clones of Pinot Noir are particularly expressive and unique, and also they’re also selected based on how the vineyard is situated. My favorite clone is 777 — it’s round and fruity with strong dark cherry flavors. This wine from Morgan has 12 clones in it. Blending different clones in Pinot Noir is an excellent way to get a particular style into the bottle and often I prefer PN blends to single clone bottlings.

Things you might not like: there shouldn’t be anything not to like about this wine if you like SLH Pinot Noir.

Buy the Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir

Really Good Boxed Wine Pinot Noir

Really Good Boxed Wine Pinot Noir ($70 (for 3L or 4 bottles))

Why I picked it for you: I mentioned earlier that SLH is part of the Central Coast. Really Good Boxed Wine makes a Pinot Noir which comes from the area between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It’s not the same region as Monterrey, but it is definitely worth exploring Central Coast Pinot Noir, too. Also, you said you’re on a retiree’s budget, and nothing is more budget-friendly than $70 for 4 bottles of Pinot Noir. This isn’t Franzia, this is real wine packaged in a box because it’s environmentally friendly, budget-friendly, and encourages moderation.

Things you might not like: this wine was produced with 10% whole cluster which tends to add acidity (though this is a moderate amount) and it was aged in neutral French oak and stainless steel (which should enhance the wine’s roundness but not add any additional strucure — meaning it might be ligher-bodied).

Buy the Really Good Boxed Wine Pinot Noir

Notice: I hold no formal wine credentials. I am a wine geek who has consumed 1000+ of bottles from 100+ different wine clubs and 1000s more bottles that didn’t come from those wine clubs. I do not accept payment for inclusion here, and I do not accept payments to influence my recommendations.

Then why am I recommending wine? I know a lot about wine. Particularly I know some things average wine drinkers don’t usually know — like how to research a wine and decide if it’s worth buying. Typically wine buyers rely on critics reviews and scores when evaluating a new-to-them wine. Sometimes they search on Reddit.

Most of the time, the information uncovered isn’t truly useful because everyone has a different palate. The trick is in learning what you like and why, and then seeking similar wines to try.

Instead of telling you what I like (which I do in my wine reviews), this is about telling you what you might like, based on what you know you like (and sometimes don’t like). So I recommend wines to help wine lovers expand what they are currently drinking in the hopes that they’ll learn how to find wines on their own, too.

How do you make money at this? I find the wines I think are of interest using my wine marketplace (no AI is used anywhere in this process). It has inventory from most major online wine stores (Total Wine,, and Wine Access) and dozens of other places to buy wine, too. Each wine I recommend comes with a "Shop this wine" link, which sends you to my marketplace. When someone buys a wine from my marketplace, I sometimes earn a commission.

I’ll probably spend around 30 minutes assembling your personal wine recommendations, but you are not obligated to buy anything. If you do buy something I recommend, whether locally or online, please let me know if you liked it! (Or if I missed the mark.)

Learn more about me or get in touch.