It’s the kind of event I usually dread, at least as far as wines are concerned -- an awards dinner in the ballroom of a big hotel with hundreds of people in the room. We’ve all been there. The wines served at such gatherings are usually mediocre at best and pretty much undrinkable at worst. But last night I was pleasantly surprised at such an occasion. While the white, a Chilean sauvignon blanc, was on the ordinary side, the red was a real find and proved that relatively inexpensive California pinot noir doesn’t have to taste generic or hot from high alcohol. Chalone’s 2009 Monterey County Pinot Noir suffered from neither and was an excellent pairing with beef short ribs accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes and caramelized onions. With dark cherry and blueberry notes, excellent balance and refreshing acids, it’s also a real value at $14 or $15 or so. Now, if only it hadn’t taken so long to flag down a waiter to pour me another glass.