Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meet Pinot Noir - The Princess

Everything I know about Pinot Noir says princess. She’s that girl who demands and gets everything she wants. She’s stunning with a great figure, and she is generous to those who fulfill her desires – but she is definitely not easy. Her shoe and handbag styles are always on point. Her wardrobe is a collection of designer originals and runway fashions from the most recent shows in Paris, Milan and New York. When she’s fully decked out with high-end jewelry to accent it all, she’s absolutely fabulous. Just one look and you know she’s worth all the trouble.

As a grapevine, Pinot Noir is demanding. It is difficult to grow and disease prone. Thin skins make growing and harvest timing a serious matter – thin out the vine’s leaves too much or let them hang too long on the vine and the grapes may sunburn, or if there’s rain, they can swell, split and rot. In the winery, she’s no less challenging. Anyone who takes on the duty of ushering Pinot Noir from grape to glass must have a great deal of love and patience for the variety. Those who do are able to coax its characteristic red berry aromas and flavors to the fore are a special breed indeed. With judicious use of oak, they bring out other treats, including cola and smoky bacon or barbecue notes. The thing that makes Pinot Noir so amazing is structure. On the palate, the worst Pinots are anemic, but the best exhibit precise balance and substance – just enough tannin, acidity, alcohol and amplitude of fruit character to make each mouthful a nearly religious experience.

Purchasing Pinot Noir is almost as tricky as growing and making wine out of it. Burgundy is the French bastion of Pinot Noir. It is very rarely blended here, so any red Burgundy (or properly, Bourgogne) is 100% Pinot. This is where the easy part ends. When it comes to Burgundy, or most Pinot Noir in the world for that matter, knowing the producer and his/her style is paramount. Even in tiny villages in the Côte de Nuits, two wines made from the same vineyard by two different producers in the same vintage can taste greatly different – both can be amazing in general, but one may appeal to you more than the other. The only way to find out is to taste them both. Buying Oregon Pinot Noir posses a similar challenge. Willamette Valley is Oregon’s most famous region, and Pinot is its claim to fame, but not all Willamette Pinot is created equal, and since the 2004 film Sideways popularized the varietal, prices of Pinot Noir from Oregon and California have increased much faster than other wine prices, but the quality has not increased in tandem in many cases. The one source for consistent Pinot Noir, surprisingly, is the Marlborough region of New Zealand. In this realm, prices are reasonable, and you can almost choose blindly to get the glass of wine you want every time no matter the producer. New Zealand’s Martinborough and Central Otago regions produce more noteworthy Pinot Noir, although they present a similar predicament as Burgundy and Oregon – purchase by producer.

And did you know...
Pinot Noir is a component of champagne? Yes, that which we pop is made from a blend of white wine grapes Chardonnay, and red wine grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (not fermented on skins so no pigement for non vntage brut - they are left in to make rosé).

Pinot Noir for Your Palate
If you grew up eating high-end food made from high quality ingredients and fresh meals cooked frequently then Pinot Noir is right up your alley. A palate that has been reared on or become accustomed to fresh, high quality ingredients is geared to appreciating the fine nuances of this wine. If you have been and still are constantly inundated with the up front flavor of instant gratification foods, you might miss the point. Nonetheless, you should pick a night to relax, spend $18 on a bottle of Pinot Noir, and cook something simple for dinner. You can enjoy Pinot Noir with tuna and salmon seared rare or sashimi style (hold the soy sauce). Cheese choices include a lighter cheddar, gouda or gruyere – you’d be surprised to enjoy a glass with an omelet. I also love Pinot Noir with pork, particularly loin.

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try 3 Pinot Noirs. Ask your favorite retailer or browse your favorite wine website for a Bourgogne Rouge. You will easily find Pinot Noir in any wine shop or liquor store you enter, but I strongly suggest that you spend at least $15.00 per bottle. Pinot Noir under that point has been consistently disappointing. Find yourself Pinot Noirs from Oregon, California and New Zealand. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_ #PinotNoirHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall. Enjoy!

Pictured: Hospices de Beaune Volnay-Santenots 2005 1er Cru and Treleaven Pinot Noir 2009 Cayuga Lake AVA New York, retailed at wineLIFE for $17.99

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