Grape Exposé: Pinot Noir
Today’s grape is the fickle Pinot Noir variety supposedly made (more) famous, at least in the U.S., by a little movie called Sideways and an equally fickle little man called Miles (how ironic, hmm?). Many think it helped regions like the Willamette Valley by increasing wine sales and allowing the region to command higher prices. Before the recession, you couldn’t find a decent bottle of Pinot from this region for less than $30. Unfortunately, the movie had a similar, but negative effect, on another grape variety, Merlot, but I’ll save that for another post. Another domestic AVA well-known for it’s Pinot Noir is the Russian River Valley in Northern Sonoma.
However, Pinot Noir has been around for a long time and is best known as the main red variety of Burgundy, France and it is native to that country. If you are at the store and looking at a red wine with “Bourgogne” on the label or any AOCs within the Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune and a few in Cote Chalonnaise, you are definitely going to be drinking Pinot Noir… and some pretty damn awesome Pinot at that in most cases. Pinot Noir is also a variety that is allowed when making Champagne, along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, so quite often, a pink or rosé Champagne will be made from Pinot Noir.
Fickle Pinot Noir
I mentioned above that this variety was “fickle” and that’s no stretch as it is very inconsistent when it comes to color, flavor and aroma depending on where it’s grown, the climate and producer. A benefit of this capriciousness is that the grape can significantly reflect vintage variation and express vineyard site, but still makes it hard to pick out blind. More challenges lie ahead in the winery as extended skin contact, often via cold soak, is required to achieve a certain level of color due to the lower levels of anthocyanins in the skins as well as longer, warm fermentations. This longer, warmer tendency is the reason Pinot Noir may be fermented with an addition of whole clusters, which will act like ice cubes keeping the temperature in check, in addition to adding spice and texture components.
The main attributes to think about with Pinot Noir are perfume and texture. The lower to moderate levels of tannin and good acidity allows the aromatics of the wine and mouthfeel to be more distinguished. Look for aromas like cherries and other red fruits like plum and strawberries, violets, lilac, cinnamon and truffles, just to name a few.
Some of my domestic favorites:
2007 Donatiello Floodgate Block 15 (667 clone)
2012 Thralls Sonoma Coast