• In my last blog I discussed how to improve your chances of finding a chardonnay that suits your tastes, without knowing any specific producers. One can get a feel for what a wine will taste like based on the standard growing and vinifying methods a particular region practices. Most regions are consistent in their style and flavor profile because of the weather and what the public expects their wine to taste like. While there are exceptions (wine makers sometimes buck the trend if for no other reason than to stand out) to every rule, knowing what style of wine the majority of wine makers in a certain locale are making helps one make an educated decision that more often than not will give the wine buyer a solid base for choosing a wine that will be to there liking.

    Pinot noir has been huge for many reasons of late. It works as an incredible mediator between white wine and red. It has amazing versatility in that it can be light enough to go with seafood yet is just bold enough to pair with meat.

    In this excerpt I am going to go over pinot noir. A grape varietal that overnight doubled in popularity due to a certain movie (Sideways, if you haven’t guessed it.) While I don’t particularly agree with all the critiques of grape varietals in the movie, for instance I love cabernet franc, they made a solid point in that pinot noir is a delicate grape that is difficult to grow. The romance of this grape is the subtle nuances that ensue in the nose (aroma) and the palate. Where most grapes hit you over the head with bold fruit and intense flavor, pinot noir tends to barely make it out of the glass with its cranberry, cola or sage on the nose, and pale color with bright raspberry or plum on the palate. Often one has to revisit the glass to see just what it was they were experiencing with each sip.

    Sideways talks about Pinot

    Larger wineries tend to flow with the tide. If the hip new grape is riesling they will tear up a few acres of chardonnay or cabernet sauvingon to replant with, in this case, pinot noir. They desperately try to predict which way the wind is blowing because it takes at least three years for a vine to produce usable fruit. Pinot noir has been huge for many reasons of late. It works as an incredible mediator between white wine and red. It has amazing versatility in that it can be light enough to go with seafood yet is just bold enough to pair with meat. Its not a commitment like cabernet sauvignon tends to be, and pleases nearly everyone. There are a lot of other grapes that fit this bill, but they aren’t well known and therefore difficult to obtain (schiava and gringiolino for example.) So many vineyards have begun growing pinot noir to the point of over saturation. Big name growers have so much fruit now that they tend to sell off most of their grapes to mass produced bottlings because they don’t want to lower the price on their “small production” wine. This enables the consumer to have access to high quality wine at low end pricing. The problem resides in which of these low cost, high value wines are what you would enjoy.

    Like my previous talk on chardonnay, I’m going to break pinot noir down into three different taste profiles.

    Choice #1: A darker color, somewhat full, with black plum, red cherries and pomegranate. There is often some oak influence giving it more pronounced tannins.

    Choice #2: A lighter style pinot both in color and weight on the tongue, and have more acidity with very little oak, if any. This choice tends to be more complex with aromas and on the palate with herbs, earth, bright cherry and raspberry.

    Choice #3: This is the happy medium choice that brings the previous two selections together in sometimes perfect harmony. Some herbaceous notes on the nose, paired with light fruit. A light to medium body with medium acidity.

    The wine growing regions in California that produce choice #1 (the fuller more fruit forward style) are generally in Napa, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County. In Oregon the Willamette Valley (pronounced wi-LAM-it) is a great source for all three choices, but whether light or full they all have a hint (to a lot) of jammyness to them that gives the feel of a fuller style pinot noir.

    While southern Burgundy is a great place to find somewhat bigger chardonnay, nearly all pinot noir from Burgundy is closest to choice #2 (the leaner crisper style.) A little more tart, with less fruit and a bit more earthy tones on the nose and palate. Burgundy is a great way to find a pinot if this is your style and a lot of the higher end Burgundies are meant for aging.

    Sonoma Coast and some of Santa Barbara County are my favorite regions for California pinot noir. They have many cooler micro-climates which allow the fruit to mature without intensifying the flavors.

    Pinot is a beautiful wine when done right, but even when its not its still usually rather quaffable. So when looking for wine look for some of the regions that pertained to your choice profile I’ve mentioned and you will more often than not find a wine that fits what you like.

    A few of my favorite nicely balanced Choice #2’s are:

    Hartford Court Lands Edge Sonoma Coast 2007

    Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyards Santa Rita Hills 2007

    Longoria Fe Ciega Vineyards Santa Rita Hills 2007

    Flowers Andreen-Gale Sonoma Coast 2007

    Lemelson Meyer Vineyard Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2007

    Foxen Bien Nacido Block 8 Santa Maria Valley 2008