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The Perplexing Pinot Noir

By Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie

July 2016

One of the world’s most planted varietals, Pinot Noir, brings passion and delight to the wine drinker. Pinot Noir wines can deliver exotic, complex bouquets featuring scents of black cherry, raspberry, spice, fresh herbs and a hint of dark soil. Once a consumer has put their nose into a glass of excellent Pinot Noir, there is no forgetting the experience.

Yet, while the aromatics beguile, it is the textural sensation of the wine that creates an unbridled enthusiasm like no other wine made today. While winemakers across the globe produce numerous styles of the wine, the communal result is a wine that has a silky, satin-like, smooth, and elegant feel in the mouth.

Pinot Noirs are generally lighter in body, color and tannins, yet they have a “weighty” impression on the palate. Meaning, a lot of tastes and flavors are present, but without the power and force that Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Zinfandel bring. The typical finish is long lasting, smooth, and evokes thought. Think of a graceful, soft-spoken woman with a lot of merit in what she says.

Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow even in the best of conditions. With a history going back to the 1st century AD, it is cultivated across the globe. Every major wine-growing continent has planted it, and attempts to get each ensuing harvest to provide the “magic” in the bottle that Pinot Noir can provide.

Easier said than done. The grape clusters are tight, pinecone shaped, and the grapes have thin skins. This makes the grapes subject to debilitating events: damage by mold, wind and frost. Also, if grown in too hot a climate, the resultant wine will be clumsy. Pinot Noir made with overripe grapes is equivalent to putting boxy clothes on a figurine.

To testify to the difficulty of making proper Pinot Noir, one of the foremost and respected fathers of California winemaking, Andre Tchelistcheff was quoted as saying, “God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.”

That being said, this elusive, perplexing grape is made with significant success (and some failures) in California, specifically Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Central Coast, Santa Cruz, Carneros and Monterey. It is making a huge splash with wines coming out of Oregon, and it is the most planted red wine varietal in New Zealand

Of course, it produces some of the most expensive, rare wines to come out of France, the prestigious red Burgundy wines. It should also be known that the greatest Champagne and sparkling wines often have Pinot Noir in them, sometimes up to 100% of the Cuvée.

If you would like to discover the greatness of Pinot Noir, go here to read about an upcoming, comprehensive tasting of Pinot Noirs.


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