When people ask me which is my favorite grape, I hesitate saying Pinot Noir. It might be because of Sideways. I don’t really want to be mistaken with getting my wine inspiration from a movie; although in reality I don’t really care. I love light red wines with subtle herbal and mineral flavors, and I love full blanc de noirs champagnes. I love French Pinot from Bourgogne with some age and complexity in them, and I love fresh young and slightly salty Pinot from the US west coast. A Pinot seldom lets me down, although it is often quite pricey. However, there are some good exceptions: German Spätburgunders (late harvested Pinot) are on the rise and very good value for money. The price represents the effort that goes into growing Pinot, so I thought I would do a dip into the basics.
The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for pine and black; the pine referring to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. The shape of the bunch is also the main reason Pinot Noir is so difficult to grow and cultivate into wine; it makes the grapes more susceptible to viticultural hazards, like pests and wine plague. The skin of the grape is thin, thus wines made with Pinot are light coloured and do not very tannic.
The variety is grown all around the world, mostly in cooler regions. One of the most widely planted region is Champagne. It grows very well on the hills of Montagne de Reims and in Aube, which is just off the border to Bourgognes Cote d’Or. In the US, Pinot thrives in Sonoma Country, Carneros District in Napa, Willamette Valley (Ms favorite) and Russian River Valley; and in Germany the Late Burgundian is dominant in Pfaltz, Baden, Ahr and Rheinessen. Some more unexpected areas for Pinot include the Niagara Peninsula in Canada (its nice and cool there), Slovenia and Moldova.
So what is it that I love the most about Pinot? I guess it is the lightness of it; the wines are delicate, yet full of taste and far from “watery”. I have wondered farther and farther from heavy, tannic reds, and Pinot Noir is one of the only red wines I feel like drinking (the other ones are Nebbiolo, Garnacha and occasionally Syrah). So, regardless of Sideways making all Pinot Lovers seem somewhat pretentious, I admit being a fan of the grape. At least I have nothing against a good Merlot.