The Big Six of Grapes: A crash course on the most popular varietals in six installments
Part Four: Pinot Noir
There are six grapes that you really need to know about. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the white grapes. The reds are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These grape varietals are known and produced around the world. We’ll learn a bit about each grape, its aromas and flavors, and potential food pairings.
Grape number four in our crash course is Pinot Noir (PEE-noh-NWHAR). Ahhhhh, Pinot Noir, the Heartbreak grape, the Holy Grail of winemakers the world over. This delicate, demanding, exhilarating and heart wrenching varietal produces some of the world’s best wines. And, unfortunately, some of the worst.
Pinot Noir inspires more passion than any other grape. Why? When it’s good, it can be an ethereal experience, when bad, harsh and disappointing. The most temperamental of all grapes has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. As Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the founders of modern American wine declared, “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.”
One of only three grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are the others), Pinot Noir is usually bottled as a single varietal. There are a thousand mutations of this crowd-pleaser, just a few being Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier. Cabernet Sauvignon has just twelve!
Thin-skinned, early ripening, prone to every grape disease known and notoriously low yielding, why do growers torture themselves with this grape? When it’s good it’s perhaps the most interesting wine in the world!
This finicky grape is grown all over the planet but truly excels in just three locations. Burgundy, France is the home of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir means “pine black” in French, describing the tightly clustered dark purple clusters of fruit shaped a bit like pine cones. A thirty-mile long, two mile wide path of gently rolling hills named the Cote d’Or (“Slope of Gold”) is the mother lode for fabulous wine. Elegant, complex and exquisite are but a few descriptors of this pricey product. The Burgundian style is the benchmark for all Pinot Noir.
Oregon produces superb examples wines that are stylistically between Burgundy and California. Fruiter, riper, with bit more alcohol than their Burgundian cousins, Oregonian Pinot Noirs are popular with guests seeking complexity on a budget! Prices for many wines from California’s northern neighbor are much gentler than from Burgundy.
California Pinot Noirs are fruiter, spicier and higher in alcohol than their Burgundian brethren. Shhh, don’t tell anyone but some producers even sneak in some Syrah to boost the color and flavor of their wines!
The Holy Grail of wines gives us an incredible range of fragrances and flavors. Old World style wines offer scents and tastes of earth, mushrooms, dried cherries, dried raspberries, clove, and nutmeg. New World products provide aromas and flavors of cherries, wet leaves, vanilla, and anise. For many wine enthusiasts, the enticing, subtle and complex “nose” of these wines is the pinnacle of wine enjoyment.
As a result of their acidity, Pinot Noir pairs well with many foods. Old World styles enhance chicken (roasted or Coq au Vin), game birds and duck. Beef Bourguignon (look at the name of the dish) and beef stroganoff are wonderful partners for these wines.
Wild fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and swordfish are complemented by New World Pinot Noirs. Dishes featuring mushrooms benefit from pairing with Pinot Noir wines. Lightly smoked pork, sautéed veal and chicken entrees all benefit from a bottle or three of this delicious beverage.
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