Class on Pinot Noir
Art is the understanding of beauty through the senses, through all the senses, and in order to understand the dream of Vinci, or the inner life of Bach, one must, I repeat, be capable of adoring the scented and fugitive soul of a passionate wine.” Marcel Rouff
To me, Pinot Noir has a scented, fugitive soul. Pinot expresses its terroir quite easily; and I believe the soul of a wine lies in its terroir. When “Bob, the Wine Guy” offered a class on Pinot Noir & promised to pour fourteen differing Pinots, I simply could not resist!
The Heartbreak Grape:
Pinot Noir, dubbed “The Heartbreak Grape,” is prone to problems from the get-go. This grape has an unusually thin skin, which makes it susceptible to rot in cool, damp climates. It flowers early, subjecting it to early-frost damage. It ripens unevenly, making harvest a struggle. Yet, despite its cool-climate problems, Pinot Noir requires a vineyard on the cool side in order to achieve optimal development – but not too cold or the wine will taste stemmy and green. Also, Pinot Noir should be a low-yielding crop, producing about half the amount of any other black grape, or the resulting wine will lack character. Then there are the mutation problems – Pinot Noir is notoriously prone to mutation, producing numerous clones, each performing differently under various conditions. In order to produce a grand wine, each clone must live in a vineyard perfect for that particular variety. On the plus side of this last difficulty, Pinot Noir can adapt, within reason, to its surroundings, which explains its expressive terroir - the personality resulting from the grape variety, soil, microclimate, slope, etc. And we haven’t even left the vineyard – there’s a whole other set of difficulties in the winery. Indeed, this problem child breaks hearts all over the wine world.
When the vineyard & the winery work together, Pinot Noir makes some of the most sensuous, elegant, sophisticated, breathtaking wines in the world. Pinot’s bouquet usually includes cherries, berries, violets, earth, tobacco leaves, barnyard & smoke. One of the most distinctive qualities of Pinot Noir is its unbelievably sensual mouth-feel – that’s the allure that draws me in time and time again!
The distinguished wine list:
1. Joseph Drouhin Volnay 2001 - Burgundy, France. Volnay is the village in the Cote d’Or region. Earthy, violets, cherries, sensuous mouth-feel – a lovely wine. I’m in love! $24.69
2. La Poussie Sancerre Rouge 1999 – Loire Valley, France. A tinge of gold to this light-bodied red. Nice cherry flavors with a touch more earth than the Volnay. There’s a little more bite than expected from Sancerre – it’s lean, but smooth on the back. Very nice. $21.99
3. Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2002 – Oregon. Deep color, exploding with dark cherries, raspberries, & strawberries – round flavor with just a touch of earthiness. Sweetness on the nose, but not jammy. It’s lovely to sip by itself – that’s not often found in a Pinot. At $15 – it’s an amazing bargain! This could be my new best friend.
4. Pierre Frick “Rot-Murle” Vin d’Alsace Pinot Noir 2000 – Alsace, France.Once the “wet match-sulfur” aroma was swirled out, this Pinot had a very fruity, dense, almost “new-world” aroma. Interestingly enough, it was lean, bright & crisp on the palate $14.89
5. Vidal Estate Marlborough/Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2000 – New Zealand.Deep cherries, smooth berries, new leather, bubble gum – smells like a cherry wood sundeck! Complex nose, but quite neutral on the palate – simple & neutral. Short finish, low tannins, low acidity. $17.89
6. Winzergenossenschaft Mayschob-Altenahr “N. Ponsart Edition Nr. 12” Ahr Spatburgunder Troken 2001 – Ahr Valley, Germany. This wine was dedicated to an artist who did some work in the area. “Trochen” means dry, serious table wine. This wine won a regional gold medal. Aromas like Germany, grilled sausages & dill. It would be wonderful with grilled bratwurst. $30.69
7. Antonin Guyon Chambolle-Musigny 1999 – Burgundy, France. Cote d’Or region. Aromas reminiscent of forest floor, mushrooms, leaves, undergrowth – very earthy. This Pinot is focused and bold with muscle, depth & elegance. Nice, refined structure & a long finish. Each sip gets more interesting. $19.99 for a half bottle.
8. Alois Lageder “Krafuss” Alto Adige Pinot Nero 2000 – Tentino-Alto Adige, Italy. Pinot Noir is called Pinot Nero in Italy. Deep color, beautiful aroma of deep cherries, earth, wood, and a bit of campfire smoke. Nice cherry flavor with a hint of lavender. Take this one on your next outdoor bbq. $29.69.
9. Belle Glos Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2001 – Santa Barbara County, California. Definitely California – fruit forward with bright cherries on the palate; vegetal & brand new vinyl beach ball in the smell. $29.69.
10. Peregrinde Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001 – New Zealand. This one has a Burgundy nose and a California taste. It started out a bit “green beany.” But it grew on me. Deep color; delicious cherry and cassis flavor; woody aroma; deep & powerful new-world Pinot. $29.
11. Ninth Island Tasmania Pinot Noir 2002 – Australia. Smells like brown sugar and Coca Cola. Quite a deep color and a bit more tannic than other Pinots – the class wondered if there might be a percentage of Shiraz added in. On sale for $12.
12. Brick House “Cuvee de Tonnelier” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2002 –Oregon. Tonnelier means “barrel.” Lots of sweet fruit in this organic wine. Perfumed aromas of sandalwood, clove & tobacco. New-world nose. The flavor profile is very Oregon and will age nicely. $39.49.
13. Siduri Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir 2001 –Monterey County, California. This is a highly regarded Pinot from a single, coastal vineyard. Deep color. Tannins quite high, but smooth and balanced. At first the aromas were vegetal with a hint of shoe polish in the fruit. Deep fruit, raisin & prune flavors. This one will also age nicely. $54.29.
14. Corton Grand Cru Bonneau du Martray 1999 – Burgundy, France. Classic Burgundy. Not a lot of nose; reminiscent of roasted beets. The scent changes with time – really pulls you in. This Pinot has a lot of structure with smooth, silky tannins. It’s a little young right now – it will be fabulous in about 8 years. $69.
Tasting fourteen Pinots side by side was fascinating – the terroir of each wine swirled up into my head through its intoxicating bouquet, and lingered on my palate for days. Seriously – the Burgundies smelled like France, the Pinot Nero tasted like Italy, and the Santa Barbara Pinot was reminiscent of its very distinctive seacoast vineyard. After five hours of inhaling these passionate souls, I was beginning to feel a bit like Sybil… a happy, satisfied Sybil, that is.