Pinot Noir

“Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know.  Right?  It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early.  It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected.  No, Pinot needs constant care and attention.  You know?  And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked away corners of the world.  And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really.  Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.  Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”

-Miles played by Paul Giamatti in the 2004 film, Sideways-

Of all the grapes that intended for the making of fine wine, Pinot Noir is probably the most frustrating and infuriating to work with.  Ironically, it is also one of the very best when done properly.  Aptly named the ‘heartbreak grape’, there is no other grape variety to have seduced and rejected so many lovers.  It is the grape that is responsible for the great red wines of the Burgundy region of France, great names like Bonnes Mares, Chambertin, Corton, Musigny, Richebourg, Romanée-Conti, Vougeot, and Volnay.  These are names that can send a chill down a Pinophiles backbone.

It is one of the oldest grape varieties to be used for the production of wine.  The Romans called it Helvenacia Minor and produced wine from it as early as the first century AD.  It is regarded as one of the world’s noblest of wine varieties and carries with it the heavy burden of being hard to grow, ferment, transport, store, and sometimes enjoy.  It is the most sensitive of grapes, susceptible to a variety of problems such as frost, disease, mildew, etc.  Pinot Noir ferments quite violently, often “boiling” up and out of its container, speeding the fermentation process out of control.

Through trial and error, growers and winemakers have discovered that Pinot Noir needs to grow in a climate that has warm days and cool nights.  If it receives too little heat in the growing season, its wines are thin and pale and if the growing season is too warm, the wines have an overripe, cooked flavour.

While the grape may make outstanding wine in Burgundy, it may not do very well in another region.  To that extent, Pinot Noir has been cloned to be able to adapt to different regions of the world.  A clone is a genetically distinct variation of a grape vine and is created by taking cuttings from an original mother vine and propagating new vines.  Pinot Noir, being one of the oldest varietals in the world, mutates more easily that most others so it has more clones than any other grape variety.  There are quite possible as many as 200 and up to 1000 different clones of Pinot Noir in the world.  By comparison, Cabernet Sauvignon has only twelve identifiable clones.

It is also the only grape with a festival devoted to it.  Started in late 1985 by a group of Oregon wine-lovers, winemakers, restaurateurs and retailers who visualized a premier wine event, it is held every year in McMinnville, Oregon, the heart of Oregon wine country.  Hailed by The Wine Advocate as “unquestionably the finest in the world,” the International Pinot Noir Celebration consists of three days of seminars, tastings, tours, and one-of-a-kind meals with over sixty international Pinot Noir winemakers.  This international camaraderie has brought the IPNC  much acclaim for its hospitable “summer camp” spirit.  This year’s festival is the 26th annual and will be held on July 27-29, 2012.

A lot of work goes into producing a wine, just not the planted, growing, and fermenting.  Diligent research and development is used to produce the best possible wine for the consumer to enjoy, so the next time you buy a bottle of Pinot Noir, think very seriously about what has gone into the making of that wine.

This weekend, we take a look at some excellent examples of Pinot Noir.  Enjoy.

If you are looking for a great tasting Pinot Noir, this is the one.  One of the best value wines around, the 2008 Inniskillin Black Label ($17) has a rich, silky smooth texture, ripe black cherry/strawberry fruit, creamy vanilla with hints of toast and spice.  Super-soft acidity and medium tannins on the long finish, this wine is ready to go.  Great with BBQ salmon.

The 2009 Church and State “Hollenbach Vineyard” ($29) is chock full of ripe raspberry, strawberry, and black cherry fruit aromas with hints of saddle leather, smoke, rose petal, brown sugar and vanilla/caramel.  The texture on the palate is soft, lush, and juicy with loads of red and black fruit flavours, vanilla, brown sugar, milk chocolate, toasty oak and peppery spice.  Fantastic Pinot Noir from this fantastic producer.

A delicious Pinot Noir, the 2009 See Ya Later Ranch ($20.20) displays fresh blackberry, cherry, strawberry and raspberry notes with spicy licorice, cinnamon, and hints of mushroom and saddle leather.  The palate is lush and juicy with plenty of black and red fruit flavours, spice, smoke, vanilla and caramel.  Soft with great finesse on the finish, this is another incredible value Pinot.

Just released onto the market, the 2010 Orofino ($38) is a classic Pinot Noir with its soft cranberry, cherry and strawberry aromas.  The palate is soft and juicy with a creamy mouthfeel and flavours of red fruits leather and spice.  This wine will need at least 6 months to come together but with so little produced there will be very little on the retail market.

A great tasting Pinot Noir from Burgundy, the 2008 Bichot “Old Vines” ($22) is produced from vines aged between 25 to 35 years old in the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits areas, on clay-and-limestone soils. This diversity allows for the beautiful complexity of this wine.  A velvety, silky-smooth wine displaying ripe raspberry, cherry, strawberry and cassis fruit aromas with hints of sweet licorice, menthol, vanilla and new leather, the delicate notes of red and black fruit, roses, violets, hints of vanilla and smoke balance a lush and rich texture.  Velvety soft acidity with medium tannins on the finish, this is a “drink-me-up” wine, not intended for aging.  Just invited some friends over and enjoy.  This is generous wine can stand up to a number of rich foods.  Try pairing it with salmon steaks or duck Confit with garlic-mashed potatoes.


About FirstPressings

Jim Martin has been involved with the wine and spirits industry for more than three decades. Originally from Vancouver, he started with the provincial BCLDB and discovered a passion for wine in 1977 when he stumbled across a 1975 Bordeaux, which was a revelation to him. This led to delving further into wine appreciation through education, constant tasting and evaluation of the different regions of the world. In 2004, he left the BCLDB for the private sector becoming involved in the opening of Kelowna's first private specialty wine store, Waterfront Wines. He was instrumental in developing an email newsletter while at the LDB and expanding it at Waterfront Wines to now include over 3000 people, who receive up-to-date wine news every week. You can reach Jim at 778-484-5656 or email or visit
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