Pinot Noir in the Spotlight
Ahh wine. the infamous, elegant drink that has decorated and littered parties, gatherings, and social events for centuries. The drink used to bring people together and forget their troubles as they sip the sometimes satin like beverage among their other peers and close family members. Wine is the go to for many Americans as a little reward when out with loved ones on a quiet dinner or even in the comfort of home when life seems to weigh its burdens. Wine is cherished by many as a drink notably famous for its versatility and bold flavors. This drink comes in so many varieties with delicious and soothing flavors for everyone to try. One wine stands out in a particular, and that is the infamous Pinot Noir. A light and crisp wine that is gaining its fame among many Americans for its unique flavor and shining ability to pair perfectly with a myriad of delicious meals and dinners. Today the spotlight is on Pinot Noir and I’m going to walk you through the basics and everything you need to know about this one of a kind drink.
What is it?
Pinot Noir is French for the black pine cone. Both of these words allude to the physical appearance of the grape that this wine comes from. It’s a red wine that originates from the grape species of Vitis Vinifera and is said to be a dark, almost black color with a shape similar to that of a pine cone. These grape vines are native to the regions of the Mediterranean, central Europe, and Southwestern Asia. It’s predominately known in the Burgundy region of France with some other regions including the Russian Rivers of California (also known as American Viticultural Area), Adelaide Hills, the Yarra Valley in Australia, wine regions of New Zealand (known as Marlborough), Oregon and other regions of the area. It has gained a notable reputation as the wine of the toughest grapes to cultivate, with constant round the clock care and maintenance as well as warm conditions to ensure optimum flavor and growth. Due to the tough upkeep needed by the grapes, Pinot Noir is often sold in considerably smaller quantities than other red wines, and is the belle of all wines in the region of Burgundy France, often being coined the term Red Burgundy by the French. In addition to the difficulty of successfully growing the grapes for this wine, it also tends to age quicker than other red wines with an age of 4-5 years if stored only the slight bit improperly, in comparison to its competitor, the well known Cabernet Sauvignon, which has an age of about 10-20 years. Even being a wine that originates from the hardest to grow grapes, coming in small quantities, and having an extremely small age date coupled with its strict storage maintenance, this red wine no doubt has still become a popular, world class favorite for its distinctive flavor.
Believe it or not, the grape of the Pinot Noir has been coined the grandparents or even great grandparents to other grapes as it is said to be about 2,000 years old! That’s incredibly old in comparison to the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is thought to be about only a couple hundred years old. It is said that the grape of the Pinot Noir was cultivated around 1,000 A.D in the vineyards of France that were, at that time, under the authority of the Monks. The monks had a fervent belief in the idea of hard labor as they thought that doing so would bring them closer to God. As a result these monks cultivated the hillsides of the Burgundy region. They made meticulous reports on all the grapes they came across, including where they grew best, where they withered and died, and what each grape tasted like. They, however; never really made monetary gains from the grapes they discovered as the Monks were more so into religious devotion. The region of Burgundy was also home to another grape known as the Gamay. This grape was quickly outlawed in 1395, making the Pinot Noir, the reigning grape of the region. It gained popularity for both its astounding quality and scarcity. It even was so popular that Pope Urban V refused to return to Italy from the region of Burgundy during the Middle Ages for the reason of “You can’t get wine like this in Italy.” Soon enough it gained esteem by both Kings and Commoners of France as the “noble grape” with magical abilities when paired with food. This wine gained some serious popularity in the European and Asian area, and it wasn’t until Post Prohibition that Americans started to discover and recognize the esteem behind this valuable grape. It wasn’t long before American vineyards begin to plant the grape themselves, and the wine became a hit for Americans to heftily spend their money and enjoy.
Despite the wine’s paucity when in comparison to red grapes, Pinot Noir is surely a distinct flavor like no other and is deserving of its name as an esteemed wine. The flavor of Pinot Noir is dry and is noted as having many different fruity and earth like qualities to it. Each glass seems to spark a new flavor for every individual person. When noting fruity flavors, it is said that Pinot Noir can have the characteristics of a strawberry, blackberry, cherry, or raspberry. Others, when referring to its earth like qualities, nail the flavors as being herbal, mushroom, or leather. The drink itself can also take on a warm spice flavor with notable spices being cinnamon, clove, or a smoky tobacco flavor. Some report characteristics of a rose, plum or currant. In addition to being a fruit forward wine, Pinot Noir is known to have a medium to high acidity level and medium to low tannins. Tannin, for those who are confused, refers to the astringency or dry flavor that wine can bring along. They are naturally occurring compounds found in grapes and grape stems. The wine itself is also known to have a lighter color than traditional red wines.
Pairings with Food
Of all the qualities that encompass this grape, probably the most notable quality of this grape other than its flavor and scarcity, is the fact that it can truly be paired with an abundance of different foods and meals. It’s practically perfect with almost all foods and for this reason this wine has such a booming popularity and a not so pretty price. The ability to pair with almost everything probably comes from the fact that the wine has a bright acidity and complexity, in addition to its rich, fruity flavor. When opting for light and fresh Pinot Noirs (that are probably way more inexpensive) try to steer towards dishes with cold meat, creamy sauces, or refreshing spring vegetables with goat cheese. Food like this really pair with the light subtly sweet fruit notes that the wine provides. If you’ve splashed some cash on a good Pinot Noir from California, Chile, or New Zealand, expect a taste similar to that of a bright berry fruit. These types of Pinot Noirs are extremely sweet and fruity and go amazing with a slight flare of spice such as grilled meats and seafood. Tuna, salmon, pork, or other meats that are barbecued or roasted with a light sweet and tangy flavor go great with sweet and fruity Pinot Noirs. You can also try to opt for meat dishes that are paired with fruit like cherries or figs. If you have gone for a top red Burgundy Pinot Noir that holds very silky notes then try pairing your glass with some roasted chickens, lambs or lobsters. Aim for some creamy mushroom and pair it with other meats such as turkey or chicken sausages. Try out dishes with a lot of herb or garlic flavorings to really bring out the silky texture of the drink. Other pinots can include rich and full bodied pinots that come from hot vintages or Central Otago. This type of Pinot pairs greatly with cheeses such as blue cheese, Brie or other milder cheeses such as Gorgonzola. Aim for a nice steak venison, roasted goose, or glazed ham, where the sauces for these meats are made of Pinot Noir. Last but surely not the least (because there is no such thing as least when it comes to Pinot Noir), if one has gone for a much older vintage Pinot Noir with a more mature taste, go for feathered game such as pheasants, grouse, or partridge. Go for some nice truffles on the side as well. After you’ve eaten up your delicious dinner and are ready to have a go at the dessert with your next glass of Pinot, try out desserts such as oatmeal raisin cookies, or caramel and chocolate (dark chocolate will be even more heavenly). Of course if you are drinking your Pinot Noir and do not have a big appetite but are feeling like you need a snack, there are some amazing cheeses that will truly intensify the experience of drinking Pinot Noir altogether. When drinking such a wine like this, one should aim for washed rind cheeses or nutty medium firm cheeses. This includes cheeses such as gruyere, Swiss, Brie, Camembert, Taleggio and more. Try these cheeses out with some grilled bread and you will swear that snacking has never tasted better!
Fun Facts about Pinot Noir- A little extra fun reading on the diversity and uniqueness of such a grape!
The HeartBreak Grape- Pinot Noir has been coined the term by many winemakers as the heartbreak grape. Of course with what I have stated earlier in the article, you can take an easy and quick guess as to why that is. It no doubt points to the complexity of growing such a grape. The Pinot Noir, needs optimum and strict climate conditions to be met in order to be good enough for wine making. The grape has an extremely thin skin which makes picking it an utter nightmare. One wrong pick and the grape won’t be good enough anymore to use for fine wine. Ripening such a grape is already hard on its own, so imagine the heartbreak when after all the careful maintenance and the utter happiness that it has finally been ripened to perfection, one wrong pick and it’s game over.
Italy Doesn’t Make the Cut- Despite being extremely notable for producing the Pinot Noir, Italy is not even in the top three producers for growing and producing this fine wine. It’s knocked down by France-which duh it should be since it originates from France, as well as the United States, and Germany, which one would definitely not expect.
It Has it’s Own Celebration – With the United States being in the top 3 producers of this grape and Americans going absolutely crazy for this wine, it’s no secret that the US would have its own yearly celebration in Oregon in which it invites producers from all over the world to join in on the celebration. This annual fun has been going on for about 30 years and with the way Americans seem to love it, it definitely will not be stopped anytime soon.
Pinot Noir Coins the Term – Upon being discovered and cultivated by the monks almost 2,000 years ago, it is said that when the monks were writing up details about the lavish grape, they used the term “terroir” (which is an extremely popular term in the wine industry, meaning the wine tastes like where it came from). The term terroir is now used in the wine industry as a selling point for other wines. In addition, the cultivation of Pinot Noirs and their difficult upkeep, paved the way for the creation of single vineyards to keep those grapes out of harm’s way.
It’s no secret that the Pinot Noir, is truly a grape of immense interest and distinctive uniqueness, that sets it apart from its red wine competitors and other wines in general. The scarcity, difficulty in ripening, paired with its long, old history and magical food pairing abilities makes this wine a sure show stopper and most definitely deserving of its own spotlight. Now that you understand the craze behind this crazy dark, pine conned grape, what are you waiting for? Try yours now and join in on the craze this grape has brought to winemakers and fine diners all over the world.