06/17/09 – Pinot Noir, in all its versatile glory

By Jesse on June 16, 2009

One characteristic we all look for in our vino is versatility — the ability of a wine to pair nicely with numerous dishes, with various social situations, with whatever life throws our way. This is especially important in the summer months, when the warming temperatures can entice even the staunchest wino to pine for the thirst-quenching promise of an ice cold beer. Before you wander down Suds Street, however, take a moment to consider Pinot Noir, a grape that plays a whole lot of roles. This week, we’ll drink several of them.

In a recent blog post, our friend Dr. Vino asked his readers to share their experiences finding good Pinot Noir for under $20. His main question was whether most good Pinot in this price range comes from the Old World (aka France) or the New World (anywhere outside of Europe). There’s a big difference between French Pinot Noir and, say, Californian, Oregonian, or New Zealand…ish? According to his readers, however, it’s possible to find good examples of both types for $20 or less.

Old World Pinot. Basically, what we’re talking about here is Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region of France. Within Burgundy, there are numerous appellations, including the four famous Cotes: (Cote d’Or, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, and Cote Chalonnaise), so ask your salesperson for help if you require. In Burgundy, where it’s the only grape permitted in the red wine, Pinot Noir is earthy, woodsy, and delicate in its flavors. It’s a far, far cry from…

New World Pinot. This term casts a pretty wide net, but the point is basically that it’s hard for Pinot to have that earthy “Burgundy” character if it’s not grown in Burgundy. In warmer climates, particularly, Pinot can be hugely fruity, with giant notes of red berry jam, and sometimes even some spice and candied fruit. Oregon is a place that can produce the more austere style, so if you’re looking for a good balance between fruit and earthiness, you might want to go Ducks. Other options for New World Pinot include New Zealand, Chile, and the impoverished state we all call home.

Dr. Vino’s post left out one huge category, however, and it’s one that’s perfect for the summer months. Let’s not forget…

Sparkling Pinot. The Pinot Noir grape is an important component of some of the most legendary sparklers from Champagne, as well as bubbly from elsewhere in the world, especially that which is made in the Methode Champagnoise. Any time you see a bottle that says “blancs de noir” (literally, “white from black”), that means it’s a (white) sparkling wine made from majority Pinot Noir grapes. Our host Emily is a huge sparkling wine fan, so I know she’d be pleased if you went blancs de noir style.

Speaking of Emily, we’ll be meeting at her place in Manhattan Beach. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and grab yourself a bottle of Pinot Noir: still or sparkling, Old World or New. (As always, you can opt to bring a $10 donation if you prefer.)

We’ll see you on Wednesday at 9pm!