People often tell me that they love Pinot Noir, but rarely can they explain why. Perhaps it’s a fashion/trend, or maybe there is no particular reason other than its appealing taste. Pinot Noir is becoming increasingly popular in America, and it is definitely one of the most celebrated wine varietals.
Pinot Noir is the grape used to make great red Burgundy wines, and it is one of the main grapes used in making Champagne. Its low yields and sensitivity to soil and climatic conditions make it difficult and expensive to cultivate and to make into wine.
It reaches great quality in certain (cooler climate) regions, including in California (Carneros by the San Francisco Bay, Russian River in Sonoma County, Monterey in the central coast), and Oregon (Willamette Valley), as well as regions of New Zealand, Chile and Northern Italy.
So how is the great taste of Pinot Noir different from that of other fine red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux? For me it is the fineness of the wine’s color, the elegant aroma (bouquet), delicate fruit (berries), mild tannins and food-friendly acidity. But perhaps the best answer is that you have to taste them and discover for yourself. Because there are hundreds of styles (by countless winemakers), tasting descriptions and opinions vary greatly. As a wine lover I can only offer one person’s opinion, albeit based on having tasted hundreds of different Pinot Noir wines.
Fortunately, I have lived many years in the San Francisco Bay Area surrounded by great wine regions: from San Francisco it’s an hour drive north to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions; one and a half hours south to Monterey County and others. Many California wineries produce great Pinot Noir with quite different styles.
I have also been to the classic Pinot Noir wine country of Burgundy, France, both times in the beginning of autumn just before the grape harvest. Most wineries there are not typically open to the public, unlike in California, so all you can do is look at the vineyards, feel the air and sample the grapes (free), then taste the wines in local wine shops. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are classic, well balanced delicious wines, but the food in Burgundy is as special as the wine... it is created to complement and enjoy with the wine. And many dishes are cooked with Burgundy wine such as famous Boeuf bourguignon, Coq au vin, Jambon persille, Quenelle Lyonnaise. There are countless regional specialties.
California and Oregon wines are getting more graceful and unique in style, as is the food. Try and enjoy Pinot Noir wine from different wineries and regions. The differences can be striking, as is the range of foods that can be paired with the many styles... perfect for the autumn table.