Friday, October 8, 2010

The State of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the most elusive wine grape. Given the fact that it's been so popular in recent years that seems like an odd statement to make. What I mean is that there is a certain "correctness" in the profile of Pinot Noir that's hard to come by. When you find it, the wine can be stunning; beautiful aromatics, light yet structured, elegant and powerful. These descriptors are all part of the package. Also part of the situation is that inexpensive Pinot Noir rarely possesses the varietal character which sets the grape apart. Although we find occasional exceptions, wines under $15 tend to be soft and jammy, and lacking in any structure and identity. In fact these wines taste like they could be made from any grape; malbec, merlot, tempranillo, whatever.

Simultaneously, on the other end of the spectrum, Pinot Noir has one of the weakest quality/price ratios and many poorly conceived wines exist in the marketplace that also lack identity and finesse, and are just too expensive. The result is that we all have to be picky, picky, picky.

Another result is that real "values" in Pinot Noir honestly start at about $18-$20, which means that Red Burgundy can be a real value. Now I'm talking about a wine which has the desired traits and characteristics I mentioned earlier. Basic Red Burgundies have nice clean berry fruit and the acidity and tannins to support it in order to keep it balanced. Better ones have more complexity, spice, and forest-like, earthy tones. Other good places to look for basic pinot in this category are some wines from the Savoy in eastern France and some surprising areas like New Zealand, Austria, Hungary, and Germany. Nothing is going to taste like "Bourgogne", but some of these wines have the right profile and enough acidity to hold things together. These are good values too.

As for domestic wines, this is where the slope is most slippery. I wish I could say that I find some decent wines here under $20 but it's rarely the case. Again you have to be very picky and you have to spend a little more, but there are some very good and beautiful wines from the US in the $25-$40 range. They are typically softer and darker in fruit than their European counterparts. Cooler regions give the best wine, look for wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara areas in California, and the Finger Lakes here in New York State.


Cheers,
Michael

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