So what is a “great tasting Pinot Noir” really? In my humble opinion it would be a Pinot Noir that I enjoy drinking, has the elements on my palate and nose that I enjoy, and pairs well with food and on its own. Also in my opinion, I believe everyone has their own standards and palate, and must find the Pinot Noir’s that they likewise enjoy.
A Pinot Noir that someone else, “professional or not” suggests, recommends or gives a number of “points” should only be used as a guide for you when choosing that bottle of wine. This should be true with any wines you are contemplating trying.
That being said let me now proceed with my article on the finer Pinot Noirs in life, again, IMO, that I have had pleasure to taste over the years. Let me start with the present and work back in time, something, well, different shall we say.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity as well as pleasure to attend the IPNC12, which is the International Pinot Noir Conference, held in McMinnville each year. This international wine event is attended by many of the best producers of Pinot Noir from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, France and others. Over four days, I found myself tasting hundreds of wines, from all of these exceptional wineries, and met many of the vintners also.
Some of the special sessions I was privileged to attend, included tastings and discussions with the Vintner / Owners of two of the pioneer Pinot Noir growers here in Oregon. At this tasting I found myself tasting Pinot Noirs from three different years, and doing comparisons. Remarkably, these wines were 20-30 years old, and from private collections. Need I say that there weren’t many of us using our spit buckets !
A trip to the Willakenzie Vineyards for wine tasting and a luncheon, brought me face to face with a lady vintner from France, Thiébault Huber, who brought to my lips her 2010 Domaine Huber-Verdereau Pinot Noir that had me calling my travel agent to book a flight to France to visit her vineyards, that day! Well, one can only dream, right? Actually it was quite intriguing, as she discussed how her family vineyards, which by the way are older than any of ours here in the US, were “so young”. Tasting them, along with the two other well-known wineries best Pinot Noirs was a million dollar experience for me.
The thing is, you can always find the “wine expert” who will say that a wine tastes like a Pinot Noir should, or doesn’t. I myself have found over the years, and especially after this conference, that the Pinot Noir that tastes like a great Pinot Noir, is the one in your glass that makes you smile, and indulge in another sip or two. It’s the one with the flavors that you are looking for in that wine.
I find that the aromas and elements in Pinot Noir that curl around your tongue, may cling to your molars, with hints of memories whishing around your nose. These have been developed by that vintner, from the soils the vines were grown in, and whatever magic he did with his magic wand, what barrel he put this wine to sleep in, and how it aged in the bottle, or not.
If you put bottles of the “best” Pinot Noir’s from all the countries present at that conference, and wrapped them in brown paper, and started tasting and noting your findings, you would be quite surprised. Every single one of them would be different. I found that I really enjoy many of the Oregon Pinot Noirs, but at the same time equally enjoyed the French Pinot Noirs from the Burgundy Wine Regions, when in fact they were dramatically different. I just knew that what I tasted was the terroir of each different country.
If you are from California, you are probably going to disagree with what I am going to say next, but we can both have our own opinions. I find that Pinot Noir produced in California and Pinot Noir produced in Oregon are two different animals. There, I said it! When I put most, not all, but most Pinot Noir from both states, especially the Napa / Sonoma area, side by side with say Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot’s, on my palate, completely different.
Oregon Pinot Noir is most often lighter in color; body and taste, while it’s relatives down south are darker, heavier, in many cases almost like Zinfandels. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not badmouthing the Zin’s, in fact they are my favorite reds. But really, I find more of a bite, more tannin levels, and although very delicious in most cases, very different from the Oregon Pinot’s.
That being said, let’s looks at a couple examples of what I tasted at the conference, from both states, and heck, lets throw in France as well.
As in fact I tasted hundreds of wines at WBC12, I will pick my Winery Tour, and tasting’s of three wineries Pinot Noir for my examples. The tour was at the magnificent WillaKenzie Vineyards in Yamhill, Oregon. After a vineyard tour we were escorted into a large tasting room, and seated around a table, set up for our tasting. The three wineries that were presenting side-by-side tastings were WillaKenzie Estate, Pommard from France and Domaine Serene from Dayton, Oregon.
From WillaKenzie Estate we tasted their 2010 Aliette Pinot Noir, soon to be released. This young Pinot Noir exhibited softer tannins surrounded the red fruit, with some cinnamon flavors that led you to a superb finish. Given it’s age this Pinot Noir will only become more wonderful with a few years in the cellar.
From Domaine Serene Winery we tasted their not yet released 2010 Everstad Reserve Pinot Noir. I found the nose on this wine a delight, with berry and black fruit, which led to a full mouth of raspberry and mineral with a hint of acidity. The finish on this Pinot Noir was for a young wine, velvety, and a pleasure on my palate. Domaine Serene again has produced a winner here as this Pinot Noir says Willamette Valley all over it.
Finally we tasted the French 2010 “Fanny Sabre” Pinot Noir from Pommard Vineyards, Burgundy, France. With my first pour of this red, followed by a swirl and sniff, this wine presented my senses with a delightful nose of red fruit, blackberry, raspberry and cherry. The following sip presented a minerality, which I immediately recognized as not from U.S. soils. There is just a different, and may I say charming difference in the presentation of flavors to your palate delivered from Burgundy Pinot Noir. Let me just say that I had no intention of using a “spit bucket” for this wine.
The “bottom line” in my opinion is this. Each country producing Pinot Noir presents it’s own rendition of this finicky grape. They are each very unique, and therefore your enjoyment of a Pinot Noir will depend on what flavors you relish, and more importantly, which you are accustomed to drinking. Those in Pinot Country California believe theirs is a true example of U.S. Pinot Noir. Oregon feels that it’s resemblance and location produces a mirror of the Burgundy Pinot Noir.
I personally find the Pinot of California heavier than that of Oregon, thus giving me more options for sipping with a variety of food choices. My choices for Pinot Noirs of France, and specifically Burgundy, are more in the middle, and actually present well with anything. But again, your choice on what you believe is a great Pinot Noir all comes down to your specific palate. Enjoy the journey, visit many wines, create a log book, and enjoy the ride.