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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Much Love for American Pinot Noir

A few months back, in a post on Merlot, I mentioned that Hollywood had a damaging impact on the population’s view of Merlot (this instance was of course Sideways).  At the same time, in the same film, Hollywood managed to influence the people into drinking more Pinot Noir.  I’m pleased that more people are enjoying Pinot Noir, but Pinot doesn’t need Hollywood plugging for it.  Pinot speaks for itself.

Pinot Noir is generally regarded as the most sensual of wines; it’s smooth, elegant, and mysterious.  We all know someone with the Pinot personality - by nature, slightly temperamental and laden with secrets, yet maturing into an individual of understated beauty, complexity, and extraordinary character...and a hidden naughty side.  It can take us months, even years, to work our way through the many layers of this individual’s persona, discovering and appreciating the subtleties and nuances.  And then, just when we believe we finally understand what makes this individual tick, it seems a surprise has awaited us, and we’re back to solving the mystery.  It’s this person’s air of mystery that keeps us coming back for more.  But one thing is for certain - this is the person who leaves a lasting impression upon our minds and our hearts.
And that’s just the way it is with Pinot Noir.
The most prestigious of Pinots come from the Burgundy region of France, but the grape has grown successfully in other regions as well, particularly Champagne (where it is used for the greatest sparkling wines in the world), California, Oregon, the Marlborough region of New Zealand, and Yarra Valley of Australia.  Pinot generally prefers a cooler climate and chalky soil.  Unfortunately, Pinot is a difficult grape to grow, due to its sensitivity to weather conditions and its susceptibility to diseases on account of its thin skin.  The upside to Pinot’s sensitivity is that it accurately reflects the terroir where the grapes were grown, thus contributing to the many subtleties and characteristics that vary from one Pinot to another.

For lovers of Cabernet and Syrah, Pinot at first may appear light and not quite packing the punch that bigger, fuller, rounder reds do.  But this is Pinot’s intention, to target a more discerning palate of the wine drinker with patience, who is willing to take the time to experience the soft and subtle layers and facets of Pinot Noir.

In this post I will discuss a few of my favorite American Pinots.
The 2007 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon’s WIllamette Valley is a great Pinot at a fairly reasonable price.  It’s happy yet suave, a modest purplish color with a brighter red rim, with fruit aromas and flavors of cherry and tart red fruit, hints of vanilla and chocolate, and a bit of damp earth.  The texture is silky smooth and the wine is so nicely balanced, with its classic Pinot characteristics and just a touch of sweetness as it rounds out, to finish with great length and an invitation to come back for more.  I sipped this Pinot for a while on its own, then introduced sourdough bread with two cheeses - gruyere and emmentaler - and the match was excellent.  I finished off the bottle with a double dark chocolate gelato, and the pairing was divine.  I would like to try this wine with roast chicken or duck with a berry reduction, as its classic American aromas and flavors would make an American dish complete.  Fortunately, Argyle Pinot Noir is very easy to find in wine shops, and I’ve even heard it’s been known to grace other continents with its presence.

2007 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

In the same price range as the Argyle is another of my favorites from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, it’s the Benton Lane Estate Pinot Noir.  This wine is an excellent example of its terroir, with its deep ruby color, and characteristics of cherry, raspberry, and red fruits, with light vanilla spice.  The texture is so gentle with very soft tannins that make it extra smooth, the wine is neither too light nor too heavy, and the finish is wonderful as the berry flavors linger.  Benton Lane Pinot is very food friendly - I have had it with roast Cornish game hen, braised leg of lamb, crispy sweetbreads, and quail, and I’ve enjoyed it so much each time.  I’ve been able to locate it in several wine shops, and have been very lucky to find it on the wine lists of several restaurants.

2007 Benton Lane Estate Pinot Noir

My first love among Pinot Noir is the Gary Farrell, and my most recent experience was with the 2005 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir from California’s Sonoma County.  I absolutely adore this wine; it’s a dark red with a slightly lighter rim, light floral and smoke aromas, and somewhat bold characteristics of both red and dark fruit, intense cherry, some vanilla oak, and again that hint of smokiness.  The texture is that of a perfectly smooth and elegant Pinot that’s matured several years, and the finish is luxurious and memorable.  I’ve tasted the Gary Farrell with lightly seasoned lamb chops, and more recently with leg of lamb, and I probably wouldn’t prefer it any other way.  This is perhaps the most elegant American Pinot I’ve experienced, and I do believe it will always remain among my all-time favorite wines.

2005 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir


  1. Jacq, very nicely done. If you like Gary Farrell, there is another producer near his vineyard that I think you would love. Rochioli Vineyards

    I did a tasting at both GF and RV and I must say I was blown away at RV. Of course we all have different views and tastes when it comes to Pinot.

    Lastly, I have developed a Blueberry Glaze that goes quite well on Roasted Duck Breasts and Grilled Salmon, if you are interested ....



  2. Thanks for the comment! I’d be interested to try the Rochioli, I believe the local wine shop has it. I’d also be interested in that blueberry glaze!

  3. Jac -

    I love being educated by your posts! One of these days, I'll know more about wine than merely what I like and don't like (although, I can't hope to come close to your knowledge level).

    - Marn

  4. I am the Cab and Syrah drinker you mention that undermines Pinot Noir, however this year I am learning to appreciate it and I truly adore Oregon Pinot Noir. Due to its low tannins, I also appreciate how food friendly Pinot Noir is in comparison to other wines.