- Q & A
The other noble red grape. A medium-bodied dry red wine with an aroma ranging from peppermint and spice to cherry, rose petals, violets and truffles. It is enjoyed for its smooth, silky texture and transforms with bottle age into one of the greatest wines produced on earth.
It is one of the most difficult grapes to grow and most difficult wines to make. Lukewarm public acceptance, except for the top Burgundies from France, kept its price below Cabernet. Since the early '90s, however, dramatic improvements in quality from California's top producers as well as a strong interest in lighter, more approachable wines to go with lighter foods has seen this grape gain a considerable foothold in the red wine arena.
Does best in the cooler areas in the state like Santa Barbara County, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Mendocino and Carneros. Its thin skin naturally makes a lighter colored wine, but in many cases, a very fragrant and flavorful one. Many winemakers ferment very slowly to extract more color out of the wine, thus giving it strength and body, but at the expense of delicacy and nuance. It is vineyard specific in that it picks up the nuances of the ground in which it is grown and also very picky about weather.
Pinot Noir excels in Burgundy, especially in the tiny 15 mile strip of the Côte de Nuits like no where else. With few exceptions, unfortunately, you get what you pay for and great Burgundy is hugely expensive. The patchwork of vineyards and owners is so daunting that no one could possibly be familiar with each and every one. The major flaw in its precise Cru system for ranking vineyards is that no account is taken as to the skill or commitment of the winemaker. Therefore, while all Echezeaux is given the highest rank of Grand Cru, wines made by different winemakers in the same year can vary greatly in both quality and price. The moral is, know the producer.
Almost exclusively grown in the Trentino where it produces lighter styled, no oak wines. But, a few producers are finding that by lowering yields and minding the fermentation, they can produce superb examples.
A few daring producers on the South Island are making some standout offerings. This grape shows promise here, it's just a matter of time and commitment.
Outside of California, only Oregon excels in Pinot Noir. Like Burgundy, however, the marginal climate here allows full ripening, without rain at harvest, in less than half the vintages. When they're good, they are very good, but very few can salvage a typical harvest here. Even when a good wine is made in a poor vintage, eventually (usually sooner than later) the wine falls apart, unlike those from great vintages, which last for decades.