Syrah might be the manliest wine, but Pinot Noir is the sexiest. More often than not the descriptors for Pinot Noir are sensual terms. Yet despite this sexy persona Pinot Noir often gets a bad rap. It is dismissed for being a passing fad, brought to fame in part because of its starting role in Sideways. Or people claim that Pinot Noir has no flavor, it is a light watery wine that can’t stand up to the king, Cabernet Sauvignon. But here’s the thing, those people are wrong.
Pinot Noir is not a passing fad, and even if it is Sideways was over 10 years ago now so it is at the very least it’s a trend that has stood the test of time. And those people who claim that Pinot is bland or watery, well those people just haven’t had good Pinot, and that is just plain sad. Because while Pinot may not be a big, powerful, richly tannic wine like Cabernet Sauvignon its flavors are certainly not weak or feeble. They may be softer and more refined but they are still rich and complex and lush, in fact Pinot Noir is rarely blended with any other grapes because it is so complex all on its own. Pinot Noir also has a unique ability to adapt to its surroundings, showcase the region in which is was grown. This means that while one pinot noir might not be your proverbial cup of tea there is a very good chance that there is another wine, from a different climate, in a different style that floats your particular boat.
Of all the classic wine grapes Pinot Noir is the most difficult to grow, it mutates easily in the vineyard, is sensitive to climate variations, even slight ones, and it can be unstable during winemaking. This tendency to mutate means that pinot noir has spawned hundreds of different clones and even different varietals. Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Griogo and Pinot Meunier are just some of the varietals descendent from Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a cool climate grape makes it unlike any of the other classic red varietals. Pinot Noir is able to ripen relatively quickly in cooler climes because of its thin skins. It is those thin skins that lead to lighter wines with minimal pigmentation and lighter tannins. While tannins normally provide the structure for most red wines for Pinot Noir acid serves this purpose instead.
Burgundy is the birthplace of Pinot Noir and, aside from the area of Beaujolais, Pinot Noir is the only red grape permitted to be grown there. Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir and white Burgundy is Chardonnay. Burgundy has a cool continental climate and produces ethereally light Pinot Noirs with notes of earth and spice that have the ability to age for years on end. New world Pinots tend to be far more fruit forward than their French counter parts showcases just hints of earth and spice to help balance them out. The possible exception to this rule is Oregon, whose climate is strikingly similar to Burgundy. Either way both examples of Pinot Noir still distinctly showcase the vineyards and regions in which they are grown.
The best Pinot Noirs showcase flavors of warm cherries, damp earth, mushrooms, chocolate, leather, and dried leaves. And among all that they are driven by a central core of acidity, which is one of the reasons they are some of the most flexible wines for food. One of the best ways I have heard Pinot described is as a white wine in red clothing. It is essentially the best of both worlds, the clean, bright acidity of a white wine mixed with the complexity of fruit and earth of a red. And it is precisely this combination that makes them such a compliment to such a huge range of food. Pinot Noir goes well with so many things, from a cheese plate to a piece of grilled meat, from chicken to fish. They are especially lovely with mushrooms, other vegetables and anything else with a little earthy note but the beauty of Pinot is that there are so many different styles and they are endlessly adaptable. That is why Pinot Noir is a perfect wine to order in a restaurant setting when everyone is ordering something different. This sexy, sensual wine hits the spot for everyone.