Thursday, December 9, 2010

Do You Have a Pinot Moment?

Do you drink Pinot Noir? Was there a singular moment where you experienced a kind of Pinot Noir epiphany?

There wasn't that moment for me, not for Pinot Noir at least. For Cabernet Sauvignon, yes. For Zinfandel, definitely. Even for white varietals like Viognier and Chardonnay, there were moments where the heavens opened up and angels blew their trumpets. In those moments, my humble wine drinking soul was exposed to something special and I knew it.

No, for me, Pinot Noir has been more a gradual seduction, about learning as much about the grape as about my own palate. I know, for example, that the first Pinot Noir I tasted was from California. For the novice Pinot drinker, a California example is a great introduction. At the time, I was heavily into Merlot and Zinfandel so when that first sip of Pinot hit me, I marveled at it's subtlety and that bright, lively streak of acid. Still, such wine was often too light, without flavor and the intensity I enjoyed. Saying that now causes me to shake my head in amused amazement. Oh what little I knew!

Nowadays, I know for a fact that Burgundy makes the best Pinot Noir on the planet. I mean, that's conventional wisdom right? Please note I'm being just a touch sarcastic. Getting to know Burgundies took my wine geekdom to new heights where it shows no signs of slowing down.

The more Pinot I was exposed to, the more I began to love it's finicky nature. A wine that can go from  tasting like fresh baked strawberry cream tarte to a mix of forest floor and crushed black cherries fascinates me. I feel that Pinot Noir is a great grape with which to express terroir, it's very nature begs to be undiluted, cries out against bastardizing the wine with Syrah or Petite Sirah.

Yet even when mixed with those varietals, Pinot Noir remains seductive, tantalizing. The fact that we wine geeks argue for an against blending other grapes with Pinot speaks volumes to it's effect on our collective palates.

My journey isn't some cinq a sept dalliance, I ucontinue to explore Pinot with an open mind and palate. For example, a trip to Oregon earlier this year exposed me to a new (to my palate) class of Pinot Noir that carried powerful notes with such grace and composure that I was often left a bit speechless. Another example is tasting through a very interesting lineup with my San Diego Wine Mafia friends, the debate over style, region, even label design were enthusiastic and passionate.

Yet I can't drink Pinot every day, I cannot feel it's touch too often or some of the magic is lost for those special times when only Pinot Noir will do. Maybe if I was rich and had a cellar stocked with the best France, Oregon, and California had to offer, but that remains merely a dream. When I do open the subject of tonight's discourse, I feel seduced all over again and I feel like no matter what, I'll only get a taste of what Pinot can be. Never will the grape give up all her secrets.

In the end, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Beau Carufel


  1. For the most part, it was a gradual experience for me too. Due to my location, Pinot Noir was my default red, so I was exposed to it right away. The velvety texture was the part that really grabbed me, but it wasn't until I had tasted more wine that I really began to attribute that experience to Pinot Noir alone. Some early favorites were 02 Archery Summit Arcus, Beran, J. Albin, Lange Reserve, and Stag Hollow Reserve.

  2. Dan you had the right intro to wine, being so close to the Willamette Valley and all. After you began exploring other regions or varietals, did you find yourself continuing to return to Oregon wines?

  3. For sure. I consider Oregon Pinot Noir to be my #2 style behind Mosel Riesling. It's certainly influenced by my growing familiarity with the area through events and tasting trips, and how that turns into QPR and reliability as I get to know the producers and AVAs better. It's hard to imagine, but I'll bet my palate would be different if I had started out in Walla Walla, Napa, or somewhere else. I'm sure they'll remain a big part of my collection.

  4. I think one of the reasons I'm so Old World oriented is because those were the first wines I appreciated. I'd had tons of CA wines growing up but the first few "WOW" wines were all Spanish and French, that definitely influenced my palate as well as my approach to wines and how I judge them.