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Wine and Food Wednesday
Which Pinot? It Depends On What’s For Dinner—Not Its Stated Alcohol Level

By Stephen Eliot

We here at Connoisseurs’ Guide have, in fact, been drowning in a sea of Pinot Noir as we ready our June report on 150 newly released versions of the grape. There are worse ways to go, of course, and neither Charlie nor I are yet calling for help.

The truth is that the kitchen counters in both the Eliot and Olken households are lined with a considerable collection of altogether remarkable wines left over from our issue-close tastings, and Pinot has thus been the starting point for a good many meals of late…and I have no complaints.

Pinot Noir, it can be easily argued, is among the most versatile food-friendly red wines around, and it can be made successfully in a number of styles. I am routinely asked by my culinary students about my favorite varietal. “Don’t have one,” I say, “depends on what’s for dinner.” When pressed harder and asked what red grape I would choose if I only could choose one, the answer is inevitably Pinot. Still, my inquisitors inevitably press on, “then what is your favorite Pinot?” “Don’t have one,” I say, “depends on what’s for dinner.” The point of course being that Pinot Noir is no single entity, that there is no one “proper” model.

Even a brief foray into the world of internet electronic blather these days brings the quick realization that diversity of varietal style has become anathema to many, and Pinot Noir seems to be in the cross hairs. We are lectured about proper paradigms and authenticity and correctness. There are lamentations aplenty about how many if not most winemakers have somehow lost their bearings, at least from those commentators to whom the truth has been revealed. “Overripe”, “over-oaked”, “too thin and acidic”, “too heavy and thick”, “not enough fruit”, “too much fruit”, “tastes like Syrah”…sound familiar? If mildly amusing, the debate has also become boring, and the broader beauty of well-made Pinot has gotten lost along the way.

It is Pinot Noir’s very ability to be different, to reflect its vintage and maker and place, that I think, is perhaps its greatest virtue, and it is for me an endless source of fascination and discovery. I simply do not get tired of the stuff. Moreover, I find delight in all of its guises, from refined, racy and elegant to plush, well-ripened and wonderfully rich. I stand with one foot planted firmly on each side of the widening line dividing those who rally behind the banners of “too much” and “too little”, and, frankly, I chuckle a bit at the invectives hurled back and forth. I do not look at alcohol numbers, but I know coarseness and heat when I taste it. I do not care to know about pH and total acidity when I am tasting a wine; I can tell the difference between shrill acids and dulling softness. I simply taste the wines, one at a time, and they are either good or not, and I know when Pinot does not taste like Pinot. When it comes to well-made Pinot Noir, I confess to being an ardent fan of most every style…it depends, you see, on what is for dinner.


No Subject
by TomHill
Posted on:5/18/2011 11:49:43 AM

I'm with you on this one, Stephen. That's exactly why I enjoy Pinot (and Syrah) and eschew (I always feel like a pompous twit using that word) Cabernet...the diversity of style.

   I'll as you (or Charlie) the same question I've posed elsewhere. It is oft stated that Pinot (some say Nebbiolo) reflects its terroir more than any other grape. Assuming that be correct (is it?), why is Pinot able to do this better than any other variety??

   Would appreciate any thoughts, ex-cathedra or otherwise, you might have.

Wrong subject?
by Christian Miller
Posted on:5/18/2011 5:01:34 PM

"It is oft stated that Pinot (some say Nebbiolo) reflects its terroir more than any other grape. Assuming that be correct (is it?)..."

I'm not so sure it is. Pinot seems so mutable from clonal and winemaking choices. Here in California, I often think of Zinfandel as the most terroir-driven grape (assuming it's neither hyper-ripe nor ultra-oaked). Many of the clonal or cutting variants are fairly subtle, the vines are older, and the winemaking often has (how to put this?) less drama. That doesn't mean it's intrinsically the most reflective, it just ends up that way. 

by Adam Lee
Posted on:5/19/2011 4:07:57 AM

Tom and Christian,

As a grand lover of Pinot Noir from many different terroirs, I am of the opinion that Pinot Noir is a superb reflector of place....but I don't know that I would claim that it does so in a greater way than any other grape.

I do think that certain factors might eliminate other grapes from that consideration.....the choice with many white grapes to barrel ferment, or to put them thru ml (or not) might elimate them from consideration as premier reflectors of terroir.  Perhaps Syrah's tendency to reductiveness would eliminate it as well. 

But to put Pinot Noir on a pedestal alone isn't something I would feel comfortable doing.

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines


by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/19/2011 7:46:03 AM


Fascinating question, and one I am enthusiastic to address, speculatively, of course, in today's blog.

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