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Pinot Noir—Challenging To Taste But Great To Drink

By Charles Olken

We are always surprised by how hard we have to work to taste through a batch of Pinot Noirs. The temptation is to think that this wonderful variety, such a joy to drink, would be easy to taste. Its tannins are lower than anything but white wine and its alcohols, while sometimes elevated, are typically lower than most reds.

So, if Pinot Noir is more open and less harsh than Cabernet or Zinfandel or Syrah, why is it that we feel more worn out after sitting over a dozen and a half Pinots than we do when we review those other sturdier, indeed, more muscular varieties.

My tasting partner here at CGCW, Steve Eliot, suggested only somewhat tongue-in-cheek that it was because we are getting older. And while there is no denying that fact, it is clear that we come away from an equivalent number of Cabernets with less strain.

No, the answer has nothing to do with the comparative physical demands of one variety versus another. If that were the case, Petite Sirah would leave us positively bushed. The reason why Pinot Noir is such a challenge, why it is so very demanding lies in its complexity. There is no variety with more nuance, more tricks up its sleeve than Pinot Noir. It does not leap out of the glass at you. It does not play to any one model but to many subtle variations, and it is in the delivery of those small differences that Pinot Noir shines.

It is why, when all is said and done, that Pinot Noir has become the variety most likely to come out of our cellars when a great meal is on tap. It is not that we have any axe to grind with those boxes of decades old Cabernet that dominate our cellar. We drink them as well because they are also grand wines. But they are less nuanced in their youth and they are less nuanced as they age. It is admittedly simplistic to say that Cabernet is a hedonistic pleasure and Pinot is an intellectual pleasure. Both varieties provide plenty of enjoyment across all fronts.

But the reason why Pinot is the most demanding wine on the tasting table is that we simply have to work harder to search out those very nuances that then make the variety so special on our dining table.

And besides, it is really not all that hard. We are talking about wine tasting here after all.


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'hard'ly working
by doug wilder
Posted on:11/18/2015 12:56:24 PM

I spent the last couple nights tasting through the 2014 Loring Pinot Noir portfolio. I agree that as Pinot Noir they would be much easier to drink than taste/critique simply because of the subtle nuances. Not that I am complaining.

Lighter doesn't mean friendlier
by Christian Miller
Posted on:11/19/2015 12:00:23 AM

I find there is a bitter aggressiveness in young Pinot Noir tannins that is sometimes harsher than the more substantial tannins of Syrah or Cab. A winemaker once explained it to me in terms of the ratio of different types of tannins, but alas I have forgotten that particular piece of wisdom. Anyway, add in sometimes substantial acidity, and a lot of young Pinot Noirs are far from quaffable.

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