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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

Why Pinot? Why Now?

Why Pinot, Why Now?

O.K., it's because of "Sideways." But this question runs quite a bit deeper. The wine industry has seen a large increase in the amount of interest in this great varietal. Trends come and go, but it seems Americans are truly beginning to discover and fall in love with this wine for the first time.

"Because it's no f-in Merlot!"
Not eloquent, but true (at the moment). In "Sideways," Miles loathes Merlot, which isn't to say that all Merlot is bad; he just hates everything it stands for. Merlot was a varietal that saw a huge jump in popularity in the last 2 decades for 2 reasons: a) easy/ fun to say (no one knows how to say Gamay, Sangiovese, Mourvedre, or a smattering of other foreign names) b) The resulting wine was often non-offensive, non-challenging, and fruity, sort of a "hey ma, look at me, I'm drinking wine" but leaving a lot to be desired in the way of inspiration. This is all because giant conglomerate factory wineries overgrow, overfarm and under deliver a very easy grape to grow. With the exception of some vineyards in Napa, Bordeaux and a handful of other spots, Merlot is best used as a blending grape, sort of a backup singer providing harmony for the lead singer, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir is an ironic challenger to Merlot's throne. Pinot Noir is a grape that can't be grown just anywhere. You'd be hard pressed to find a grape that cares about its real estate more than Pinot. The soil, sun, temperature, humidity, etc, all need to be just right in order to grow this grape with any degree of success. Pinot Noir is a diva, but when it's great, it can be a religious experience. Some of the most prized and valuable wines in the world are Pinot Noir; Red Burgundy (not to be confused with hearty Burgundy) is 100 percent Pinot Noir. Echezeaux, Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin and Domaine Romanee-Conti are all made from Pinot Noir.
In a manner of speaking, Pinot Noir has some serious wine street-cred, but why is it beginning to take hold among the masses? Well, it's good wine, and unlike some other wines, it doesn't always require that you acquire a taste for some of the flavor profiles. It is abundant in red-fruit flavors (think of fruits that are red: cherries, raspberries and strawberries), and readily pairs with just about any type of cuisine. It is arguably the most versatile wine for food pairings. It will go with anything from a spring salad to sushi to grilled lamb to heavy, hearty dishes like beef stew, and practically everything in between.
Here are a few things to remember when buying Pinot Noir:
1. Location, location, location! Burgundy is great from Oregon, specifically, Willamette Valley and Yamhill County. Carneros is great; Russian River is great; Sonoma Coast is good to great; Monterey, Santa Lucia Highlands, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley are all good to great.
Be wary of "California" bottlings. Without specific appellations, it may be difficult to determine the origin of this wine.
2. Be prepared to spend a little bit more on Pinot than you would on Merlot, but you can't compare apples and oranges. A $15 Pinot will blow the doors off of any Merlot in the same ballpark; there just aren't too many Pinots at the $8-$12 price range.
3. Say this as your daily mantra: "I will not shop for wines in a chain grocery store." The only exception in Toledo would be any of The Anderson's Stores. The reason is very simple. Grocery stores have hundreds of locations. To have consistent product selection from one store to the next, you need mass quantities of a particular wine. This is never a good thing, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir. Remember: small lots, small production. Walk into any of the following stores - Any Anderson's, The Vineyard, Joseph's Beverage Center, Maumee Wines, Churchill's Monclova - walk up to a person in the wine department, and trust them to put a great bottle of pinot in your hands. You can trust them, they've already tried everything on the shelves!
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At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Jake Fishman said...

Hey Adam,

Got your email and thought I'd visit your blog. Nice work! I'm not much of a wine drinker by any stretch of the imagination. However, my wife and I do like Pinot Grigio by Santa Margherita. We had it at a great Italian restaurant here in Columbus called Martini's (part of the Cameron Mitchell empire). This wine is one of the few that I can actually say I enjoy. Are there other wines you recommend we should try?    

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