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Seeing Red - Making Sense of Pinot Noir

Seeing Red - Making Sense of Pinot Noir
Seeing Red - Making Sense of Pinot Noir
“Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and … ancient on the planet.” This quote from the 2004 hit movie Sideways, delivered by Pinot Noir-obsessed Miles, perfectly sums up the way many wine lovers feel about the cherished red varietal, Pinot Noir.

The temperamental, thin-skinned native of France, Pinot Noir is one of the most widely planted and renowned red wine grapes in the world. “People love Pinot Noir for multiple reasons,” says Nicole Dorignac, co-owner of Dorignac’s Food Center, which boasts one of the largest selections of fine wine and spirits in the New Orleans area. “It tends to be smooth and easy to drink with moderate tannins. They are complex wines that vary stylistically from light and elegant to rich and full-bodied and they present an array of flavors, so there’s something for every palate. Pinot Noir is also one of the most food friendly wines so you can enjoy it with lots of foods,” she added.

As if Pinot Noir needed a boost in popularity, a study by Sonoma State University found that Sideways had a monumental impact on the United States wine industry, increasing the sales and production of Pinot Noir by a staggering 170%. Dubbed the Sideways Effect, the film was credited with causing an overall decline in Merlot sales, while Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed.

Let’s begin with a few basic Pinot Noir facts:

  • Pinot Noir is a delicate, finicky grape that is challenging to grow, hence it is known by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.”
  • Unlike most other grapes, Pinot Noir thrives in cooler climates.
  • Pinot Noir means black pine, which comes from its cone-shaped clusters.
  • DNA analysis shows that Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc are all mutations of the same grape.
  • Pinot Noir is more than 1,000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon, making it one of the oldest grapes in the world.

It’s easy to see (or rather taste) the allure of this noble grape, as some of the most collectable and pricey bottles in the world are made from Pinot Noir, primarily Grand Cru offerings from France. Most wine aficionados would agree that overall the best Pinot Noirs are produced in the grape’s sacred home of Burgundy. However, many fine examples are made in other wine-generating areas including Oregon, California, New Zealand, Italy, Germany and Argentina, as well as other French regions.

“Generally speaking French Pinot Noirs tend to be silky, elegant wines with bright acidity and complex flavors, while those made in the US are typically opulent, lush and more fruit forward,” explains Nicole. “I’m a big fan of those made in France, particularly with a nice meal, but for everyday sipping, I really enjoy Pinot Noir from Oregon. I find them to be well-balanced, supple and graceful with flavors including strawberries, red currents, truffles and warms spices.”

Other cool climate regions in France produce excellent examples of Pinot Noir including the Loire Valley, Alsace and Champagne, where it is the most widely grown grape, accounting for roughly 40% of all plantings and is used in making premier Champagne, both white and rosé. In California, the regions of Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara account for the largest acreage of Pinot Noir plantings. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is considered to be one of the world’s premier Pinot Noir-producing regions accounting for approximately 60% of all plantings. Pinot Noir is prone to genetic mutation and has more clones than any other varietal. In fact, the University of California, Davis has identified and registered nearly 100 Pinot Noir clones.

Another characteristic that has lead to Pinot Noir’s popularity and mass appeal is its versatility with food. “Pinot Noir is a terrific food wine,” says Nicole. “With so many styles extending from delicate and fresh to rich and full-bodied, its pretty easy to find one to pair with nearly any dish. A fruit-driven, elegant Pinot Noir is a great choice for your Thanksgiving feast because it will work well with turkey, baked ham and the traditional side dishes. If you’re looking to enjoy a mature, complex older Burgundy, try herb-crusted lamb or roasted duck,” she adds.

According to Nicole, a good approach when pairing Pinot Noir with food is to focus on the style of the wine when selecting a dish. For example, a light, fresh, easy-drinking Pinot Noir like one from Loire works well with charcuterie, ham, goat cheese, vegetables, shrimp and dishes with a light cream sauce. Fruit-dominated, ripe, juicy Pinot Noirs, like those from Argentina and California, pair well with spicy cuisine, Asian flavors, seared salmon, grilled pork and barbecue. Elegant, supple Burgundian Pinots are a great match for roasted chicken and pork, rack of lamb, sausages, grilled lobster and mushroom risotto. Lush, full-bodied Pinot Noir, such as many from Oregon and New Zealand, are ideal with chargrilled steak, venison, cassoulet, glazed ham, brie and mild blue cheese. Older vintage Burgundies with earthy characteristics pair well with simply prepared duck breast, roasted quail, dishes with truffles, rustic stews and soft, mild cheeses.

“My go-to is Firesteed, an Oregon Pinot with notes of cherries and toasted oak, supple fruit flavors and lively acidity that’s perfect for everyday sipping,” states Nicole. With the incredible selection of Pinot Noirs from all around the world available at Dorignac’s, you’re sure to find a bottle to tickle your taste buds.

Pooch & Pinot Noir Pairings

Some say that pup owners begin to look like their pet. So can your pooch of choice have any bearing on your wine of choice? Our resident wine buff has sniffed out various styles of Pinot Noir and paired them some of the most popular breeds. Fetch a bottle, gather your human pack and sip away.

California Pinot Noir: Fruit-forward, supple, richly flavored, lush, bold, highly aromatic, bright acidity

Pooch Pairings:
French Bulldog: Bright, easygoing, lively, sociable, alert, affectionate, gentle, charming, stubborn

Yorkshire Terrier: Energetic, feisty, affectionate, perky, cuddly, tenacious, brave, inquisitive, spunky

French Pinot Noir: Medium-bodied, silky, vibrant acidity, elegant, fresh, focused, earthy and spicy

Pooch Pairings:
Beagle: Compact, merry, fun-loving, affectionate, lively, willful, intelligent

Cavalier King Charles: Sweet, gentle, agile, silky, eager to please, playful, happy, easygoing, affectionate

Oregon Pinot Noir: Light- to medium-bodied, satiny texture, graceful, concentrated, beautifully structured

Pooch Pairings:
Golden Retriever: Outgoing, playful, even-tempered, intelligent, gentle, devoted, cheerful, calm

Labradoodle: Friendly, intelligent, obedient, busy, curious, joyful, exuberant, elegant, sociable

Dorignac’s Picks:
Firesteed Pinot Noir $12.99
Joseph Drouhin Pinot Noir $39.99
La Crema Brut Rosé $39.99
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir $19.99
Louis Latour Bourgogne $19.99
Olivier Leflaive Pommard $79.99
Tagged in Pups Uncorked in our Fall 2022 issue