Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir: the grape that makes the fabled wines of Burgundy. Unmatched in sensuality. Layered, aromatic; bemusement in a bottle. Sometimes. Sometimes, it just produces decent, tasty wines we can love casually, much like Mallomars.

The 2007 Silver Thread Pinot Noir, the first produced by this fine maker in upstate New York, falls somewhere between those two extremes. In or out of the bottle, it in no way resembles a Mallomar, but also reaches for humbler goals than the grand cru Burgundies people like me wish they could try, if only once. I hope not to offend the hordes of Mallomarian faithful with this statement. Anyone who adores the fine Mallomar can leave this posting content in the knowledge that I would love to walk the hills of La Romanée with a whole box in hand.
Moving on: I found this wine to be tuna or hibiscus red in the glass, with coppery undertones, decent clarity. Aromas of lilac and cranberry to dark cherry, jammy fruit, with earthy and herbal notes in the mouth. Lovely acidity, good balance, with very soft and subtle tannins, as expected from a cool-climate Pinot. Medium finish, with a nice texture and lingering fruitiness. Pair with roast turkey or duck, or herb-encrusted veal. Or Mallomars. $22.

Once in awhile, a wine reaches me as if by fate. Chosen almost at random, it leaves my palate stunned, regardless of its price or country of origin. Wine of this sort is often biodynamic: made by passionate, independent producers working in communion with their land, with the cycles of the local ecosystem. When I drink it, I know that I am tasting the toil of dedicated farmers, as well as the purest expression of a grape and its terroir. Again, this only happens once in a great while, and the wine could be from anywhere – France, Argentina, even the United States: New York and Oregon have both delivered in this regard.

Recently, another such momentous wine crossed the lens of my attention. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of disgorging and drinking a bottle of 2000 Movia “Puro,” a sparkling rosé of Pinot Noir produced by renowned winemaker Aleš Kristancic in Slovenia. I strongly encourage readers to learn more about his winemaking philosophy here. This was the first sparkling wine I have disgorged, and may well be the only opportunity for me to do this – it is not a common procedure outside of a winery.

Disgorging is the process of removing a plug of yeast from the neck of the bottle; although this wine is made in the méthode Champenoise, the lees are not expelled before bottling, but rather must be removed by the lucky buyer. This is accomplished by (if you are lacking in liquid nitrogen, as I was) keeping the bottle’s neck upended in a bowl of ice water and salt for 30-45 minutes, removing the wire and cork underwater, and then quickly righting the bottle to keep the wine from spilling into the bowl with the yeast – keeping in mind that the contents are under pressure. I was fortunate: on my first try I managed to keep almost all the wine, perfectly removing the yeast at the cost of under half a glass of bubbly.

And once the wine is poured? It shows cloudy in the glass due to lack of filtration and the suspension of remaining lees; however, it has a nice salmon tone, with an elegant bead. The nose is bursting with aromas of red apples, strawberries, and animal musk marked by undertones of stony earth. As the wine develops in the glass, the aromas lose some of their muskiness and become more reminiscent of ripe apples and cherry notes and a touch of toast. In the mouth, this wine has zippy acidity backing the berry fruit, with a nice roundness from extended lees contact. Although it normally retails for $45, I managed to obtain this wine for $30, making it (thankfully) eligible for this forum. It went beautifully with homemade salmon avocado sushi rolls, but I would drink this wine carefully, on its own.

I will readily admit to preferring French wine over all others for the most part. No country produces wine as focused, as brilliantly complex, or as delicious as French producers can; especially the right makers, especially in good years. There is clearly room here for forceful debate, and the truth of my statement varies from varietal to maker to region to vintage, but I feel safe making this generalization anyway.

Does this mean that we should not bother to try wines made by, say, Chilean vintners? No! Great wine is made everywhere, just as plenty of awful wine is made in France ( Languedoc-Roussillon has an ocean of it, although good wines abound even there). Removing wine from its global context, and becoming too focused, reduces the richness of our appreciation. As long as it is not an over-extracted, muddled fruit-bomb from a huge conglomerate, I will give any wine from any region a fair go.

And here is a wine to appreciate: the 2008 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, from their “Visión” line. These wines are, according to Cono Sur, a celebration of the various terroirs that Chile can offer, using a wide set of varietals grown in the Colchagua Valley to demonstrate how microclimates express wine in varying ways. I have found the “Visión” wines to be very pleasant overall, and would recommend any as a good bet for value.

Their 2008 “Visión” Pinot Noir, a big step up from the baseline Cono Sur Pinot, is lip-smacking. A gorgeous ruby red in the glass, with excellent clarity. The nose struts out aromas of dark cherry and ripe raspberry, juicy and fresh, with layers of coffee and cocoa just barely peeking through the red fruit. Extremely silky in the mouth, with well-balanced acidity and some earthiness towards the medium finish. This would be excellent with pork chops, baked turkey, grilled salmon, or hearty European soups. $12.

When I first tasted this, the wine intrigued me. Later on, however, getting the details proved an embarrassing moment in my career as a wine drinker. This wine rested in a bin full of standard Burgundy when I bought it, and so of course I assumed that “Bourgogne” meant “Pinot,” as usual. But the bright aromas on the nose and tart palate told me otherwise. I assumed it was just an eccentricity of the wine, however, and treated it as Pinot. A Pinot even lighter than normal, dancing with crisp acidity in the mouth, almost biting, meaner than most. But I knew my stuff! This was normal Burgundy. Definitely.

And then! lo and behold, truth erupted onto the scene when I mentioned the wine to a knowledgeable staff member at Astor Wine & Spirits (where I happened to buy this bottle). She informed me that this was no standard Burgundy (aka, Pinot Noir), but rather was Gamay, the red grape of Beaujolais, in its current incarnation from Didier Montechovet, an oddball producer – working very close to Pommard – whose wines are always brilliantly expressive, if somewhat challenging. The appellation on the label, “Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire,” is a general appellation that is no longer used, with normally very low requirements for wines produced under its category – as the name implies, the wines with “BGO” status are considered very plain compared to AOC wines; however, there is nothing plain about this one.

The 2008 Didier Montechovet Bourgogne “Grand Ordinaire” shows pale brick red in the glass, with a nose packed with cranberry and strawberry aromas tinged with distinct orange peel elements, and a bit of spice and minerality. This in turn rushes into a mouthfeel defined by sharp acidity, especially in the midpalate, balanced to more juicy red berries and mineral; the wine is light-bodied at 10.5% alcohol, with a clean finish. Absolutely the strangest expression of Gamay I have ever encountered, and apparently extraordinarily lean this year; this might be a wine to watch for in the future. $15.

I am a fan of Burgundy, but great Burgundy is, as every aspiring wine snob knows, “mad expensive.” So I turn to the cheaper, still-tasty alternative producing nations, such as New Zealand, the United States, and Chile. For domestic Pinot, I generally turn to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or cooler mesoclimates in California like the Carneros Valley. These regions can produce Pinot with finesse and grace.

The 2007 Primarius Pinot Noir, bottled in Walla Walla, Washington but sourced from good vineyards in Oregon, is an example of domestic finesse, and also has great intensity. Good bang for the buck. A light ruby red in the glass, decent clarity, with a nose of ripe red cherries, floral and vegetal notes, aged meats, and a slight smokiness. This follows with a silky mouthfeel, expressing nice vanilla and spiciness, tinged with mineral. Very well-balanced, long finish. $14.

Thanksgiving is approaching, and so it is time to ponder some of my perennial favorite dinner wines for this particular holiday. When it comes to pairing wine, two things count most to me: the bird and the trimmings. Turkey is a naturally lean flesh, making it a perfect companion to fruity or even sweeter wines, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Beaujolais, or some Pinot Noir. The trimmings tend to be better off when eaten with the reds in this list: my stuffing tends to have Italian sausage in it, and loves being wedded to more rustic Burgundies, while cranberry sauce is a natural pairing with Beaujolais, itself often hinting at cranberry fruit aromas. We also usually have some form of mushroom dish, which can harmonize beautifully with the notes of truffles and earth in Pinot Noir.

And Pinot Noir is the subject of this posting. The 2007 Cono Sur Pinot Noir, Chilean in origin, is a delightful value, perfect as the second red wine poured during Thanksgiving. I first tasted this wine’s 2005 vintage, and was equally impressed. It shows an intense brick red in the glass, with bright berry fruit, particularly raspberries, on the nose combining with truffles and dried leaves, with just a touch of meatiness. The mouthfeel is a tasty mix of suppleness and zesty acidity, balanced to just a hint of oak. A great introductory Pinot, although definitely New World in style; you need to appreciate this wine for what it is, instead of holding a Burgundian grudge. Simple and fine. $8.

First among Rosé wines I have tried, the 2008 Domaine Gérard Millet Rosé is a vibrant companion at any picnic. This bottle came back with us from France, where we tried it on site at the winery in Bue. The Gérard Millet family has been making wine for five generations, at an estate covering 20 hectares of vineyards – only three of which are planted with the Pinot Noir grapes used to make this rosé! There are three ways to make rosé. In this case, the grape were left in contact with the juice for a brief period after being crushed, and then the skins were pressed and removed so only some tannins and pigmentation enter the final product.

Showing crystalline clarity in the glass, the wine practically bursts with bright aromas of raspberry and cherry fruit and hints of floral notes. More red fruits in the mouth are paired to bright acidity, with sensual earthy notes and remarkable depth and complexity. This fruity, dry, classy rosé, peerless in its intensity, is also possessed of a restraint unmatched in other wines at its level. Perfect for olive bread, hummus, or salads with salmon. $20.