The pinot noir grape is responsible not only for a wide variety of wine styles, but also for a vast range of flavors. The pinot noirs of Burgundy, France, are tremendously different than those from New Zealand, which differ from those produced in various regions of California. So how do you compare these wines with French Champagne and California sparkling wines which are also produced from the same varietal?
Just like Champagne or Bordeaux, in order to be called a Burgundy the grapes must have been grown in the Burgundy region of France. The soil in in this region imparts certain characteristics into the wines produced which causes them to taste differently from wines produced elsewhere in the world, with one of the most notable nuances being a mineral flavor. Burgundy is one of the most expensive wines produced, and many are legendary due to the number of years they are aged.
Although the pinot noir grape is red, many Champagnes are produced from this varietal. The juice from a pinot noir grape is almost clear in color, with a slight gray tint, similar to most red grapes. So in order to make a pinot noir red in color, the winemaker uses a process called maceration. Maceration occurs by leaving the grape skins in the grape juice both before and during fermentation. The alcohol removes the red color along with tannins and aroma from the skins and dissolves them into the wine.
Pinot noir grapes are difficult to grow due to their extremely thin skin, therefore weather conditions have a huge impact on the quality of the grape. The mov
ie "Sideways," while it made pinot noir quite popular, it also caused retail prices to increase. This may make it difficult to find reasonably priced pinots that retail for $20 or less.
Kim Crawford's 2011 Pinot Noir is a fruit-forward offering that hails from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. This pinot noir contains fruit flavors such as raspberry, strawberry and concentrated cherry, with hints of spice and oak. A thick piece of grilled New York strip steak will compliment the silky tannins found in this wine. This pinot sells for $18 a bottle.
The 2011 Hahn Winery Pinot Noir from California won't disappoint at $15 a bottle. It contains dark cherry and bright raspberry flavors, and is nicely balanced with decent acidity. Try this pinot with lightly seasoned grilled salmon.
The grapes for the 2009 Wente Vineyards Reliz Creek were grown in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey, California, a region that the winery has been using since the '60s. This pinot noir contains flavors of cherry and pepper, with some earthiness. It retails for $20 a bottle and should complement a roasted chicken, marinated in oil and sun-dried tomatoes, along with a simple rice pilaf.
While it isn't easy to find good wines that are reasonably priced, once you find the right one it can really have an impact on your wallet and your palate!
Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.