Our March meeting of Nanaimo Winemakers took place again via Zoom and with the resourcefulness of our Education Coordinator – Cindy Scott – and the industry knowledge of our wine club presenters – Conny Classen and Robert Steinbach – members were taken on a journey of wine discovery and appreciation. The many “flavours” of Pinot Noir were unveiled and the presentation culminated with a tasting of five commercial Pinots. Members, who participated, were delivered a two ounce sample of five commercial wines ranging in price from Can $40 to $60 per bottle – not in your writer’s Monday to Sunday everyday wine budget.
Incidentally, we do have a few club members who grow their own grapes here on Vancouver Island and the climate does deliver some award winning Pinot Noirs.
Again, many thanks to Cindy for pulling off anther logistics challenge in delivering wine vials to members spread some 100kms along the Island Highway. We are pleased to include the notes from Conny and Robert’s presentation. (who make their home on another Gulf Island – Saltspring.)
PINOT NOIR – THE HEARTBREAK GRAPE
Conny Classen + Robert Steinbach March 8, 2022
One of the ‘noble’ grapes – widely planted across the world (like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot)
It derives its name from the French words for ‘pine’ and ‘black’ – a reference to the pinecone shape of the grape clusters on the vine and the colour of the grapes.
The origin of Pinot Noir is not fully known but is believed that the grape has its ancestral home in France. The most expensive Pinot Noir wines come from Burgundy, where the soil and climate conditions perfectly lend themselves to the growing of these grapes.
Pinot Noir as a grape is much more delicate than Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a pale color in the glass and zesty acidity. With thin black skinned grapes in tightly wound bunches, it struggles to gather precious sun in the valleys it grows best. Of all the wine growing regions of the world, Pinot Noir prefers areas with a long spring and fall.
These interim months of spring and fall also bring troubles to Pinot Noir vineyards – such as rotting or freezing – but the extra effort is worth it when the resulting wine is so complex and interesting.
Pinot Noir thrives in a narrow range of cooler climates rather than warm/hot. Its trademark acidity, delicacy and finesse disappear in warmer climates and hot weather.
The countries that produce the finest Pinot Noir wines are France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, New Zealand (Central Otago), Australia, USA and Chile.
The nature of the Pinot Noir grape:
• Thin-skinned black grape variety with low tannins
• Often described as light in style with good flavours with a variety of red berry notes
• Light to medium body
• Medium to high acidity
• Vinified dry (in most cases)
• Used in the making of red Burgundy as well as Champagne
• It far and away the dominant red grape in Burgundy (though some Gamay can be found in some village level wines)
• Can make red, rosé, white and sparkling from Pinot Noir!
• DNA analysis has revealed that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are mutations of the same grape.
• Prone to rot and mildew because of tightly packed clusters which limits airflow between berries. In hot climates canopy management is crucial so grapes don’t become sunburnt.
AROMAS and FLAVOURS
With flavours ranging from cranberries to pomegranate and black cherries, Pinot Noir has great variation. One of the major factors that affects the taste of wine is aging it in oak. Long aging in oak adds richness, tannin and vanilla aromas whereas less oak aging lets the bright cherry flavours of Pinot Noir show through.
The Region affects Pinot Noir perhaps more than any other grape. From France, Pinot Noir is rustic, earthy and acidic. From Sonoma, it is lush with rich black cherry flavours and higher in alcohol than French Pinot Noir.
• If the climate is too cool – cabbage aromas and flavours are dominant.
• Cool to Moderate Climates (e.g., Burgundy, France, certain valleys in California and Chile)
Red berries (red cherry, red raspberry, strawberry, plum and mushroom/forest floor and earthiness.
Red fruit, flowers (hibiscus) and spice (clove) aromas – often lead to a long, smooth finish.
• Hot Climates (e.g. Sonoma, CA, Okanagan Valley BC)
Black fruit flavours dominate and can sometimes border on ‘jammy’. (e.g., black cherry, blackberry.)
If oaked, Pinot Noir can exhibit notes of toast, licorice and vanilla.
This is a brand new growing region along the Rio Negro River in Argentina. These wines have a lot of spice and black cherry flavors to them.
Burgundy is known as the original cultivation area for Pinot Noir so these wines are in very high demand. Introductory value wines from this region have tart cherry and earthy flavors with a green stem note to them. Pinot Noir is grown in the Loire Valley and appears there as a red or rosé Sancerre. It is the only red grape permitted in Alsace.
More earthy floral style – from the terroir.
Many French winemakers choose to ferment with whole grape clusters to increase tannin in their PN wines. This often results in higher bitterness early on, but results in wines that age 20 years and more.
Napoleonic laws of succession influence wine making to this day, especially in relation to Pinot Noir from Burgundy. The negoçiant plays an important role in assembling grapes from smaller ownership plots.
The great Pinot Noirs (aka Spatburgunder) from Germany hail from a region called the Ahr, which is warmer than other wine regions in Germany and able to ripen Pinot with plum-like flavors, earth and fruit.
Northern Italian Pinot Noir, aka Pinot Nero, have similar earthy notes as in France, but they get a bit riper. These wines are darker, rich and earthy.
5. New Zealand
The darkest Pinots from New Zealand come from the Central Otago and have cherry, baking spice and cola-like finish.
a) Oregon (same latitude as Burgundy)
Fruity, light and tasting anywhere from cranberry and pomegranate to dark cherry. Although there is quite a range of intensity to Oregon Pinot Noir depending on how much you spend.
• Sonoma grows 20% of the state’s Pinot Noir due to the fog-inducing Russian River Valley. Hotter micro-climates in California produce a richer (generally sweeter) and higher alcohol style of Pinot Noir.
• Hot growing conditions for Pinot Noir tend to produce fruit with black cherry and black raspberry flavours. The higher priced wines from Sonoma tend to experience longer time in french oak which adds a vanilla flavor.
• Cherry, raspberry, allspice, Darjeeling tea, vanilla.
• Pinot Noir excels in places that receive cooling breezes (and morning fog) from the Pacific Ocean. The ocean moderates the temperatures in places like Sonoma, Southern Napa Valley and the Central Coast including Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.
• California (hotter climate) Pinot Noir is typically rich, fruity and lush in style – tends towards the mass market CS brands (Josh, Liberty School, Tom Gore), Meiomi!!
c) Prince Edward County (Ontario)
August 18 is Pinot Noir Day!
Typicity – Pinot Noir is an exceptional grape for determining ‘Typicity’. By this we mean that the wine we taste is typical of the place where the grapes were grown. In our tasting, we could discern the different characteristics of the Pinot Noirs grown and made in different places. The Pinot Noir grapes themselves present these different qualities more readily than most other of the main varieties, without extensive manipulation by the winemaker.
Different styles: Old World vs New World
THE WINES WE TASTED
Cambria Estate Winery, Santa Maria Valley, CA
2018 Pinot Noir 14.1% ABV
Julia’s Vineyard (Santa Barbara County)
Stoller Family Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon
2019 Pinot Noir 13.5% ABV
Tantalus (Southeast Kelowna)
2019 Pinot Noir 13.3% ABV
Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, Okanagan Falls (South Okanagan) Reserve Cuvée
2017 Pinot Noir 13.0% ABV
5. France – Burgundy
Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru
Bouchard Pere et Fils
2016 Pinot Noir 13.5% ABV
• Choose foods that complement the ‘pretty’ fruit flavours, bright acidity and elegant style of the wine.
• Perfect pairings are with lighter red meats like duck and lamb, white meats like turkey, pork and chicken.
• Fuller flavoured fish like salmon go well, or use bolder tasting cooking methods for other fish.
• Can pair successfully with fatty fish and seafood like scallops, lobster or shrimp.
• Earthy vegetables and herbs, like mushrooms and thyme match the wines savoury flavours, especially in risotto and pasta dishes. Wild mushroom risotto is an excellent pairing. Also good with roasted heirloom carrots or caramelized cauliflower steak.
• For beef dishes try beef bourguignon and coq au vin and game dishes (duck, rabbit or quail).