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Surrounded By Pinot Noir

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 1, 2006 11:10am ET

Reflecting on the California Wine Experience just over a week ago, I am amazed at the popularity of Pinot Noir. Not only did we have more California Pinots than at any previous Wine Experience, we added a handful from Oregon (7) for good measure. There were 43 in all.

Compare this to our last CWE in Chicago, two years ago: There were 26 Pinots from California. But it wasn’t simply the volume of wines and the winemakers present, many of whom poured with purple hands stained from the ongoing crush. These wines were hot. There were crowds around many tables. The attendees were definitely into Pinot.

We also had two seminars on the program involving Pinot Noir. One was a tasting of the different Pinot styles from around the world. The other included six vintages of Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Beaune Clos des Mouches, from 2003 back to 1976.

It struck me that Pinot Noir was finally getting the recognition it deserved. And like the band that becomes an overnight sensation after 20 years of playing in smoky honky-tonks on the road, it hasn’t always been easy. Yet, as the tasting of Pinots from around the world demonstrated, there are legitimate styles made in the right climates and soils.

I’ll let you in on a secret. They are only going to get better. Take California, Oregon and New Zealand, for example. Many of the top wines are made from young vines and new clones. As these vines age, the quality of fruit they produce will increase. If the roots are forced deep into the soils and yields are reasonable, they will reveal more and more of the terroir with time.

In Burgundy, a younger generation is beginning to manage domaines and houses. Most of these men and women have worked in Australia, California, New Zealand and South America. They are thoughtful, smart, hardworking and driven to succeed. They are the future quality leaders in the region.

I taste a lot of Burgundy, but rarely have the opportunity to sample such a range of California and Oregon Pinots. It reminded me of how much my palate has changed since I first got hooked on wine about 20 years ago. Then, it was the bigger the wine, the better. Bring on the tannins. Over time, my palate tired of big, bruising Cabernet and oaky Chardonnay. I gravitated toward Riesling and Pinot Noir. I suspect other wine lovers have had similar experiences.

These factors only bode well for the future of Pinot Noir.

Kirk R. Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  November 1, 2006 12:39pm ET
Bruce, I completely agree with what you have going on in your blog. I spent last June touring Oregon for the first time and was seduced by the elegance and beauty of the wines of the area. I watched over the past 4 months as my cellar was filled with more and more Oregon Pinot. I have also started venturing into Burgundy as well. I found a 2002 bottle of Louis Jadot's Clos Vougeot the other day for $65 (a steal for a Grand Cru) and was wondering. It wasn't rated...when can I expect it to be drinking. As a young collector I still rely on the timelines offered for these wines. Can you help me with this please?
Adam Lee
Santa Rosa, CA —  November 1, 2006 12:41pm ET
Bruce,Thanks for all of your insights on the Pinot Noir panel. It was great to hear from you and to taste the wines you chose.Adam LeeSiduri Wines
Glenn S Lucash
November 1, 2006 12:50pm ET
I still drink mostly cabs, syrah and zins, but also have gravitated in the past year towards more and more pinot noir. Firstly, I find that they can be consumed right from the bottle with great nose and taste. In addition, I also find that the pinot noir compliments fish, chicken and most meat so that I don't have to open many different wines if we bring our own to restaurants. I find that the pinot doesn't overpower the fish or chicken (I'm not adverse to drinking a cab or syrah with either) and nicely let the flavors mingle when having red meat or pork.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  November 1, 2006 1:26pm ET
Kirk,I took over as lead taster for Burgundy with the 2002 vintage. Although we taste a range of reds and whites from Louis Jadot each year, we do not taste all the wines they make (more than 100 from the C¿te d'Or alone). So unfortunately I did not rate the Clos Vougeot 2002.It was a great vintage in Burgundy and grands crus from vintages like 2002 need about 7 to 10 years to become integrated and begin showing the secondary aromas and flavors they are known for. They should remain on that plateau for at least another 7 to 10 years, if not longer.
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  November 1, 2006 2:52pm ET
I like what you say about the future of Pinot. Over the past three years I have adjusted my small collection to include more Pinot. It is not easy, since I am limited in space, to keep enough of Cab and Syrah/Shiraz with the Pinot crowding in. I just becomes more fun.
Brad Coelho
New York City —  November 1, 2006 5:53pm ET
Bruce is here again, welcome back to blogging! Considering your coverage (and passion) for varietals like pinot noir, riesling, gruner veltliner and gewurtztraminer, I am sure you are enjoying pinot's domestic 'coming out party.' Not that these grapes are much maligned, but they don't yet have the widespread notority, cache or globally celebrated status that their over-planted peers seem to.Your enthusiasm and pride comes out in your writings on Alsace, the Mosel and Kremstal. Although the convulated labels seem to keep casual fans of German and Austrian wines at bay, I still believe these gems in the rough are not far from their respective 'day in the sun.' For now, we can relish each opportunity to enjoy these under-valued and under the radar beauties...cheers!
John Felty
Ashaway, RI —  November 2, 2006 5:50am ET
Right on target Bruce! I spent a week i n Oregon this past April and it has become a passion for me. Just as Kirk from Maine said, I was flat out seduced by their wine.
Kirk R. Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  November 4, 2006 4:06pm ET
Bruce, Thanks for taking the time for me. I do appreciate it. Your comments as well as the videos are an amazing aid to someone who wants to take the time to increase both knowledge and enjoyment of these fine wines.
Thomas Demetros
Marina del Rey CA —  November 6, 2006 6:43pm ET
Oregon got me started on Pinot, Archery Summit just excited my taste buds for Pinot and Siduri is my favorite Cali winery because of their passion and consistancy. Unlike any other wine I believe that Pinot allows you to taste the environment it was grown in, what a way to travel.
Steven D. Brown C.s.w.
November 9, 2006 4:32pm ET
American consumers seem to always try to run before they can walk.The embracing of Pinot is merely walking up the intensity ladder the right way.Not by starting at the top. When decisions are based on prices and scores, choosing the right wine is secondary. Ergo, Napa cabs are the most expensive therefore the best, so that is where I should start.Let's see- Cab ruled the world then it was Merlot, then Zin walked the Earth, then Shiraz and now its Pinot's turn.I guess Gamay should start bracing for stardom. It seems to have taken awhile but consumers are working their way back to the correct starting point
Scott Cheney
Michigan —  November 19, 2006 1:47am ET
At a recent tasting of Pinot Noir, a few of my wino friends and I noticed that the Oregon and Cali Pinots we tried all had varying degrees of detectable sweetness, while the Burgundies were bone dry. It is not just the fruitiness, there is definitely some residual sugar in most of these wines, which may explain some of the sudden popularity with American wine drinkers. Has anyone else noticed this?
Robert Renner
Silver Spring, MD —  November 29, 2006 2:09pm ET
I just had a cheap bottle of central coast pinot noir. I can't say that it was bad, but I noticed what Scott is talking about. It had a very candied flavor. It was the sweetest "dry" wine I've ever tasted. And I'm not talking about fruit forwardness or ripeness here. This wine was below 13% and tasted somewhat sweet. What gives?
Kathy Marcks Hardesty
Pismo Beach, California  —  November 29, 2006 7:40pm ET
In response to Robert Renner, I live in San Luis Obispo County and can only say you had a cheap Pinot Noir and that answers your question. Large scale producers make their wines sweet to hide their inferior quality. But there are many absolutely high quality Pinot Noirs produced here by artisans that give the impression of sweetness in their bold, ripe flavors and maintain quality without resorting to satisfying those with a thirst for Coca-cola.

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