OK, not really. But it is a complex wine and discussion. Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult grapes to grow, vinify and age. The mercurial grape can change on you in an instant. For this reason alone, I almost never decant when possible. I want to smell and taste every evolution. Many WU members have been asking what differences there are between Pinots, so here we go!
The simplistic statement is Pinot Noir from France (otherwise known as Burgundy) tend to be softer, elegant and earthy when it is great. French Pinot can have big fruit notes but is restrained in comparison to US versions. When it is bad, it seems thin and acidic. The key is balance, subtlety and an element of mystery. Ethereal.
California Pinot Noirs are riper and plumper in body and can be more heavy handed—unless you are tasting a Burgundian-style Pinot Noir, that is. It is still a Pinot with regard to tannin level but the ripeness of the fruit and acid level vary greatly. The fuller-bodied styles are very satisfying on the palate to some but can be troublesome for food pairings. So when it’s good, the fruit can be big but balanced with acidity. When it’s bad, it is flabby and the fruit is out of control where there is no finesse at all.
Then there is the happy medium—Oregon Pinot Noirs. They tend to exhibit the earthy notes like Burgundy and achieve some of the ripeness of California. They are on the same latitude as Burgundy. When they are great, you get the earthiness and nice fruit components. When it’s bad, it is thin and acidic.
So how do you know which Pinot to choose with your meal? If you are in a restaurant or purchasing the wine at retail, ask for a description. If they talk about softness and elegance, you’ll know you are getting a lighter style. If they talk about big fruit and juicy, you have a power-house pinot. Either is good,just set your expectations accordingly. Be open to all the styles Pinot Noir offers and you will not be let down.
Angela Camacho, a certified sommelier and author of a best selling wine tool, The Wine Wheel®, shares her obsession with wine and food.