France’s Pinot Noir, the “heartbreak grape”
Pinot Noir is the “heartbreak grape” — notoriously fickle, thin-skinned, difficult to grow, and highly susceptible to rot, mildew, wind and frost. It petulantly demands soil with superior drainage and climates with cool mornings, sun-beaten afternoons and chilly, fog-wreathed nights. And even with a bumper crop of superior grapes, yields can be low and growers can still struggle to produce good wines. Still, for all its drawbacks, Pinot Noir has a singular asset in its ability to accurately reflect its terroir (the overall climate conditions and soil characteristics in which it is grown), allowing vintners to produce wines in a wide-ranging spectrum of styles, from restrained and complex to highly-extracted, in-your-face fruit bombs.
For many oenophiles, Pinot Noir reaches the epitome of its expression in its ancestral home in the Burgundy region of east-central France — in particular the Côte d’Or — where it has been grown since the days of the Roman Empire. Here the cooler climate and well-drained chalky soils produce delicate, sensual, elegant wines (“like satin in a glass”), pinky rose to deep garnet in color and subtly fruited, with red fruits predominating. Burgundian Pinots (a.k.a. “Burgundies”) are leaner, more mineral-driven, higher in acid and, due to whole-cluster fermentation (in which the entire grape bunch, including stems, is crushed), can sometimes display pronounced levels of tannin.
Natural or wild yeasts are used in fermentation to promote flavor complexity, and oak, if used at all, is imparted with great subtlety. Typical aroma and taste profiles are complex, concentrated and layered, and include cherries, ripe raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cranberries, with earthy notes of mushrooms and “forest floor” limestone, rose petals, violets and touches of spice and pepper. These Pinots are usually lower in alcohol and can sometimes exhibit a funky, gamey “barnyard” aroma so prized in France.
Great (in particular Grand Cru and Premiere Cru) Burgundian Pinots can sustain some bottle aging, although over time the fruitiness fades and secondary characteristics like minerality and earthiness emerge. Wonderfully food-friendly wines, Burgundies pair with an array of dishes, from fatty fish to spicy Asian cuisine to hearty stews.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• Cat Coughlin
SixtyFour –A Wine Bar
123 Water St., Naperville
NV Sokol Blosser Evolution White (Ore.) $20. Lush blend of nine grape varietals with nose of citrus,honeysuckle and spice, and a layered palate of stone and tropical fruits and citrus. The mouthfeel is creamy but piquantly crisp.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco (Italy) $35. Powerful, elegant Piedmont red packed with aromas of cherries, currants, berries and wildflowers melded with flavor profiles of blackberries and cherries plus hints of herbs, tobacco, spices and oak. Well balanced with lots of good acidity.
• Jasper Nowell, Director of Liquor Operations
1300 S Naper Blvd., Naperville
2014 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet (Wash.) $15. Nose of cherries and ripe berries with floral notes and nuances of chocolate, vanilla, spices and pepper. Supple palate mingling flavors of plums, black cherries and black currants with toasty oak, vanilla and cedar. Velvety soft with a dry, cocoa-y finish.
2015 Terlato Pinot Grigio (Italy) $20. Crisp and floral with notes of pears, peaches, apricots, green apples and grapefruit. Bright acidity and stony minerality. Highly aromatic and complex.