By Terry Sweeney
Once at a very fancy cocktail party in Sonoma, I was ambushed by the worst of all Vino Villains — the wine snob.
Overhearing me tell the bartender how much I was enjoying a Pinot Noir I’d recently discovered, a Trapiche Broquel 2006 from Argentina, a well-heeled old rooster tapped me on the shoulder and clucked, “A Pinot Noir from Argentina? Dear me… ” and shook his head sadly like I was the poster child for a Jerry Lewis Telethon. “You really haven’t had a Pinot Noir until you’ve had one from Burgundy,” he crowed.
“Burgundy, New Jersey?” I asked blankly, knowing it would give him apoplexy. “Burgundy, FRANCE,” he bellowed … and then went on and on about his Pinot, a Domaine Comte Armand Pommard Clos Epeneaux 1999, and how he was sure his had a “bigger” bouquet and a much “longer” finish. Suddenly I felt I was back in the shower of the boys locker room at my old junior high school wondering if Mother Nature had short-changed me. Using the excuse that a “friend” was waiting for me to bring him his wine, I grabbed the nearest glass and pretended to have to rush off but not before I had tossed back over my shoulder a quick “I heard they had to recall several cases of that Clos Epeneaux ’99.” “Really?!” he snorted indignantly. “Turns out they tested positive for goat feces!” I added perkily. Talk about immature, I know. But Mr. Big Pinot had it coming.
It reminded me of another snooty encounter I’d recently had with a lady at a wine tasting who’d been standing next to me while melodramatically swirling, sniffing, and pompously swishing her wine, and who had announced, with her eyes closed, her palate’s findings: “… damp earth … sweat … dry leaves …” I was tempted to sip and retaliate with some profound “findings” of my own: “Granny’s girdle … old gym socks … and just a hint of litter box.” Those sort of over-the-top, out-of-nowhere tasting notes always bring me to the burning question: “How come they never say it tastes like grapes?!!” Way too plebeian, my dear. Was your palate raised in a barn?
Despite my rude encounter, the truth is that Burgundy’s Cote D’or (Gold Coast to us English-speaking Winos) is the home of absolutely luscious, red-berried and woodsy, outstanding Pinot Noirs. Grown on tiny vineyard plots and requiring labor-intensive winemaking techniques, producing Pinot Noir is a very tricky business. Maybe that’s why this thin-skinned grape has often been called “the heartbreak grape” by its growers. Too much or too little rainfall and/or sun can undo it. Not to mention how finicky it can be during the wine making process and how temperamental it can turn in the wine cellar. (Wait a minute — finicky and temperamental, thin-skinned and fruity? Could I have been a Pinot Noir grape in a past life?! No wonder it’s my favorite varietal!) All of the daily drama that goes into this grape often makes it more expensive, but it’s worth it. (Again, this sounds like me! Maybe I’m drinking too much of this stuff!)
Back here in the states, Pinot Noir is produced primarily in the cooler regions of Oregon’s Willamette Valley and in California: the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Carneros, and parts of Santa Barbara County. But just like its French cousins, the very same 2006 Pinot Noir you bought last week may taste different from the Pinot Noir that exact same vineyard produced in 2007. It’s often very helpful to chat up your local wine merchants and ask them if the bottle you are thinking of buying was a good year for Pinot — mostly because of weather conditions during the growing season. For example, too much rain, or rain that comes too late, affects the taste of Pinot bottled that year. The Wine Enthusiast magazine produces a fabulous Vintage Chart every February that rates wines from all over the world and compares years. I recommend you get one online, print it out, laminate it and keep it handy. It will make your Happy Wino life all the happier. And your Pinot, the envy of your friends!
the happy wino pinot noir hit list
• Bliss, $15 (North Coast, California)
• Trapiche Broquel, $16.19 (Argentina)
• Cloudline $20 (Oregon)
• Latour Marsannay, $20 (France)
• Napa Cellars, $23 (Napa, California)
• All available locally