Napa Valley is alive and well.

Napa Valley is alive and well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What should a Pinot noir taste like?


You may remember Paul Giamatti, as the mousy, pathetic Miles in the movie Sideways, uttering that infamous, denigrating, phrase about "effing" Merlot, and later in the movie following it up by waxing poetically about the elusive, haunting delicacy of Pinot Noir.

Ever since, many wine drinkers have deserted Merlot and have alternately plunked their cash down for Pinot Noir wanting to discover the near spiritual bliss that Miles experienced. Around the globe, Pinot Noir sales in the last several years have increased substantially. Giamatti, who in real life is not remotely interested in wine, gave such a convincing, Oscar-quality performance that it convinced many wine drinkers. Many of them switched to Pinot and are really trying “to get with it.”

I suppose it really doesn’t matter that the movie, though roughly autobiographical, was a work of fiction, and like all Hollywood presentations, should be taken with a grain of salt, if not a sip of Chardonnay. I suppose it also doesn’t matter that many wine drinkers may not understand that Pinot Noir and Merlot, though having different underlying characters, share some important similarities.

Those common qualities include user friendliness, ease of entry into the world of red wines, abundant fruit, and, generally, a low level of mouth-puckering tannins. I must also assume that it may be irrelevant that the emerging New World (California, Oregon and New Zealand) Pinot Noir style, which most people are buying, is quite contrary to the historical Red Burgundy character of lightness, elegance and finesse; the style that most particularly seduced Miles.

This contrarian style was detailed in a San Francisco newspaper that described current New World Pinot Noir styles as “unabashedly big-bodied, fruit-forward and high-powered.” Sounds more like Cabernet Sauvignon or even Zinfandel, rather than the historical Old World Pinot Noir model.

Before long Pinot Noir will formally take its place in the growing list of red wines that are being crafted to reflect the following “must have” characteristics: big, rich, ripe and powerful. Unfortunately, Pinot Noir does not wear its best robe when masquerading as a deep, dark, full-bodied, Mother-of-a-red.

So what do all these stains on the tablecloth mean? Does it highlight the inherent differences between Old World and New World wines; that is, a grape there is always unlike the same grape here? Or does it suggest that wine drinkers are a fickle lot, scurrying here and groping there according to the latest fad?

Finally, and I cringe even mentioning it, given the inexorable grind of changing tastes, does it portend that before very long Miles’ beloved, spirit-moving Pinot Noir, much like his wife Victoria who left him, may also become a dim and distant memory of one of life’s gentle pleasures that used to be?

1 comment:

  1. Bring on the elegance and finesse. In California, Kosta Browne comes to mind. That's what Pinot Noir is meant to be!

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