As Miles, in the 2004 movie Sideways, explains his fascination about Pinot Noir to Maya, he states, “It's a hard grape to grow, as you know. It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, tucked away corners of the world. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”
Pinot Noir is one of the oldest wine grape varietals in the world; it was vinified by ancient Romans in the first century A.D. It is recognized worldwide as a classic wine grape and is grown in almost all wine growing countries. However, the area where Pinot Noir has been outstanding and has achieved its ultimate performance is in Burgundy, especially in the 2-mile wide, 30-mile long stretch of hills known as Cote d’Or.
What is special about this area? Is it the gentle eastern facing slopes that expose the grape to warming morning sun, but shades it from intense afternoon sun? Is it the chalky, calcareous soil that offers good drainage and thus a higher average soil temperature? Pinot Noir has an ability to reflect the terroir more than most grapes, thus making site selection very critical.
In California there are several great Pinot Noir regions, most of which also are good for the other Burgundian grape, Chardonnay. Russian River Valley, Carneros, Anderson Valley and particularly the Central California coast including Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Barbara County all have some excellent Pinot Noirs from several winemakers.
Aiena Wines, formerly know as Foghorn Winery, has a 2007 Pinot Noir from Monterey County. This wine is a combination of red and black fruits in both aroma and flavor. The bright red color has a bright vibrancy on the palate that reflects its cool climate and low yields.
The grapes come from two vineyards: Mission Ranch, near the junction of Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations, and Silacci, just outside the northern end of Santa Lucia Highlands, and one of the coolest sites in the county. In the winemaking process the wines receive a moderate use of oak to bring out the true flavors of the grapes. It is ready to drink now or over the next few years. I will pair well with various poultry dishes from chicken to pheasant. The price is $25.
Tondre’ 2006 Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County has ripe fruit qualities on the nose with a spicy character. On the palate are great amounts of black cherry fruit, layered with tart bing cherries and subtle integrated oak characters of vanilla and nutmeg. The finish has supple velvety tanninis and balanced acidity. The grapes are 100% destemmed and open top fermented using a gentle pulsair method of cap management. It is aged in 33% new Hungarian oak. This wine will pair well with lean meats such as turkey, rabbit and game bird, or filets of beer. Price is approximately $33.00.
The Roessler Cellars 2006 La Encantada Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara has a nose rich in dark fruit with a touch of smoked meat and herbs. The palate reflects similar character with dusty earth tones and a variety of herbs and light oak. The good bright acid and tannic structure gives the wine staying power. These grapes come from the western-most portion of the Santa Rita Hills from La Encantada vineyards owned by Richard Sanford who have been farming Pinot Noir in the area since the 1970’s. Roessler Cellars focuses on Single Vineyard Pinot Noir. This will be particularly tasty with smoked or wood-roasted braised meats and has a price of about $33.00.