The many faces of Pinot Noir
If you were with us through the Wine Advisor's recent 12-article series on the geography and wines of Burgundy, you'll know that I've got my palate thoroughly calibrated on this great region as we gear up for a memorable group tour of Burgundy and Champagne in May. (A little more about that below.)
But the noble Pinot Noir grape that shows so well on Burgundy's Côte d'Or is not limited to that favored soil, and just to keep my taste buds properly international, I made it a point recently to sample a couple of U.S. Pinots, including an attractive new Oregon release from noted sommelier and fellow wine writer Randy Caparoso, and a budget-priced but amiable California Pinot with a wacky label borrowed from a historic circus poster.
One of the most subtle of wine grapes and producing some of the most complex and variable wines, Pinot Noir in Burgundy is noteworthy for the way it reflects the character of the soil - "terroir," as the French call it. I'm not so sure that terroir carries the same weight in Pinots from California or other New World growing regions. Not that it's unknown - fans of California's Russian River Valley or Santa Ynez or Oregon's Willamette or New Zealand's Hawkes Bay or Martinborough or Central Otago might argue that their soil, too, expresses itself in the grape. But by and large, New World Pinots speak to me of fruit, not earth ... and there's really nothing the matter with that.
More important still, in my opinion, is the happy truth that Pinot Noir - wherever it's from - tends to be one of the most easy-going food wines, with balanced flavors and velvety texture that go well with a broad range of foods from red meat to robust cheese to rich and oily fish. Both of today's wines fill that bill nicely. Let's move right along to the tasting reports.
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Caparoso 2002 Oregon Pinot Noir ($20)
This is a pretty ruby-color wine, dark and clear, with lush Pinot aromas that blend ripe plums and smoky spice. Fresh red-fruit flavors are crisp and clean, fruit backed by mouth-watering acidity that makes for an exceptional food wine. It blossoms in the glass, as good Pinots often do, to reveal fresh red-berry fruit, with intriguing wafts of cinnamon, cloves and white pepper in the finish. (March 19, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fresh Alaska salmon made a memorable red-wine-with-fish match, in a dish of spaghetti tossed with bites of salmon and rounds of fresh seafood sausage, napped with a light Mornay sauce.
VALUE: Like Burgundy, West Coast U.S. Pinots span a broad range of prices, from the budget bin to pricey treasures. Complexity, balance and food-friendliness make this one more than competitive at this suggested retail price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking beautifully now and intended for short-term consumption, but a year or two of cellaring would certainly do it no harm.
WEB LINK: Randy Caparoso introduces his wines online here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Retail sources and restaurants featuring Caparoso wines are included on the Caparoso Website. You can also find other Caparoso wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
Rex Goliath 2001 "47 Pound Rooster" Central Coast "Free Range" Pinot Noir ($9)
The wacky label allegedly replicates a circus poster of the early 1900s, commemorating a gigantic avian attraction in a Texas sideshow of the era. The wine is serious enough, though, ruby in the glass, with fresh red-berry aromas and flavors and a lush if rather soft flavor profile with plenty of fruit and sufficient acidity for balance. Tasted less than analytically in a restaurant setting, it served well as an all-purpose dinner wine. (March 20, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: It bridged a diverse array of flavors including lamb, duck and vegetarian dishes, ranging from the familiar to the exotic in a Persian New Year banquet at Saffron's, an excellent Iranian restaurant in Louisville.
VALUE: Reasonably priced by restaurant standards at $23 on the wine list. Widely available at retail shops for $6 to $10, in which range it is an excellent to good value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Its luscious fruit but relatively soft acid profile suggests that it would be best drunk up this year.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery's brief, colorful Website, with a large label image, here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Rex Goliath wines on Wine-Searcher.com:
Join us on a memorable visit to Burgundy
Our coming tour of Burgundy and Champagne with French Wine Explorers is just under two months away now, and excitement is growing around here. I'm looking forward to meeting some of you in May as we get together for this unforgettable week, when we'll discover some of the best wine and food that the Côte d'Or and environs have to offer.
Highlights will include tastings at grand cru properties including Domaine de la Tour in Clos de Vougeot, and we've also been invited on a special visit of the 15th century Chateau de Beaune, which is not usually open to the public. We'll partake of classic gastronomic Burgundian meals at Lameloise in Chagny, one of France's top 3-star restaurants, and the 1-star but fabulous restaurant Royal Champagne and other noteworthy Burgundian restaurants.
I'm told that we still have a few spaces left at this point, so if you've been procrastinating about joining us, now is the time to decide. I hope you'll seriously consider taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime wine-travel experience. The six-day tour of Burgundy and Champagne runs from May 24-30. Feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions; or you can get more information - and register - at French Wine Explorers,
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Friday, March 26, 2004