Pinot Noir explained according to some key wine regions of the world. (Excerpt)
Though one might wonder whether or not pinot noir really needs the PR — particularly after the still-curious phenomenon that is Sideways — the fact is the grape remains as mysterious as it is illustrious. Pinot noir is an incredibly temperamental grape that requires of the winemaker both sensitivity and audacity in equal measure. From this is born a band of Indiana Jones types across continents, all in search of pinot's greatest incarnation.
But the debate on what exactly this greatest incarnation should resemble is bottomless and legendary. Place one single pinot noir up to be evaluated by a panel of experts (as I experienced first hand several months ago) and it will likely receive both the highest honors and the most vicious rebuke, simultaneously. Arguments rage on. Color: Should pinot be anything but nearly transparent, ruby red? Alcohol: At what level of ripeness does pinot lose its aromatic identity? These disagreements even apply to the grape's origins.
There are two competing theories on pinot noir's beginnings. The first asserts that pinot noir originated — as all Vinifera varieties are said to have — between the Black and Caspian Seas where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran share borders. From there they were eventually schlepped around Europe by the Greeks and Romans. The second theory insists that pinot originated in Gaul where wild vinifera vines could have been quite easily domesticated. There are indications, as John Winthrop Haeger cites in his book North American Pinot Noir, that "vineyards may have flourished in what is now the Cote d'Or at least as early as the second century B.C."
All dispute over origin aside, there is no doubt that Burgundy is where pinot noir grew up. The first mentions of the grape by name date back to the 14th century and from then on its reputation only grew.
Today pinot noir is grown all over the world. In France, its greatest concentration is in Champagne, then Burgundy, Alsace, and the Loire. it's also grown in other European countries, most notably Germany, Switzerland and Northern Italy.
By the 19th century pinot noir found its way to America, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand, but in many of these places pinot's finicky nature and low rigor was at odds with the priorities of the winemakers at the time. Eventually each grew into itself and established unique expressions of the enigmatic variety.
Soil: Bedrock is limestone and topsoil is mostly a varying mixture of limestone, clay, and flint.
Climate: Continental-ish. Warm summers (though not hot, per se) and cold (but not too cold) winters. Budbreak is usually around April, flowering in June, veraison in mid-August, and harvest around late September.
Top villages: Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanee, Vougeot, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Morey-Saint-Denis, Volnay, Pommard.
Soil: A highly variable mixture of mostly volcanic and sedimentary soil, loam, with further diversity.
Climate: Marine along the coasts and more continental inland from the sea.
Top sites: Occidental Ridge, Sonoma; Sonoma Coast, Sonoma; Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara Country; Russian River Valley, Sonoma; Santa Cruz Mountains; Chalone, Monterey County; Carneros.
Though many warned Lett and the other Oregon pioneers that the climate was much too cold to be suitable to wine production he rolled the dice anyway. And in 1979, Lett's '75 Eyrie South Block Reserve Pinot Noir would take second place behind famed Burgundy producer Joseph Drouhin's 1959 Chambolle-Musigny in a blind tasting of American Pinot Noir versus French Burgundy. Oregon was officially on the international radar and pioneers looking for a piece of the action were pounding stakes into every naked piece of Willamette land.
Soil: A variable mixture of mostly volcanic and sedimentary soil, overlaid with any combo of granite, silt, loam and clay.
Climate: Significantly cooler than most pinot sites in California with cool and wet winters and dry, warm summers.
Top sites: The valley is sub-divided into six appellations based on climate, soil, elevation, etc. They are the Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton District.
Soil: A variable mixture of alluvial deposits, sandstone, schist, limestone, silt.
Climate: maritime with a moderating effect that provides cooler summers and milder winters. The nights are cool higher acid.
Five main regions for Pinot: Wairarapa (the home of Martinborough), Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury/Waipara and Central Otago (the worlds southern most wine growing region).
[photo: nick's wine merchants]
The third region, Bío Bío, lies at a latitude of 37º south, making it a cooler climate by nature of latitudinal locale. The days are warm and nights are cool, providing for a long growing season. However, rainfall and winds can pose a significant challenge here, making it a region that requires a bit more courage than the others.
Soil: A variable mixture of volcanic matter, red and black clay, sand, schist, granite.
Climate: Ranging from maritime with a moderating effect that provides cooler summers and milder winters to something akin to a European continental climate.
Three main regions for Pinot: San Antonio, Casablanca Valley, Bio Bio Valley.
By Talia Baiocchi
August 11, 2011
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