On a Thanksgiving for Pinot

It’s a hard grape to grow. As you know. Right? It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, 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. You know? And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. (Jack explaining pinot noir to Maya in Sideways)

Pinot noir is one of the world’s great grapes for wine. It’s seductive, and subtle – yet difficult and temperamental. It is the classy lady at the ball who catches your eye, which doesn’t reveal the complex person behind the first glance.

Pinot noir is red, but not dark like other red wines. Pinot noir is flavorful, but not overpowering. Pinot noir is difficult to grow because its best locations require the odd combination of cool temperatures and a long growing season. It is fussy about the soil, slope, and climate, but ironically, once successful on the vine, winemakers find transitioning the grape into a wonderful wine as easy. The wine is an interesting blend of fruit and earth tones. While it does not pack a punch of puckering tannin, the charm is in its complexity and cerebral nature.

While growers cultivate pinot noir throughout the world, its geography remains limited because of its preferred conditions. Pinot noir is the grand grape of Burgundy (France), with interesting is the same parallel as another place where pinot is king – Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Pinot noirs from both of these regions tend to be earthier than the silky nature of those in California.

California regions doing well with pinot noir include Russian River Valley (Sonoma), Carneros (southern Sonoma and Napa), Anderson Valley (Mendocino), Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterrey), and Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara). The setting for Sideways was in the Santa Barbara wine region.

Pinot noir is a versatile food wine. It’s very good for pre-dinner and appetizers, yet goes well with main food as chicken, fish, and pork. To me, pinot noir is an excellent wine for Thanksgiving dinner.

In general, pinot noir wine is not cheap. For anyone wanting to spend more than $20, talk to knowledgeable staff at a wine department. Since Wine Spectator (not long ago) featured California pinot noir, here are their bargains, plus a few others from me.

Wine Spectator Values (Score and Price)
Saintsbury Garnet (Carneros) 88 ($20)
Siduri (Sonoma) 88 ($20
Villa Mt Eden (Sonoma Coast) 88 ($20)
Hitching Post (Santa Barbara Hometown) 87 ($20)
Kenwood (Russian River) 87 ($16)

Others
Heron (Sonoma) 87 ($16)
Acacia (California) 86 ($15
Heron (California) 85 ($14)
Castle Rock (Carneros) 84 ($14)
Cupcake (Carneros) 84 ($14)

AFA Additions
A to Z (Oregon) 90 ($20)
Mark West (California) $10, Santa Lucia Highlands $13
Angeline (California) $12
Castle Rock (several: Mendocino, Monterey, and Willamette) $12
Pepperwood Grove (California) $7
There are good values from New Zealand, so take a flyer or ask your wine merchant