Grapes used to make wine are often referred to as “noble varieties.” The “noble” grapes are a short list of well known wine grapes that largely originated in France. Among them; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and the most noble, of noble grapes… Pinot Noir. Now if all of these grapes are on the short list, you may wonder what makes Pinot Noir so special. The answer is everything.
Pinot is outstanding because it is so finicky. Its elegance and nuance come a bit from its fragility. The thing skins, the tendency to ripen early and its ability to exhibit the characteristics that define a growing region’s special conditions, or terroir like no other wine grape on earth. Because it ripens early, Pinot Noir calls for a cooler growing climate. It’s most known for the wines produced in France’s Bourgogne, or Burgundy region. The cool region is the cradle of the world’s most famous and expensive wines, produced exclusively from Pinot Noir, as well as incredible white wines from Chardonnay. Given that the cool conditions of Burgundy, wine growers and wine makers in the New World, have sought cool climate serendipity searching for places with conditions that were similar to French Burgundy.
If you’ve got a wine lover on your gift list who would appreciate Pinot Noir’s elegance and fresh, food friendly presentation, here’s a list of outstanding options to consider for under the tree.
A sultry sort of Pinot Noir from the land of no frills that is New Zealand. This wine is loaded up on floral aromas and earthy minerality. New Zealand’s Marlborough region sits on the north end of the southern island. The soils in this part of Marlborough’s Wairu Valley are gravelly and clay. Clay soils are a large part of what makes up Burgundy’s vineyard areas. This combined with New Zealand’s temperate climate lead to a wine that exhibits some similarities. Aromas are elegant, mineral driven and hint at complexity. The palate is a core of black cherry and raspberry wrapped in notes of clove and earth. The wine exhibits loads of freshness and layers of depth.
On the southern tip of New Zealand’s northern island is the region of Martinborough. The wines benefit from rocky soils, particularly in the terraced Te Muna Road Vineyard. The climate in this region is similarly cool and it shows up in this wine. A bit darker hued this wine exudes a brooding femininity. Dark berry aromas mixed with crushed stone. The palate is exhibits complexity and and elegance. Flavors of black plum, hints of spice, a fresh minty kiss as the acids bring in the finish. The structure is phenomenal and this drinks like a much more expensive Pinot Noir.
Out-standing! The Santa Rita Hills are one of California’s coolest growing areas out of geological and meteorological serendipity. The east-west running valley, the cool fog that sits in that valley, the hillside vineyards and the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean. While it looks nothing like Burgundy, the calcium present in the soils where Sanford, the region’s founding winery certainly hearkens to Burgundy. The wine is rich but balance with brightness. Aromas of blackberry and garrigue herbs like thyme and sage, there’s a lot of depth in the aromatics alone. The palate is loaded up with blue and black fruit flavors, and hints of citrus. The finish is rich, balanced and lengthy.
This Pinot blends fruit from vineyards in Sonoma, Monterrey and San Benito counties. The wine is loaded with elegance but . Aromas of peat, mushroom and dried fig are accented by clove and cinnamon. A palate of blackberry compote, dusty black plum and cocoa powder. The finish signs off with a kiss of fresh mint. While a blend this wine shows that California can produce a cooler style wine and even do so at a really approachable price point. A true bargain.
For a number of vintages now, the wines crafted by Melissa Burr at Stoller Vineyards have really come belong among the region’s flagship bottlings. The 2014 vintage out of the Willamette Valley has produced some very special wines in terms of structure. The tannin is beautiful, and the finish on these wines goes on quite awhile. The Dundee Hills are the epicenter of Oregon’s Pinot Noir reputation. Oregon has perhaps been the most highly regarded of the New World wine producing regions, at least by the Burgundians themselves. With both Burgundy houses like Jadot, and Drouhin coming to Oregon, there’s a sense that the Willamette Valley is quite a Pinot sweet spot.
The Stoller estate is at the south end of the sub appellation and it is on an exposed slope that makes it one of the of the region’s most consistent wines year in and year out, a warm spot within that cool region. Known as the Red Hills of Dundee because of the iron rich clay based soils, the comparisons to Burgundy extend beyond just the temperatures. The aromas are dried wild flowers and smoke. The palate is very pretty, with juicy blackberry and raspberry flavors. Fresh and lip smacking tangy berry fruit mixes with anise and sage. The finish is fresh and zippy and this wine is an undeniable deal that punches at a much higher price point.
A limited release wine from one of Oregon Pinot’s founding families, the Knudsens. Cal Knudsen bought vineyard land back in 1971, only a few short years after the original Willamette Valley wine founder, David Lett established his Eyrie Vineyards. A family and name that really helped build one of America’s most well established wine regions, and frankly one of the world’s greatest Pinot Noir producing regions has only recently started making their own wine.
This vintage marks their second release of Pinot Noir, and the wines have thus far been exceptional. This wine is serious, and you know that upon the aromatics. Fresh berry aromas along with hints of flint and turned earth. The palate is opulent for Oregon, and the 2014’s signature silky tannin and overall elegance are all over this wine. The minerality is superb, there are hints of herb and mint but this wine is all about fresh berry fruit. The finish will keep you up past your bedtime and this is a great gift for that someone special on your nice list who is a true Pinot lover.