Pinot Noir | Vincabulary

They don’t call it the heartbreak grape for nothing. The haunting scented memories of one perfectly aged Grand Cru Burgundy have been imprinted on my brain for years. Each Pinot Noir I sniff fails to reach the perfumed, ethereal grace and quiet power of that one wine over a decade ago. Not that I object to the hunt, mind you. It’s just that capricious Pinot Noir can be intoxicatingly beguiling, or maddeningly disappointing (more oft the latter in unskilled hands). I was comforted to see it’s not just me that feels this way about this ancient grape. In Jancis Robinson’s brilliant Wine Grapes, the black grape is described as thus: “Finicky Burgundian vine produces wildly variable, relatively delicate, potentially haunting essences of place.”

{pino nwaʁ}

Numerous clones, various mutations and countless synonyms over the past, oh, 1000 years or so have made it a difficult family tree to follow. What is certain however, is this low-yielding, early budding, early ripening grape appreciates calcareous-clay and limestone soils and cool-moderate temperate climates. The heartbreak nickname also references this delicate grape’s susceptibility to mildews, botrytis and viruses. But in this fine tuned grape’s delicacy also lies its strength. Fewer grapes can transmit terroir like this one, expressing the slightest change in soil and vintage, especially in Burgundy where it rules the Côte-d’Or alongside Chardonnay. In non-interventionist hands, Pinot Noir provides a sincere fingerprint of time. Though it varies wildly depending on where it is grown, the grape shows characteristic cherry, raspberry, strawberry fruit, and earthy, autumn mushroom notes. Most are lighter in hue, higher in acidity and have low-moderate (easy-drinking) tannins. Select Burgundies can be among the priciest wines in the world, and can age for decades. But these are rare – there is much more Pinot Noir grown in Champagne than Burgundy, where it is a major component of the blend.

Of course, the popularity of Sideways and Miles’ love affair with Pinot Noir propelled the grape into American mainstream culture and store shelves like never before. Timing was perfect for the grape’s fruity, lighter, softer style to contrast tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or plump, ripe Merlot. For food-friendly reds, Pinot Noir is a great choice for lighter meats (poultry, pork), pink skinned fish (salmon, tuna) and a natural for pairing to mushroom dishes.



Liquidity Wines
Pinot Noir 2010
Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, BC
*$24-28  13.5%

Liquidity is relatively new to the BC wine scene, though showing confidently through their proficient, practiced team. 19 year old vines, sustainably harvested, show fresh Okanagan orchard fruits at first whiff, with sweet red cherries, ripe raspberries, fine rasped spice and a lick of red licorice. There’s a lovely, silky fluidity on the palate, through to the finish.



Joseph Drouhin
Côte de Beaune 2009
Burgundy, France
$40-45  13%

Herbal spice and anise sweetness tinged with a soft puff of tobacco smoke lure you into the glass. Black cherry and sun warmed stone mingle happily on the juicy palate, with a welcome light gravel tannin grip, and a lingering bitter cherry finish. Accessibly priced Burgundy, from an excellent name.



Ata Rangi
Crimson Pinot Noir 2011
Martinborough, New Zealand
$28-32  13.5%

Like walking through a dewy, mossy forest in the early morning with hints of lingering campfire smoke in the air. This mouthfilling red is teeming with herbal raspberry, black cherry and juicy blackcurrant notes. Smooth and silky on the palate, with dried wild herb textured tannins on the lengthy finish.



La Colina Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010
Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
*$64   13%

Another amazing wine available at Marquis Wines, this single vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is from a site in the perfumed Dundee Hills. Complexity in spades – white pepper dominant bouquet garni, violet leaf, ripe black cherry, and fragrant raspberry on the fuller, succulent palate. The bright acidity is flawlessly supportive. Clove and nutmeg close out the long finish.



Josef Chromy Wines
Pinot Noir 2010
Tasmania, Australia
*$30-35  13%

Juicy, vibrant and tart, in the best possible way – one that beckons food or is happy for solo contemplation. Perfumed strawberry, young moss, red cherries, spring rhubarb and persistent savoury herbs throughout. Lovely finely ground cinnamon bark on the finish.



Domaine Chandon
Blanc de Noirs NV
Napa Valley, California
$28-32   13%

Blanc de Noirs translates as White from Blacks, or in this case, very pale white peach, from black grapes. A splash of Pinot Meunier completes this blend, yielding a round, softer sparkler with mild strawberry, young cherry, yellow Macintosh apples and shiny lemon notes. A pretty, perfumed rose note on the finish.


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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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