On August 18 wine enthusiasts around the world will be celebrating Pinot Noir day. This noble grape elicits true devotion among its loyal fans for its ability to produce some of the world’s finest wines. Pinot Noir is believed to be one of the most ancient winemaking varietals as its origins can be traced back over 2000 years. The Burgundy region of France is the ancestral home of Pinot Noir and to this day remains its preeminent producer (labelled as red Burgundy). Pinot Noir is also grown extensively in the Champagne region of France and is one of the three major grape varieties in Champagne along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Outside of France, great examples of Pinot Noir can be found in several wine growing regions including Germany, Oregon, California, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Chile.
Pinot Noir derives from the French words pine and black, in reference to its pine-cone shaped clusters and black-skinned grapes. Widely known as the “heartbreak grape” because it is notoriously very difficult to cultivate. The tightly packed clusters of thin-skinned grapes are very susceptible to rot, disease and mutation. To thrive this temperamental grape demands a cool climate, has a strong preference for clay limestone soils and requires diligent canopy management. Harvesting Pinot Noir at precisely the right time is also critical to success; if picked too early the fruit will be green and lack balance, if picked too late it will be jammy and lack finesse. The challenge in growing Pinot Noir is what makes this varietal so fascinating and revered by its devoted fans. Paul Giamatti’s character in the movie Sideways captures this devotion best in his response to the question – Why are you so into Pinot?
“It’s a hard grape to grow. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet…Pinot needs constant care and attention, in fact it can only grow in these really specific tucked away corners of the world and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it. Only someone who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”
Pinot Noir expresses the terroir of where it is grown better than many other varietals. Due to its thin-skins and low levels of phenolic compounds, it typically produces pale-coloured, translucent wines that are light to medium bodied with low tannin levels. This varietal is especially known for producing wonderfully perfumed wines and while the taste profile can vary based on the wine growing region and vintage, Pinot Noirs from cool climate regions have similar characteristics. In youth, they offer delicate aromatics of cherry, raspberry and cranberry. As the wines mature they develop an earthy, savoury character revealing game, leather and mushroom undertones along with what is often referred to as forest floor (i.e. smell of freshly fallen damp leaves). Pinot Noir pairs with a variety of dishes, but can also be enjoyed on its own as the low tannins and silky texture make it a wonderful sipping wine.
Ontario is a world-class producer of Pinot Noir due to its cool climate, incredible terroir and ideal geographic location (i.e. same latitude as Burgundy). If you are searching for a Pinot Noir to enjoy on August 18 and beyond, below are some great selections from the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake:
Château des Charmes, 2017 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown & Bottled, $16.95 – A delicate, nuanced and balanced wine with silky tannins. Strawberries and violets on the nose with a hint of mushrooms. On the palate the tannins are nicely integrated giving the wine structure and ageability. Try it with a lamb burger fresh off the grill topped with caramelized onions.
Inniskillin, 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, $25.95 – Grapes were harvested from select vineyards throughout the Niagara Peninsula. It has juicy fruit flavours of ripe strawberry, black cherry and a touch of spice that are balanced perfectly by the firm tannins and solid acidity.
Niagara College Teaching Winery, 2017 Les Marmitons Gastronomy Pinot Noir, $23.15 – Sourced from the Westcott Vineyard on Vinemount Ridge, the fruit was fermented spontaneously. Bottled without filtration after 14 months in French oak barrels. Featuring red fruit flavours balanced by earth, spice and dried herbs. The wine will develop further complexity with age. Try with game stews or beef tartare.
Queenston Mile Vineyard, 2016 Pinot Noir, $40 - The 2016 vintage was hot and dry, resulting in great flavour and tannin concentration. Firmly structured with hearty tannin, providing the backbone for an intense flavour profile. Haunting notes of sweet tobacco leaf, sandalwood and cherry cola create a style of Pinot Noir that is not for the faint of heart.
Riverview Cellars, 2017 Pinot Noir, $20.15 – Clean, fresh and fragrant cottage air comes to mind when approaching this Pinot Noir. A gorgeous bouquet of sweet smoke, pomegranate tea, acai, pinewood and traces of cinnamon is followed by a light, well-balanced structure and soft tannins. Pulled pork sandwiches or roasted pork tenderloin with sweet potato are fantastic matches.
Trius Winery, 2016 Showcase Pinot Noir Clark Farm, $36.95 – Ruby red in colour with a bouquet of red cherry, ripe strawberry, earth, subtle smoky oak, allspice and a warm savoury sensation. Medium-bodied, elegant and fruit-forward with soft drying tannins, balancing acidity and a lovely mouthfeel. Flavours of red berry and cherry along with a touch of spice develop on the palate.
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