Dang, but last week hit me like a ton of bricks. You know when you have so many plans and things to get done, and the weekend finally comes… and you do none of those things, because your week was so full?
Yeah. That was last week. Oh well. Back to the habit and a return to the schedule, or at least as well as I can manage. It’s obvious I’m a bit behind on the wine challenge, but I’ll get it all caught up this week so it’s not gnawing at my brain like a puppy whining for a treat.
As we’re jumping right back into the fray — let’s start talking about Pinot. This week I’ll taste two Pinot Noirs from vastly different regions (Chile and Oregon), and then a Pinot Grigio from Italy.
For today, a brief intro into the dark side of the Pinot family, which is fitting, seeing as today is Star Wars day. May the Fourth be with you!
Cool Pinot Noir Facts:
- While Pinot Noir is a red grape and Pinot Grigio a white, they’re almost entirely identical at a genetic level. Grigio is simply a mutation of Noir that looks very pale pink or even grey (grigio literally means “grey” in Italian; French equivalent is Pinot Gris).
- Pinot Noir is notoriously finicky and difficult to cultivate. Its extremely thin skin makes it prone to sunburn as well as rot, meaning that it grows best in cooler climates where it can slowly ripen. Too much time in the sun leads to super jammy flavors and high levels of alcohol, which is precisely how I’d categorize several areas of California that famously grow it.
- Pinot Noir is normally lighter in tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Sangiovese, to name but a few. Remember, tannin is the drying sensation in your mouth after a sip of red wine; the skins, seeds and stems of the grape are the sources of tannin. You can also get a bit from barrel ageing, but not as much as from the grape itself.
- Winemakers love to use oak on Pinot Noir. However, if you look hard enough, there are some examples of fresh PNs, and even blancs de noirs from this grape. Note that use of oak in vinification and maturation can reduce a wine’s overall food pairing potential.
- A common tell for Pinot Noir in blind tasting is “cherry cola.” No kidding.
Week 9 Wine:
Sierra Batuco Reserva Pinot Noir
Invina, a family-owned company which holds several vineyards throughout the Maule Valley in Chile, produces the Sierra Batuco wine series. The Batuco vineyard in general has several favorable factors which helps Pinot Noir ripen properly and keep vineyards nice and cool, including a higher “altitude and proximity to the Pacific Ocean” according to their website.
The bottle I purchased (a split, or 187ml size, because I don’t drink Pinot Noir often) notes oak maturation, which is pretty typical as I mentioned earlier. Because it’s listed as a reserva, this tells me that the winemaker allowed a certain amount of time for ageing prior to bottling and release; the vintage of 2017 follows this. I’m expecting clear fruit, but also oak notes and indicators of bottle age.
For curiosity’s sake, I looked up Chilean wine laws on using terms like “reserva” to see if they were specifically defined. According to this source, they are not.
Intrigued, I did some more digging and found a tech sheet, which is handy for anyone curious about the exact specifications for how a specific wine (and even vintage) is made. Unfortunately, you can’t always find one online. Sometimes wine shops have access to these through their distributor reps, and you can always ask about them.
This Pinot Noir went through eight months in barrel, so the oak notes will probably be pretty powerful? We shall see.
Producer: Invina, Sierra Batuco
Region: Maule Valley, Chile
Style: Dry red
Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir
Clear, pale ruby, with hints of garnet along the rim — likely an indicator of wine’s age. Red wines begin to turn tawny over time, and this is just starting to show it.
Nose is clean, and haha, there’s the cherry cola. No surprises there.
Okay, moving on… super ripe raspberry, red plum, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, almost a woodsy undercurrent on the nose. I was honestly expecting more tertiary notes given the vintage, but they’re either not present or the constant switching of hot-to-cold-to-hot weather the last few days has thrown my sinuses through the wash. My guess is the latter? Aromas are medium in intensity.
Dry, medium acidity, light tannin, medium-high alcohol, medium body. Medium length of finish.
On the palate, the wine is a lot more savory; the fruits (cherry, plum, mixed red berry) have faded to more of a dried quality as opposed to juicy on the nose. Lots of earthiness, even a bit of dried meat and leather to the flavors. Touch of vanilla, but less present than on the nose. Faded fruit indicates age, especially in comparison to the aromas. Medium intensity of flavors — a few were easy to find, but I had to search for others.
Aside from the tannin, which really wasn’t too noticeable and didn’t interfere with the tasting experience, the wine stands in fairly good balance. The length of the finish added to the balance at medium levels; overall complexity in fruit, oak maturation and bottle age was a bit skewed, as most of the tertiary indicators (earthiness, savory, leather) were present on the palate but not on the nose.
I found this wine difficult to judge in terms of quality — it toes the line between good and very good. Lacking flaws, it simply had a couple of slightly off-key notes in the overall symphony of experience. Is it enough to keep it at good?
However, I will say that this wine, with all of its listed merits, is a killer deal for an aged Pinot Noir. The split I purchased was about $7, and a full standard bottle goes for about $12-15. Though I’m admittedly not a fan of this grape, I appreciated that the fruit flavors weren’t overpowering and jammy, and that the oak wasn’t shoved in my face (figuratively, though sometimes it feels otherwise with certain wines that shall not be named).
Pair this Pinot Noir with cured or grilled meats. You might even get away with lamb chops in a light mint sauce. It stood up nicely to the ground beef-stuffed eggplant I had for dinner this evening, so I thoroughly encourage exploration in similar options.
Until tomorrow, friends, where we continue with Oregon Pinot Noir…