The Sideways Spotlight

From the movie "Sideways," with its Pinot-loving anti-hero, came this famous quotation: "It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet that can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. Only when someone has taken the time to truly understand its potential can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest expression. And when that happens, its flavors are the most haunting and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet." Who wouldn't want to try a wine like that?
Though the great red-grape-growing region of Burgundy is the most legendary area for Pinot Noir, it was dismissed in this country for decades because it tends to be finicky and enjoys cooler weather. When winemakers found the right place to grow the grape it finally gained respect. California is producing some high-end, world-class Pinots and Oregon is making its reputation on Pinot. The interest in Pinot has risen dramatically, maybe partly because of the movie.  

With the exception of Beaujolais, all the red wines in Burgundy are made from Pinot Noir, with limited production, and are described as some of the earthiest wines in the world. They are also super expensive. Of all the classic grapes, Pinot Noir is the most difficult to make into wine. It mutates easily in the vineyard, is highly sensitive to climate changes and variation in soil composition, and is unstable during winemaking. It is lighter in body and far less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Zinfandel. Pinot is described in sensual terms because of its supple, silky textures and erotically earthy aromas that great Pinots display. The best Pinots exude warm baked cherries, plums, damp earth, mushrooms, cedar, chocolate and dry leaves. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, don't open the bottle many hours before serving and do not decant it. A good Pinot evolves in the glass.  

So, even if you can't afford a fabled Pinot from Vosne-Romanee or Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, there are still very affordable Pinots to enjoy from Oregon and California, and even New Zealand.


Durella DeGrasse
Certified Wine Professional