Eight Facts about Pinot Noir (and Burgundy)
By Mark Middlebrook
- Thanks to the film Sideways, sales of pinot noir in the U.S. have climbed somewhere between 15% and 50%, depending on which reports you read. We at Paul Marcus Wines applaud anything that gets more people to pay more attention to Pinot Noir. However, consider this: Sideways came out two years ago. California producers have been making serious Pinot Noirs for two decades at the most, and Oregon producers for not much longer. (And we're happy to stock some of the best examples of California and Oregon Pinot Noirs at PMW.) The denizens of Burgundy have been making wine from pinot noir since at least the 14th century, and there's evidence that the grape variety existed there in the 4th century.
- Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir - certainly the original Pinot Noir and arguably still the reference point for great Pinot Noir. No, it usually doesn't say "Pinot Noir" on the label, and the welter of village, vineyard, and producer names can be confusing. But the best things in life require some effort, and we're here to help. Just as the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Carneros, and Willamette Valley each lend a different character to pinot noir, so too Gevrey- Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis, and Savigny-Lès- Beaune. Saintsbury, Mount Eden Vineyards, and Brewer-Clifton make different styles of pinot noir, as do Château de Puligny-Montrachet, Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, and Domaine Dujac. The names are different, but the ideas are the same. Ask us.
- Pinot Noir is what we wine nerds call a "transparent" grape variety. It's extraordinarily sensitive to where it's grown - the vineyard's soil and exposure - and to the vagaries of vintage. This characteristic results in wines that reflect their place and time in an uncommonly vivid way.
- Benedictine and Cistercian monks began keeping vineyard records and codifying Burgundy terroirs in the Middle Ages. They noticed differences in the wines that came from different vineyard areas and built stone walls that designated those differences. Many of the modern-day Burgundian appellation and vineyard boundaries are based on those monks' work.
- If you ask one of the more smart-aleck-y members of the PMW staff, "where are the Pinots?", you might be met with the reply, "which ones?". That's because Pinot Noir is one of a family of Pinot grapes. The family includes Pinot Noir (black Pinot), Pinot Gris (gray Pinot), and Pinot Blanc (white Pinot) - all so-named because of the relative colors of their skins. In grape varieties, unlike in human beings, skin color strongly influences character. Another important member of the family is Pinot Meunier; together with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier forms the triumvirate of grapes used to make Champagne and Champagne-style sparkling wines.
- Chardonnay has sometimes been referred to as "Pinot Chardonnay", perhaps because in Burgundy it's the white wine cousin of Pinot Noir. White Burgundy is Chardonnay and red Burgundy is Pinot Noir. You could go through life drinking California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir without learning about their Burgundian models, but that would be like listening to the Rolling Stones without ever knowing anything about Robert Johnson - possible, but hardly desirable!
- The best, funnest, and most delicious way to learn more about Burgundy - both the red and white versions - is to join us for Paul Marcus Wines Burgundy dinners:
Tuesday, January 17, 2006, 7:00 PM at the Bay Wolf.
August 2, 2006, 7:00 PM at the Bay Wolf Tuesday, with Cyril Audoin.
- Duck and red Burgundy constitute one of the great food and wine combinations. No one in the Bay Area does duck better than Bay Wolf's executive chef Michael Wild. No one in the Bay Area knows Burgundy better than Paul Marcus, who has selected the wines for this dinner. You'll be in good hands.
And of course, we continue to offer 10% off case purchases (12 bottles), which we pack in reused and recyclable cardboard boxes - or now in two of your Green Bags, if you prefer!