Pinot Noir is a funny grape once you think about it. Uncork or unscrew a bottle, and in most instances, you will get varying notes of ripe cherry, cola, and perhaps sassafras, no matter its origin. With Pinot, you can generally expect identifying flavors (as you can with Muscats and Gewurzes), but everything else, including structure, is up for grabs. Is it minerally or not? Is it ethereal or profane? Is it assertive or submissive? Is it low or high in alcohol? Does it actually show its tannins or not?
Once called the Queen of Wines, it can be delicate in Burgundy and Baden but muscular in Sancerre and Sonoma. California and Oregon winemakers are also obsessed with getting the right combination of clones of the dozens that seem to exist, but even those will change as they adapt to the terroir.
Meanwhile, winegrowers who prefer Bordeaux varieties usually only have one question to ask: Is it ripe yet?
As with most of life’s explanations, this may be an oversimplification, but you would be hard put to find a grape that is so relatively easy to identify in a wine yet be so variable in the wine’s profile, so adaptable it is to the terroir and, not incidentally, the style of the terroirista winemaker who insists they bear no responsibility for how the wine actually tastes.
Finally, Pinot is not even Noirish, instead normally a light reddish. To misquote Woody Guthrie, “You can read a magazine right through it.”
But we continue to love Pinot and drink it, even if we don’t usually understand in advance what its profile will be. So we have a few in this The Dozen that do just that.
NV CK Mondavi California Chardonnay ($7). A pleasant Chard with soft, fragrant fruitiness of apples and pears.
2020 Medici Ermete “Concerto” Reggiano Lambrusco ($22). Enjoyable sparkler with tart fruitiness and mild tannins, though a tad short in the finish.
NV CK Mondavi Merlot ($5). Bricky in color with pleasant, slightly creamy cherry fruitiness.
NV CK Mondavi Red Blend ($7). A little sweet with dense fruitiness, in the same style as old-fashioned Central Valley quality jug blends.
2020 Macari North Fork of Long Island Pinot Noir ($25). From a premium East End producer, this is a lighter in color and body Pinot with light cranberry and cherry fruit – lean but not acidic in structure.
2018 Macari “Dos Aguas” North Fork of Long Island Red Wine ($29). Enjoyable tart red fruits with notes of licorice and citrus peel in the finish.
2017 Elian da Ros “Le Vignoble” Côtes du Mamandais ($30). A Cab Franc-Merlot-Syrah from a region bordering southeast Bordeaux, its red fruitiness is tempered with fresh, tart-berry flavors and some spicy green notes in the finish.
2018 Jean Claude Berrouet “Herri Mina” Irouleguy Rouge ($34). A Cab-Tannat blend, it has very mellow cherry flavors, some herbal notes, and a mild cheesy/whey finish.
2019 Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch/Emerald Ridge” Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($64). Lots of rooty and cola flavors to go with super-ripe cherries that could have been plucked from a Manhattan – full-bodied and with an interesting edginess.
2019 Dutton-Goldfield “Devil’s Gulch” Marin County Pinot Noir ($72). Except for DG, how many wines do you see with a Marin label? There are some savory, garrigue-like notes – nice ones – that must be the location because they don’t appear in most other DG Pinots. But the main flavors are those muted black cherries and hints of balsamic.
2019 Dutton-Goldfield “Redwood Ridge” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($74). DG always seems to “get it” by taking the natural rooty flavor of Pinot and elevating it in weight and mouthfeel without destroying its delicacy, which is particularly evident in this wine. Terroir counts, but the house style always shines through – very smooth, very flavorful.
2019 Dutton-Goldfield “Van der Kamp” Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir ($74). Smooth, but with very spicy, very lively cherry flavors and a long, creamy finish.
Prices listed are generally SRP or from wine-searcher.com. As more wineries are now shipping direct-to-consumer, check the winery website if you can’t find a bottle in your retail store.
The feature photo is courtesy of Macari Winery.