Ever been out with someone and had the time of your life and then went out again, only to find out he/she was crazy? This is Pinot Noir. “The devil made Pinot Noir,” famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff once concluded.
It’s not that Pinot Noir is bad, it’s just a headache to grow. Its fickle high maintenance nature comes primarily from its thin skin. Without a thick protective skin, the grape has a relatively higher susceptibility to fungal infections, rot, and insect infestations. The skin also dictates the perfect climate needed for healthy growth: cool but not cold, warm but not hot, and mostly dry with only occasional precipitation. So particular, this one.
If wined and dined though, this temperamental grape can produce some of the sexiest most elegant wines ever to run its legs down your glass. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir seduces you with its light body, hidden tannins, and almost transparent red hue. Where it lacks in weight on your palate it makes up in complexity of flavor, layered with a spectrum of bright fresh cherries to rich dark berries coupled with terroir-driven herbs and spices.
What truly makes Pinot Noir so unique is the very wide spectrum of styles of wine it can showcase. These different styles are driven by the variation in climate in which the grapes grow. The mention of Pinot Noir from its country of origin, France, implies cool climate
Pinot from Burgundy, Burgundian-style, which in general is more acidic-driven, less ripe in fruit flavor, lighter in body, and characterized more by earthy, herbaceous undertones. At the other end of the spectrum are warmer climate California Pinot Noirs, usually carrying forth more ripe fruit, less prevalent acidity, and a fuller body with subtle spice accents.
Not feeling either one of these styles? Falling in-between is Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. Of course there are variations within each of these distinct styles, but drinking a Burgundian-style Pinot can be like drinking iced tea with one sugar cube. Oregon Pinot is an Arnold Palmer—50/50 iced tea and lemonade. And California Pinot is lemonade.
If you’re a Pinot lover or find yourself just intrigued by the grape, some of the best lemonade stands in California are in Sonoma Valley. Next door to Napa Valley, Sonoma is most known for its Pinot Noir production. Much like Burgundy, France, Sonoma’s Pinot is about representing place, thus very terroir-driven, highlighting the vineyard sites’ land and microclimates. Far from one dimensional, Sonoma style Pinots run the full spectrum of styles—from French to
Looking for cool climate Pinots? Sonoma’s largest appellation, Sonoma Coast, which spans from Marin to Mendocino along the Pacific Coast, is a sure bet. With only a handful of wineries in the area, most notably Flowers and Sonoma-Cutrer, you’ll find more luck with wineries
purchasing grapes from this region to add to their portfolio. Look for Sonoma Coast printed on the label of any Sonoma-based winery if you’re looking for a light to medium body Pinot Noir.
Also a cool climate region with ocean breeze influence, is the southern most Carneros region of Sonoma. Nestled up against the San Pablo Bay, this is another region with only a handful of wineries, most of the land is dominated by growers or inhabitable marsh land. Carneros is also the only appellation in Sonoma that overlaps into Napa. This is significant in the sense that Napa can claim it also produces Pinot Noir, but style and quality of wine are more dependent
on the wineries themselves rather than if it’s from the Napa or Sonoma side of Carneros. Standouts on each side include Donum Estate on the Sonoma Carneros west side countered by Saintsbury on the Napa Carneros east side. Sprinkled throughout the region though are a handful of sparkling wine houses, most worth visiting being Domaine Carneros. Sparkling in Carneros is not by chance, the two main grapes that go into making sparkling wine (and Champagne in France) grow most prominently in Carneros, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The heart of Pinot Noir is in the center of Sonoma Valley, the appellation affectionately called Russian River Valley after the Russian fur traders that once settled their in the early 1800’s. With over 100 wineries and 250 growers, this is where you’ll find some of the high end rollers—Rociolo, Williams Selyem, Kistler, and Kosta Browne. Looking for some hidden gems, don’t miss the likes of Dutton-Goldfield, Copain, Macrostie, and Lynmar. With one of the
widest temperature swings in Sonoma, the region burns off the morning fog and heats up with a blast of heat, only to cool way down at night. The result is a well-balanced slowly ripened grape providing for a light to medium-full bodied wine with floral rich dark fruit laced
with Russian River sarsaparilla spice.
If Pinot Noir is your passion then a day in Sonoma is where you want to spend most of your time. Keep in mind that each of the wineries tends to buy grapes from surrounding appellations, thus there is plenty of diversity in Pinot at each winery, no reason for your
travels to be bound to just one region. Let Bin 415 put together the puzzle for you. We’ll make sure you sip, swirl, and sip again.