Decoding Pinot

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It seems that in the past five years, there has been sort of a consumer rage, or should I say, new American attitude towards both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, and I find it amusing every time I hear "I like a good Pinot" coming from someone's mouth.

The first thing I am wondering is what type of Pinot they are talking about. If the answer is red, then the next thing I am wondering is whether or not they are going to now talk about the releases coming out of Oregon and Washington state.

For the record, there are four types of Pinot grape: Pinot Noir (Nero), Pinot Gris (Grigio), Pinot Blanc (Bianco), and Pinot Meunier. While Pinot Noir is mainly associated with the Burgundy region of France, it's possible that it actually traces it's roots back to ancient Greece. This is considered the ancestor of them all, and the derivation Pinot comes from the combination of 'pine' and 'black' due to the darkness of the grapes and the fact that their bunches resemble a pine cone in the way that they grow.

Pinot Meunier is considered a chimera hybrid, with two sets of actual DNA in it, one of which is Pinot Noir. Considered it an X-grape (get it, a mutant link in the X-men).

Another child and mutation of Pinot Noir is the Pinot Gris (gray) and from that the Pinot Bianco (white). These both have DNA identical to Pinot Noir.

There are two other major Pinots, Pinot moure and Pinot teinturier, which I have yet to taste. Another newer variant is Pinot Gouges (Musigny). Wrotham Pinot is an English variant, and besides ripening earlier by a factor of two weeks, it has a nigher natural sugar content.

Because of Pinot Noir's ability to mutate quite easily, it has a large number of varieties , such as Gamay Beaujolais. South African Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and the Cinsaut grape, which is also known as Hermitage. It's crossings with many other species of grape have yielded products such as Chardonnay (remember this one, because it is important), Melon, and Gamay Noir.

It's impact on sparkling wines
All Champagne (sparkling wines produced in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle and within the French region of Champagne) can only be made of three grapes, and must have Chardonnay in it, with possibly one exception. Those three grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, which is essentially Pinot Noir and it's children. Blanc di Blancs are made primarily from the Chardonnay grape [and any combination of the other two], while Blanc di Noirs are made from Pinot Noir [with maybe a little Chardonnay or Pinot Meunier added]. Most of the sparkling wines that you will ever have a Chardonnay base and even Franciacorta (what would be considered the Italian version of Champagne, not to be confused with Asti or Prosecco) just uses Pinot Bianco instead of Pinot Meunier.

It's impact on the wine world in general
While Pinot Noir is grown over the world, its variants and children/crosses have been very prevalent worldwide, especially with the two grapes of Chardonnay and Airen, which are probably grown more than any other grape in the world. It is widely used in Sancerre and Alsace, as well as traditionally in Burgundy.

If we were to trace all of the wines made from Pinot Noir and its descendants and what not, we'd be simply amazed at how far it's reach encompasses.

The typical taste(s) of Pinot Noir can be that of strawberry, cherry and raspberry, but can also be reminiscent of green leafy vegetables. It usually is lighter as a red wine, but with a different taste altogether than the other “traditional” reds.

Those other two [widely-known Pinots], Pinot Gris and Pinot Bianco:

Pinot Gris (Grigio): I tend to not place a lot of interest in Pinot Gris wines because most of them are akin to drinking a Coors Light; sure, it's a wine, but it's mostly like water. However, I have had a couple of very good ones from Oregon, Washington and New Zealand; the latter being a Kim Crawford release with over 13% alcohol and nice melon taste. The lighter, more delicate, ones are great for non-drinkers or just opening up the palate for the next wine, but the more robust ones can stand on their own.

Pinot Blanc (Bianco): This is usually dry, but in places such as Austria and Germany, they can also make it sweet. It can be used also in Vin Santo, a wonderful Italian wine which means the wine of angels. As mentioned earlier, it is also used in the production of Franciacorta.

That said, I think that we can all safely assume that we know very little about Pinot before reading this, and we also have a lot to learn about Pinot Noir and its many descendants after this. Of course, much of this will be filled with great tasting experiences. You can also grill someone the next time they say that they like Pinot.


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