Someone else has written on Chow Town about having a memorable wine experience at the long gone Brookside wine bar, The Monastery. Me too, and mine is etched in my brain.
My friend Steve McLain was taking a wine class and he invited me to one of the tastings. He said casually, “We’re going to taste something called Domaine Romanee-Conti and I guess it’s a big deal.”
I can close my eyes and remember the taste and smell of it right now. Cranberries and strawberries and cherries exploded in my nose (aroma) and mouth (taste). I was breathless, excited, flabbergasted.
Before that night, Burgundy wasn’t a wine region in France to me, it was red booze called Hearty Burgundy that came in a gallon jug. The glass of DRC changed me. It set me on a life long love affair with wine that I hope doesn’t end until I do.
Because DRC wines are some of the most rare, most expensive, and best wines in the world, just take my word for it: if you are offered a glass or a bottle, take it with a big thank you. But the grape varietal that DRC wine is made of, Pinot Noir, offers wonderful choices from all around the world at prices we all can afford.
A great way to get to know Pinot Noir is to buy two bottles from two different locations on the globe and contrast and compare. Experts like our friend Doug Frost always say that Pinot Noir reflects the earth it was planted in, terroir, perhaps more than any other varietal.
So buy bottles from Oregon and California, or France and New Zealand and see what different flavors and aromas you find. Here are six Pinot Noir growing regions; these are my suggestions to start your Pinot journey.
Let me know where your taste buds lead you.
And keep your eye out for a free glass of Domaine Romanee-Conti.
CALIFORNIA: CENTRAL COAST. The Central Coast is a large growing appellation, spreading from San Francisco Bay south to Santa Barbara County. And it has turned into an exciting Pinot Noir growing area. Winemaker Jim Clendenen started the trend at his Au Bon Climat winery. The movie “Sideways” made the region and the grape famous.
CALIFORNIA: RUSSIAN RIVER. If I could have only one bottle of Pinot Noir from California, I think it would be from Russian River. It has all the growing conditions that Sonoma has, along with the Russian River coaxing the ocean fog along its path. The wines are exotic, intense, full of plum and berries, chocolate and coffee.
CALIFORNIA: SONOMA. Sonoma is believed by many who know these things to be the best growing area in California for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Why? Ocean wind, soil diversity, fog in the morning, warm days, cool nights.
FRANCE: This is where it started. The wine growing area of Burgundy is ground zero for Pinot Noir. It doesn’t have the best weather for this thin-skinned grape, but it does have the limestone that allows the plant roots to reach down far for their moisture and grow strong. It’s the home of Domaine Romanee-Conti and all of its neighbors, sometimes grown in parcels of land as small as ¼ of an acre, and worth more than we can imagine.
NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand was known primarily for its zesty, citrus Sauvignon Blancs until the wine magazines started taking notice of its Pinot Noir. It may be the world’s best value for the varietal. The two growing areas to look for are northern Marlborough, with its glacial footprint, and the far south Central Otaga where it is hot and dry. I know, I said Pinot Noir likes cool climates. See how fickle it is?
OREGON: Since it beat out Burgundy in a blind taste test in the 1970’s, Oregon’s fame as a Pinot Noir producer has only grown. The wines range from light red with strawberry and rose aromas to inky dark with complex intensity, cranberries and cherries. Willamette Valley is a premier growing area.
Several Oregon wines were on the Wine Spectator Best 100 list of 2013. One of these, A to Z winery, sells for less than $20.00, a great way to introduce yourself to the Pinot Noir grape.
Let the love affair begin.