A Primer on Pinot Noir (And A Couple to Get You Going)

Ah, Pinot Noir! In the wine world, saying you’re a fan of Pinot Noir tends to signify you’ve made it to the wine big leagues. Pinot Noir is an enigma; classy, mysterious, shapeshifting. It has soared in popularity since the film Sideways came out, which in large part contributed to killing off Merlot production in California. (Just you wait, Merlot’s comeback is just around the corner… if shoulder pads can come back, certainly Merlot can – and to me, Merlot never went out of style in the first place).

At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of Pinot Noir. The first glass I intentionally ordered tasted like fruity water (it wasn’t a good wine – otherwise I would have liked it – and I think it had been open too long, too). But with so many friends claiming it as their favorite wine of all time, I knew I couldn’t throw in the towel just yet.

So, you’re asking, what is all the hype about Pinot Noir and WHO will explain it to me? First of all, a quick quasi-science lesson: Pinot Noir is the picky princess of the grape family, so she demands a very specific climate, weather, sun/rain mixture, careful, painstaking tending, and the list of demands goes on as long as J-Lo’s artist rider. But this lavish TLC pays off royally and can lead to some truly awesome, world-class wines. Once you taste a great Pinot Noir, you appreciate its refined qualities and everything it represents in terms of excellent winemaking craft. It also explains the sticker shock you might experience when surveying fine Pinots in your favorite wine shop.

Fear not! If you’re new to Pinot Noir, let me give you a couple of easy-going, easy-drinking Pinots that are at or under $10 a bottle. While they may not be superstar arena rock concert material, they are still the equivalent of a surprisingly good coffee shop open mic night.

Whole Foods Market has a section of very good affordable wines, and very knowledgeable wine stewards, so always chat them up for their best recommendations. Redtree Pinot Noir is from California and is around or under $10 a bottle. From the tastings notes: “Our 2010 Pinot Noir displays aromas of fresh fruits and strawberries, with a hint of oak in the background. This lighter-bodied wine provides cherry flavors on the palate and more red fruits, finishing with soft tannins.” Not bad, actually. Underwood Cellars Pinot Noir is from Oregon, $10 at Whole Foods Market, and is also quite tasty. From the tasting notes: “The Underwood Pinot Noir exhibits aromas [of] cranberries, red raspberries, with notes of smoke and spice. The palate is filled with sweet raspberry fruit intertwined with warm cinnamon tones. The wine’s bright acidity and fine tannins come together in a fruit laden finish.”

Even if you love red wine, you don’t always want a 10 on the Richter scale of a bold, dark, intense red wine. Be surprised by these light and delicious Pinot Noirs. Let me know how you liked them!


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