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Friday, October 9, 2015

Pinot Noir---The World’s Most Expensive Wine

   Romanee Conti produces the priciest wine on the planet.
While many may think Bordeaux is the globe’s priciest wine, they would be somewhat close geographically…but otherwise, incorrect.  The top honor goes to a Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  In fact, in the “Top 10” list of the most costly wines, eight of them are Pinots from Burgundy (a Bordeaux doesn’t even appear until the 12th position).  Let’s take this opportunity to sharpen our knowledge of the Pinot Noir grape and its characteristics.

Pinot Noir is a subtle varietal.  If Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon is big, bold and masculine, Pinot is gentle, elegant and feminine.  The Pinot grape is actually quite small with a very thin skin---thus this varietal is far less tannic than the much larger and thicker skinned Cabernet.  Pinot’s lighter color is also a result of its diminutive skin (like tannin, color pigments are also found in the skin). 

The Pinot grape yields a completely different flavor and aroma profile than the Cabernet-based wines.  In general think lighter red fruits versus the deeply-colored ones of Cabernet.  For Pinot aromas, also consider red fruits---strawberries are often dominant in the varietal’s nose, but so are cherries.  (While Pinot depends on the terroir in which it grown, Red Burgundies typically offer up earthiness in the nose, whereas California Pinots can add cotton-candy nuances to the aroma.)  Red fruits continue onto the palate, but Pinot is not a one trick pony---depending on the terroir and wine’s age, there can be wonderful nuances of leather and even gentle cigar box smells.  The varietal can even offer up floral flavors such as violets or roses.  Spices, such as licorice or clove, can be found as well.

Pinot Noir is a fickle grape that needs near perfect conditions in which to grow.  Moreover, the grape’s thin skin makes it susceptible to pests and diseases.  Both of these factors are reflected in Pinot’s price.  Although Pinot tends to be one of the priciest varieties, there are still bargains to be found.  Here are my faves, all with a high-quality price ratio:

$20 or less:
  • Point Conception Salsipuedes (Santa Barbara County)
  • Decoy (Anderson Valley---owned by Duckhorn, one of Napa’s longstanding powerhouse’s for Merlot)

  • Gloria Ferrer Estate (Carneros)
  • Greywacke (New Zealand) 

$50 range
  • Ata Rangi (New Zealand)
  • Dehlinger (Russian River)
  • Merry Edwards (Russian River)

One last note about Pinot Noir…it is one of the only 3 grapes allowed by French law in Champagne.  In fact, there are many Champagnes that are 100% Pinot.   Need I say more?

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