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Celebrate Pinot Noir!

August 18, 2022 Leave a comment

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

Another grape holiday is upon us. This time we celebrate none less than Pinot Noir.

None less, huh? Is Pinot Noir so unique and special? Well, you be the judge.

Pinot Noir is the grape behind the world’s most expensive wines. While there are 10 or so major red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo), the ultimate supremacy crown can only be decided between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, it is bad to use money as a measure of influence, but it is one of the “objective” characteristics of wine in the free market. According to the Wine-Searcher lists of most expensive wines (by the way, there is a new feature on this blog – a new page Most Expensive Wines allows you to see always current list of most expensive wines for a select number of grapes and regions), red Burgundies (made out of 100% Pinot Noir) on average are 12 times (!) more expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon wines

Pinot Noir might be the most versatile red grape out there. Unlike most other red grapes, it produces a full range of wine styles. Let’s see.
White wine? Check. Pinot Noir Blanc is increasingly popular in Oregon and not only. Remember, the juice of Pinot Noir is clear, so it is not a problem to produce white Pinot Noir.
Sparkling wine? Triple check, I guess. Champagne Blanc de Noir is very often made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and needs to introduction to wine lovers.
Rosé? Check. An increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of any Pinot Noir producer, in Oregon, California, and beyond.
Red wine? Well, duh. No check needed – first and foremost, Pinot Noir is a king of red wines.
Sweet/dessert? This is the only category that is still more an exception than the norm, but if you will look, you will have no problems finding late harvest Pinot Noir wines or Port-style Pinot Noir wines.

See – the whole range of wine styles. You can easily pair a whole dinner, from oysters to fish to steak and then dessert with Pinot Noir wines – try that with Cabernet.

One more unique fact about Pinot Noir is that it is practically never blended with any other grapes, with the exception of Champagne/sparkling wines. There can be lots of Pinot Noir clones mixed together – some of the producers grow 20 clones and more – but still, those are just clones. Of course, there are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines out there, but this is far from being the norm.

Pinot Noir is featured frequently on this very blog. As I was preparing this post, I decided to look at some statistics. It appears that Pinot Noir is the second most frequently mentioned red grape on the blog, with 356 posts related to the Pinot Noir (Cabernet Sauvignon is mentioned in 445 posts). It is interesting that Chardonnay is mentioned in the 357 posts, literally identical to Pinot Noir.

But it is not just the mentions – there are many memories associated with Pinot Noir.

I love saying that blind tasting is the best arbiter of the wines – in a blind tasting, it is just you and the liquid in the glass, nothing else influences your impression of the wine. It seems that our Pinot Noir blind tasting took place only yesterday – I was literally shocked to see that this post is 12 years old – the tasting took place in August of 2010. Who couldn’ve thought that 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa would be our group’s favorite wine, beating grand cru Burgundy and cult Californian Pinot? I still have a bottle of that wine and I’m looking forward to experiencing the 12 years of evolution.

Another favorite Pinot Noir memory is the 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir – an accidental $25 buy that ended up being a transcendental experience tasting the 48 years old wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon producer who is absolutely not known for the Pinot Noir wines.

And then there are lots and lots of memories of not only the wines but also of the people, passionate Pinot Noir winemakers, acquired through the work on the Stories of Passion and Pinot, an ongoing series of posts dedicated to Oregon Pinot Noir producers and Oregon Pinot Noir wines.

Did I prove my point? Is Pinot Noir the true King of Grapes? I don’t know. But for sure it is a grape worth celebrating. Cheers!

Celebrate Zinfandel – 2017 Edition

November 16, 2017 7 comments

– “Would you like a glass of Zinfandel”?

– “ahh, sorry, I don’t drink sweet wines”

Have you ever witnessed such dialog, at a bar, restaurant or a tasting? For all of us, oenophiles, the word “Zinfandel” has only one meaning – dense, smokey, brooding, concentrated red wine, with a good amount of fruit and spice. However, for many wine drinkers, the descriptor associated with the Zinfandel is “white” – and the white zinfandel, indeed, is a sweet wine, and it still confuses people.

Zinfandel is often called “an American grape”, despite the fact that it came to America from Croatia (or maybe Italy), where it had a few names on its own. From point of view of the science, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag, Primitivo and Zinfandel are all different names for the same grape. From point of view of the producers – not so much, but this is not the subject of to0day’s post.

Zinfandel is really an American phenomenon. It shows the best results in California, and there it can be produced pretty much in any AVA. Napa Valley and Dry Creek Valley are considered two of the top AVAs for Zinfandel. However, last year I visited Lodi as part of the wine bloggers conference, and I absolutely fell in love with the Zinfandel wines Lodi produces.

Zinfandel Day_AutoCollage

Forty percent of all Zinfandel in California is growing in Lodi, which is rightfully crowned as “Zinfandel Capital”. Lodi is a home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyard, dating back to 1888. Lodi also has 750 growers tending to 110,000 acres of the vines. In 2013, winemakers in Lodi started the project called “Lodi Native” – 6 winemakers set the minimalist rules to how the wine can be made, and all 6 winemakers followed the same rules regarding fermentation, use of oak and ageing, so you can taste the difference in the vineyards which bore fruit, unadulterated. Last year I had an opportunity to taste all of the Lodi Native Zinfandel wines, which were pronouncedly different – hopefully, I will still write that post one day…

Good Zinfandel wines might be called the most playful red wines – my favorite descriptor for Zinfandel is “smokey raspberry”, and I’m always very happy to find that in the glass. Even when the label says “Zinfandel”, there are typically few other grapes added to the blend, often in minuscule quantities – Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet are all popular blending partners of Zinfandel. There are lots of Zinfandel producers, but I have my own list of personal favorites which I’m happy to share, in no particular order: Carlisle, Rober Biale, St. Francis, Turley, Harney Lane, Bruce Patch, Ridge.

How did you celebrate Zinfandel Day? Who is your favorite producer? Cheers!

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 11, 2015 2 comments

I hope you are done with that celebratory bottle of Merlot from the last week, as a brand new grape celebration is upon us. This time, it is about the grape which is not as widespread as Merlot, but still a foundation of some of the absolutely best wines in the world – dark skinned grape called Tempranillo. On Thursday, November 12, we will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day, with festivities around the world as you can see at the TAPAS web site.
First and foremost, Tempranillo means Spain – Rioja, Ribera deal Duero, Toro and many other regions in Spain craft world class wines which rival in their longevity wines of Northern Rhône and Bordeaux (but still quite affordable, opposite to the latter).
Of course Tempranillo’s success is not confined to Spain only – Texas makes excellent Tempranillo wines, with some interesting efforts in California (for instance, Irwin Family – delicious!), Washington, Oregon and Australia. Tempranillo also shines in Portugal under the names of Tinta Roriz and Aragonez.
I can spend hours going through my favorite Tempranillo wines and experiences – just search this blog for “Tempranillo”, you will see what I’m talking about. Instead, I want to mention just my most recent encounter with Tempranillo wines from two weeks ago – Ramón Bilbao Rioja.


2011 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV, $14, 100% Tempranillo, 14 month in oak) – open inviting nose of the fresh dark fruit with touch of cedar box. Fresh, firm, well structured on the palate, nice core of ripe cherries, eucalyptus, pencil shavings and touch of espresso, good acidity, overall very balanced. A perfect example of wine which is drinkable now, and will gladly evolve for the next 10–15 years. Also at the price – very hard to beat QPR.
What are your Tempranillo experiences? Got any favorites or celebration plans you care to share? Please do so below. And until the next grape holiday – cheers!

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