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Sideways About Pinot Noir
Thoughts on a very difficult varietal...
We finally saw the movie "Sideways" and we thought it was juat as good as everyone said it was. I was actually a little hesitant to go because my experience told me that I would likely only see the flaws. Typically, when I see wine lovers portrayed in print or on the screen, the person doing the writing really doesn't know enough about wine to reflect them accurately. Obviously, whoever did the screen play for "Sideways" has a deep knowledge of and appreciation for wine. Listening to Maya's eloquent soliloquy on wine as a living thing made me think I was reading one of my own newsletters. And the use of Miles' obsession with Pinot Noir as a metaphor for his life was simply brilliant. In fact, how this middle aged, coming-of-age, buddy movie managed to have so many thoughtful touches, yet still be so damn funny was amazing. Did anyone else catch the significance of the passage the seventh graders in Miles' class were reading out loud toward the end? It was the last paragraph from A Separate Peace, a novel about a couple of friends coming-of-age in the 1940's that most people my age read in high school? After almost 30 years, I was amazed that I caught it. It was memorable when I read it then, and the screen writer must have thought so too.
The two edged sword this movie has created for those of us in the wine business is the fresh interest in Pinot Noir. There is a reason that good Pinot Noir is expensive... it is an incredibly delicate, fragile and temperamental grape to grow (a lot like Miles). So, while the screen writer may have known what he was talking about, unfortunately most of the newspaper writers and TV commentators who have decided to write about it don't. I have repeatedly cringed as I have read articles expounding the wonders of Pinot Noir without including any caveats about its variability. I have read it described in a newspaper as silky smooth and easy to drink. I wonder how many consumers get a big surprise when they make a bad choice that looks like cherry Kool-Aid and tastes like a barnyard. Cabernet and Merlot are easy to grow compared with the Pinot Noir grape. It requires a long, cool growing season and excellent conditions to thread the needle between cloyingly over ripe wines and lean, acidic under ripe ones. Cabernet or Merlot, even when they are not very good, are almost always at least drinkable. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is wonderful when it's good, but seems to skip mediocrity and go straight to bad when it's not.
I'll never forget my first trip to the Central Coast of California. It was over fifteen years ago and I was with a friend who knew a lot more about wine at the time than I did. He was broadening my horizons and in the first tasting room we visited, I tried my first California Pinot Noir. I swirled and smelled, then looked quizzically at Danny, and asked him what he thought of the nose. "A bit barnyardy" said Danny. "Huh?" I said. We tasted, and I once again gave Danny a funny look. "It's a bit vegetal" was Danny's pronoucement. Once again, I responded with "Huh?" "It's pretty herbaceous." said Danny. "Huh" from you know who. Then, under his breath, Danny said, "Doug, this s--t tastes like asparagus!" It was an introduction to wine speak and Pinot Noir, all in one lesson. And it did indeed smell like a barnyard and taste like asparagus. Luckily, the Pinot Noirs got better as trip went on, but my first impression left me with a healthy caution that has made me very careful choosing Pinot Noirs. If you have not been exposed to Pinot Noir and are ready, give one of Peter Rosback's Sineann Pinot's a try. It will be great first experience!
Sineann Pinot Noir 2003 Willamette Valley, Oregon $31 What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Enthusiast 92 Points Far and away the best Oregon bottling ever from this exceptional producer. Spectacular, ripe, plush aromatics open into plummy, jammy, purely varietal fruit. But there is more, a textural complexity that incorporates light herb, leaf and vanilla notes. This has it all, and offers every bit as much pleasure as any of his single vineyard bottlings. — P.G.
February 26, 2005