lexander Payne’s 2004 movie “Sideways” always makes me think of pinot noir. For the character Miles, it’s love at first sip. Pinot noir is “thin-skinned, temperamental” but also “haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle…” Only the “most patient and nurturing of growers,” says Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, can “coax it into its fullest expression.”
Miles’ excitement led me on a journey of personal discovery. Though Pinot Noir was born in Burgundy, it’s since been “borrowed” by vintners the world over. The grapes that produce some of the world’s most elegantly complex red wines are now grown in Italy, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, California and Israel.
Over the years, I’d tasted a number of Italian brands, including Kossler Blauburgunder 2007 (+/-€9), Ottin Pinot Noir della Valle d’Aosta 2007 (+/-€10) and Pinot Nero Meczan 2008-Hofstatter (€10-15). I then read about Regina Vitae 2002 (€20), produced near the Lazio town of Monte Porzio Catone, and a trip to the vineyard produced a pleasant surprise.
Italy’s two big affordable producers are Oltrepò Pavese (in northwest Lombardy) and Trentino. Oltrepò Pavese offers Pinot Nero-Noir-Tenuta Mazzolino 2004 on the high end, €25-30, while CAVIT delivers Trentino DOC Pinot Nero, €13, on the lower side.
Globalization offers its own surprise. I went to a party thrown by a young New Zealander who offered a bottle made by his family’s vineyard. His Coal Pit Pinot Noir (2006) was so intensely aromatic that I kept food out of the picture. I just savored the wine.
On a recent trip to Manhattan, I sampled Pinot Noir Ramsay 2008 North Coast from Oakville, Cal. at a restaurant called “Good” (89 Greenwich Avenue, tel. 212.691.8080). It ran $39 and fit perfectly with classic American roast chicken.
Pinot noir has no patience for national boundaries. The Kalita family invited me to try their Owen Roe Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 (+/-$44) made in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton District. When they visited Rome, we chose Pinot Nero “Notturno dei Calanchi” 2007, produced in Umbria by Paolo and Noemia D’amico (€25-30). Then, in July, my roommate came back from Israel bearing 2008 Pinot Noir Vitkin Judean Hills.
After years of sampling, I finally decided on a more professional approach, attending a Rome pinot tasting organized by Italian Sommelier Association. The wines they picked were all priced in the €40-€60 range. The list was impressive. If you’re a pinot noir lover, jot it down:
- Otago 2006 Felton Road.
- AA Barthenau Vigna S. Urbano 2007 Hofstatter.
- Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Cherbaudes VV 2007 Domaine Fourrier.
- Chambolle Musigny 1er cru Les Baudes 2007 Geantet-Pansiot.
- Pommard 1er cru Les Rugiens 2006 Domaine Joseph Voillot.
The French wines were particularly impressive (I’ve decided to visit the town of Gevrey-Chambertin). But most exciting of all was debate, putting an exclamation point on Miles’ movie comments and reminding me of the Hemingway remark, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world.”