Turn with the seasons

To lush, exotic pinot noir

October turns our attitudes, wardrobes and taste buds toward the beautiful season of autumn, full throttle. It’s a time for squash, pumpkins, raking leaves and Halloween. Gardens are giving up their final bounty, and we eat a just a little more heartily. And we start getting back into those red wines!

Arguably the loveliest wines for fall recipes are lighter to medium-bodied reds which can ease us into the heavier hitters for winter. Think Italian Valpolicella or Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, French Cotes du Rhone, Gamay, Spanish Rioja, Oregonian pinot noir, Italian blends and California meritages. I urge you to try all of the above, but we are going to focus on earth’s most food-friendly wine ever: pinot noir.

Now, let it be known that pinot noir inspires a love-it-or-leave-it type of reaction. It can be lush, exotic and spicy and so, so smooth; or it can be a bit green, stalky and bitter. Pinot noir is a very finicky grape, and it needs precision – the perfect climate, the right oak barrel and the velvet glove style of care from a winemaker to bring out the best elements of the wine. It is temperamental, high maintenance, expensive and a difficult grape to grow. The extra expense involved in growing this varietal will make the finest examples cost more than other types of wine. However, it is doubtless the most food-friendly wine in the world because it’s soft on tannin, long on acidity and full of fruit and food-related flavors.

It should come as no surprise that the king of pinot noir is … Burgundy, France. The best and most expressive examples of pinot noir hail from the Cotes d’Or, where the terroir produces wines that taste of cherries, lavender, sweet or smoky oak and mushrooms. Pinot noir is also a main grape in Champagne where it contributes body, fruit and spiciness. (Yes, a red grape produces white juice!)

In Germany, pinot noir is called Spätburgunder, and it’s not as complex as a French wine but incontestably is being made better and better with more character than in the past.

Australia and New Zealand are making some serious pinot noirs. Their wines have expressive aromas of cherry, rhubarb, clove and licorice. Most are elegant and rich, with lots of fruit and spice. They can be a little pricey but worth it.

In California, places like Santa Barbara, Carneros and Russian River Valley are excellent places for growing pinot noir because of their cooler climate. California pinots tend to be balanced, structured and full of dark fruit character with a subtle, silky texture.

We finish out with America’s best region for growing pinot noir, the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The climate is much like that of Burgundy, perfectly suited to the thin-skinned, fickle grape that is pinot noir. But the wines are divine. Again, smooth and lush, but perfectly balanced, sometimes with hints of roasted coffee beans and cherry pie. Some have a woodsy aroma, with hints of plums and blackberries. These pinots are the bomb with dishes such as salmon, roasted chicken and vegetables, hummus and tomatoes, confit chicken wings or wild mushroom risotto. Go get yourself one!

First appeared in the October 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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