Friday, April 13, 2012

A Budding Pinot-phile

Easter has now passed, and the start of the Pinot Noir project has officially begun! The first tasting and food pairing occurred on Good Friday. The first wine tasted was Louis Latour's 2009 Pinot Noir, an AOC from the Beaune region of Burgundy.

The Menu
Roasted Leg of Lamb
Mediterranean Vegetable Caponata
Ukranian Paska Bread

Two bottles of Louis Latour were purchased for $21 each and were rated an average of 84-86 points by various websites. We used one bottle to marinate the leg of lamb - it was marinated in a combination of the wine and various herbs for 24 hours.

I found this full-bodied wine to be very characteristic of what I've read a good Pinot Noir to be - hints of red fruit on first nose, but opens to more vegetal aromas like green pepper and wet leaves once swirled. I personally detected hints of red currants, black pepper, bell pepper and coffee on the palate.
Overall: A good quality pinot at a good price. A great one to start the project with.

When paired with the lamb, the wine was able to withstand the bitter flavor of the meat, and the acidity didn't overwhelm the tomato sauce in the caponata. Great pairing!

During the Easter weekend, I found a wine book I purchased awhile ago called The Wine Planner. The book lists some wines to try, what vintages, qualities and characteristics of each wine and what food to pair them with. I made a list of all the Pinot Noirs in the book and set out to my favorite liquor store, Willow Park Wines, to see if I could find any of them. While there, I met the new teacher of the WSET Program and told him what I was looking for (I forgot his name already-thanks Mommy brain!). He helped me locate one, Villa Maria's 2010 Pinot Noir, from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. The Wine Planner pairs this pinot with smoked cheese, so I chose a smoked gouda to accompany the wine.

I detected a bouquet of cranberries and ripe cherries on first nose. After swirling, the second nose opens to green peppers and damp earth. The palate is slightly spicy and has a medium-high acidity, and wasn't as full-bodied as the Louis Latour. The palate is very representative of the nose-cranberries, ripe red cherries, bell peppers with a spicy black pepper finish. I found this wine to be of acceptable quality-not nearly as good as the Louis Latour. This wine could be consumed on it's own, but I much preferred it when paired with the smoked gouda and gourmet crackers.

One other thing I learned while at Willow Park was that the wine glasses I was using for each tasting wasn't the best glass to use. The proper wine glass to use has a slightly flared lip that makes it easier to taste the fruit on the tip of your tongue than a regular red wine glass. A good example is shown here:

I was able to pick up 2 of these glasses for $10 total at Stokes as they were on sale. All of the other pinots that I taste will be done in these glasses.

Some New Project Notes
-I have decided to mark the end of the Pinot Project as of Sunday, September 23rd. We have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot N/V in our cellar that I've been dying to get into since we bought it last year. I figured a good date to drink it would be when we celebrate our anniversary, which is September 27th. The Wine Planner lists this champagne as an ideal pairing with bagels with cream cheese and scrambled eggs - I really want to see if this works! If it doesn't, then we drink it on it's own during and after our anniversary dinner.
-New Pinots on my "hit list" that are found in the area: La Crema, and Mission Hill 5 Estates. If I can find it, the Gallo Sonoma County Pinot Noir comes highly recommended. The Mission Hill Pinot will be paired with salmon.

Up Next: Inniskillin's 2010 Pinot Noir from the Niagara region, and it will be tasted on it's own.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Pinot Noir Project

After 10 months of pregnancy, about 18 hours of labor and 8 weeks of adjusting to life with a new baby, this blog is back! After the birth of my daughter Morleigh on Feb 9 2012, I wasted no time getting back into the swing of things, wine-wise thanks to the magic of breast pumps! I was given a six month subscription to Wine Access magazine from my husband, downloaded the blogger app, opened an account on pinterest that is almost entirely food and wine specific (you can find me as saramantle) and I picked up the October 2011 edition of Wine Spectator just before Christmas. The feature story that month is all about the 2009 vintage of Pinot Noirs in California and the great crop of wines that came out of the Sonoma Valley specifically. It got me thinking about how little I know about, and drink, this varietal. So why not spend 2012 learning as much as I can about it, and taste various Pinots from as many different wine regions as possible, without breaking the bank?

Pinot Noir grapes originate in the Burgundy region of France and can be traced back as far as 4 BC. The fruit is highly sensitive and requires a long growing season without excessive heat and moisture; it thrives best in moderate climates. This high maintenance varietal requires lots of care while growing in the vineyard as the grapes have thin skins, making them very susceptible to botrytis and various viruses. The best Pinot Noir wines will be complex, showcasing flavors of red fruit first, with vegetal and animal subtlety. Tannins tend to be low to medium and acidity is medium to high. The wines generally do not age well, although there are a few exceptions to this rule. Pinot Noir grapes are also combined with Chardonnay and sometimes Pinot Meunière grapes as well to make champagne. Mmmmm, champagne...

I plan to taste wines from the following regions, all as 2009 vintages:
-AOC Burgundy
-Sonoma, CA
-New Zealand
-Canada, both BC and Niagara regions
-Romania, if I can find it
-South Africa, if I can find a good one.
I am also aiming to try and pick wines that have a "rating" of more than 80 points in order to find very good wines that reflect the qualities of what a good Pinot Noir should be.

This project is set to start over Easter weekend with the benchmark region for Pinot Noir, AOC Burgundy. According to my wine pairing wheel, a full-bodied Pinot can pair well with a roast leg of lamb. With a little help from the good people at my favorite wine store, I selected 2 bottles of Louis Latour 2009 Appellation Bourgogne Controlee. The price of each bottle in CDN was $21 each. The wine was given 86 points by Wine Access magazine, and averaged 84 points among users on I used the first bottle of wine in the marinade for the lamb to help soften the harsh flavor of the lamb and to help with the pairing. The lamb will be served with a Mediterranean style vegetable caponata, and paska, a traditional Ukranian Easter bread.

I will also be pairing some of the Pinots I try with two other meals: one will be steaks with wild mushrooms, and salmon. Recipes and wine pairings to be determined later.

Some of the other Pinot winemakers on my radar include (if I can find them locally in a 2009 vintage):
-Robert Mondavi PN Napa Valley Carneros 2009
-Any of the 2009 PNs from Loring or Siduri vineyards (California)
-Inniskillin Niagara 2009 Winemaker's Series Three Vineyards
-Quail's Gate 2009 Pinot Noir
-Nk'Mip 2009 Pinot Noir
Although I will likely not make it to all the wines on the above list, I will certainly make a valiant effort!

If you have any 2009 Pinot Noirs that you personally recommend, especially wines from New Zealand, please let me know as this list is not set in stone. Stay tuned throughout the year as I post my tasting notes and share my experiences in my Pinot Noir project!