May 25, 2005

The Heartbreak Grape

In honour of the resurgence of popularity for the obstreporous Pinot Noir (due in no small part to the Oscar-nominated movie "Sideways") and because it has been a few years since we did a dedicated side-by-side tasting of it, my wine club chose Pinot Noir for its May tasting.

The nickname "The Heartbreak Grape" comes from the fact that there really isn't a mid-range of Pinot Noir wines. If all the conditions are right and the grapes are grown in just the right way and handled carefully by the winemaker (and the stars are all in alignment, etc.) the resultant wine will be a marvel of complex, elegant character and nuance. One misstep, however, and the wine is dreadful, sometimes to the point of utter undrinkability. The grape responds truculently to mishandling, and grows well only in certain microclimates.

We sampled Pinot Noirs from British Columbia, Oregon, California, New Zealand and France.

Most disappointing, were the expensive bottles from France, weighing in at $28 and $77 respectively. While we were warned that both bottles were from "off years" where the conditions were not ideal, we were still surprised by the thinness of character in the Chateau De Chamilly 1999 Cotes Chalonnaise - the scant fruit flavour seemed to evaporate on your tongue before you could even swallow, and the jammy, flat, overcooked plums in the Domaine Bizot 2000 Vosne-Romanee Les Jachees. The latter was particularly disappointing in that it had by far the best nose of any of the wines, full of leather and smoke and fruit.

California's offering, the Mandolin 2002 was not particularly good, but it was inexpensive ($13) and many people found it inoffensive. I didn't care for it, but I seemed to be the lone wolf of dissent, although it was broadly acknowledged to be an inferior wine.

We had three wines from BC - the Blue Mountain 2003 ($24), the Quail's Gate Family Reserve 1998 ($35) and the dark horse of the evening, brought by one of the tasters, the Okanagan Vineyards (2003? I can't recall) a new product which will be soon made available at a shocking $10. In summary, for the BC offerings, the Blue Mountain was overrated and generally mocked as the inadequate darling of people who buy into the artifically difficult availability, the Quail's Gate had some good flavours and aromas but was definitely past its best-before date, and the Okanagan Vineyards was bright, tasty and juicily drinkable, if not particularly sophisticated - we were shocked to find out how little it goes for.

The Kim Crawford 2003 ($24) from Marlborough, New Zealand won most tasters despite its screw top, with bright, cherry flavours reminscent of soda pop. It had a pleasant, if not entirely characteristic nose of cedar and orange zest.

The clear winner of the evening was the Torii Mor 2003 ($35) from Oregon. It showed a classic nose of slightly mouldy wood, cherries and vanilla that were echoed in the flavours. The wine elicited comments about its silky texture and smooth, balanced flavours, although some felt that it edged a little too far into sweetness. This wine was the one that had tasters wrangling over any leftover amount, and which I hoarded to go with my dinner.

The next tasting will be table wines from Portugal (as opposed to ports, sherries) which I hope will include some vinho verde, a speciality not found anywhere else.

Previous Tastings:
South African Wines
Spanish Wines


Just Me said...

Dawna, you definitely have the winespeak down better than I do. :-) At our wine tasting dinner we had a German Pinot Noir: so unexpected. I actually had a taste of the same wine last night (just a sip) and it was quite pleasant. I usually steer right away from German wines but I will have to try them again.

I can't say that I am all that familiar with Pinot Noirs but I do know that they are the most difficult wine to produce. I will have to keep an eye out for the Okanagan wine. I am not sure that we get too many Oregon wines this way but I'll have to look out for that one, too. Although it is a little pricier than my usual bottle, but there are always special occasions!

Ahhhhh, Vinho Verde! Neighbours introduced us to Vinho Verde quite a few years ago (before I became addicted to reds) and I have consumed many a bottle over the years. My favourite of the ones available to us was Gazela. (I just looked it's still just $7.95/bottle). So light, refreshing with just that hint of effervescence: a lovely summer sipping wine. I did not like either the Allianca or Aveleda. It has been years since I've had a glass.

As for screw tops I hear that we're going to have to redefine our acceptance of screw top wines. There are some very expensive wines that are now screw top. It always throws me off when I get the corkscrew out & I don't need it.


Dawna said...

Heather, I've been practicing the lingo for a while, but I draw the line at using the term "soup├žon" so I guess I haven't succumbed irrevocably!

I don't think I've had any German Pinot Noir. As a primarily red wine drinker, I find that I mentally equate Germany with white wines - while I know that isn't strictly true, I have to confess that German wines are a bit lower on my radar than most.

The screw-cap is a funny thing. I've had completely pleasant wines with a screw-top, and not thought twice about it. Our sommelier mentioned that he had issues with a bit of seepage from some whites that were screw-cap, but as one of our regular tasters pointed out, since there's no cork, there's really no need to lay the bottles on their sides! However, upon reflection, I still have reservations about how much air might get in (if there is a potential for seepage, there's potentially an oxidation issue, yes?). I am a greater advocate of the synthetic "cork" than the screw-top.

I'm looking forward to the Portugese wines!