Around the world in 8 pinots

It’s true that Sideways did push pinot noir into the spotlight, sparking a rise in sales and, most likely, an increase in acreage planted with the “heartbreak” grape. But let’s get real; it takes four or five years for vines to start producing in sufficient quantity to justify a viable harvest. The global push to plant pinot was well underway before the 2004 surprise hit’s appearance, a fact Robert Robles of Zinc Wine & Champagne was well aware of when he was asked to select the topic and the wines for this month’s Omniboire tasting. Pinots Around the World, he said, and Omniboire was happy to oblige.

The blind tasting of 2006 vintages took place in the bar’s atmospheric wine cellar. The panel included two attorneys, and I expected more grandstanding in Perry Mason fashion, but perhaps patent law (Thomas Sisson) and a Latin American legal specialty (Edwin Einstein) don’t require firebrands. (Maybe, too, pinot is simply a more polite wine than, say, malbec.) Shelley Grieshaber, Director of Education at the C.I.A. San Antonio, provided additional perspective, and Eric Rodnite of Republic National Distributing brought his considerable wine and wine-education expertise to bear on the topic.

As usual, some wines failed to make the cut, among them the only French contender, one from a well-known New Zealand producer, and an entry from Chile. It may not be fair to look for the same expression of the grape in Australia or Oregon as is found in France, but when a winemaker manages to take traditional qualities and expectations and meld them seamlessly with aspects of his own terroir, he gets rewarded. We tend to like new — just not too new, thank you very much.

2006 Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley (Australia) Pinot Noir, $21.50

Burgundian nose, lots of cherry, good balance
Yours truly does admit to being of two minds about the panel’s favorite pinot. “This was it for me. It had a great nose, it was smooth … but I’m an Old World girl,” said Grieshaber.
Yet I found a funk (a good, nearly characteristic one) that was hard to taste through initially. “It’s very Burgundian; they might even have run a cow past the vats,” suggested Rodnite. Think barnyard, then, when Robles seconds Grieshaber’s “great nose.” It’s part of the pinot package — at least in Burgundy.

2006 Bouchaine Carneros (California) Pinot Noir, $20

Bright, juicy cherry and cola
The second-highest scorer had “a smoothness, it flowed,” offered Einstein, who also found the wine “quite delicious,” sometimes the only comment that needs be made. “It’s all bright cherry, super-ripe, and juicy — but in good balance,” said Robles. “Think of that part of the cherry right around the pit — that’s it,” suggested Rodnite. Grieshaber was less enthusiastic, saying “it didn’t bowl me over, though I’d be happy to pay the price.”

2006 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir, $24.50

Soft aromas, some cherry, and sweet spice
Rodnite recommended quail stuffed with dried cherries and nuts to accompany this pinot. Sisson found the wine “sweet and fruity — though not sugary,” an opinion that was seconded by yours truly and Rodnite, who called it “Christmassy — too sweet for hot weather.” 

2006 Alamos Selección Mendoza (Argentina) Pinot Noir, $15

Coffee, cola, and cranberry, followed by earth
“This is the first wine I had no reservations about,” said Grieshaber. “I had thought it might be from Australia because of a thinness in the finish,” offered Rodnite, “but it would be good with grilled tuna and maybe a little sesame oil … ” 
“Fish with tropical fruit, papaya…” replied Grieshaber, getting into high pairing gear.
“Mushrooms `the usual pinot fallback` would overwhelm it, but maybe morels…” mused

2006 Kris Pinot Nero IGT delle Venezie (Italy), $13

Light, sour cherry with carbonic, Beaujolais qualities
This wine is from an area in northeastern Italy that most Americans don’t tend to associate with the grape but that is producing some stellar examples, this one included. Following the promise of its splashy label, it struck Robles as “pretty,” with sour cherry on the palate. Rodnite countered with cola and strawberry, with Beaujolais-like carbonic qualities. “It’s user-friendly, a good summer wine,” summed up Grieshaber. At a great price, she might have added.

Prices are approximate retail based on wholesale with a multiplier.


Exceptional, snap it up
Extremely good, seek it out
Good, some outstanding qualities

Good, but consider price