"Passion for Pinot": a Study in Pinot Noir from a Variety of Terroirs!

Last month's installment of the "The Art of Wine & Food" series at the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale was themed "Passion for Pinot" and featured three different Pinot Noirs from three well-known wine regions: Oregon's Willamette Valley; California's Anderson Valley; and Burgundy's Cote d'Or. I thought it was apropos to use the word "passion" in the title due to the polarizing effect this grape has on its fans whose fierce loyalty to their favorite region/style rivals that of the most avid sports fan. Each of our featured wines was accompanied by a delicious dish created specifically to pair with it by Chef Remy Gautier of Argentelle Catering. So why compare Pinot Noir from three different regions? My wine loving friends, it all has to do with a little concept called terroir."Terroir" (pronouced tare-WAHR) is a French term which, loosely translated, means "a sense of place." With respect to wine, it refers to the intersection of grape variety, soil type, climate and winemaking technique which come together to create a unique wine that, theoretically, cannot be produced anywhere else in the world. The art of blind tasting is based upon this concept, that wines can look, taste and smell a certain way depending on where they are produced. This allows even wines made from the same grape to be distinguished from one another based on a region's known characteristics (i.e. Pinot Noir from Burgundy would be more earth-forward while Pinot Noir from California would be more fruit forward). In short, if a wine is said to express terroir, the wine is believed to represent where it comes from and is considered a "wine of place."

The purpose of featuring three different Pinot Noirs from three different regions was to illustrate the concept of terroir and demonstrate how these wines look, smell and taste different from one another even though they are made using the same exact grape. We started with the New World wine regions (Willamette and Anderson Valley) and finished with what is perhaps the birthplace of terroir: Burgundy, France. In 2oo AD, winemaking was introduced to this region located in east central France. While at first under the control of nobility, the vineyards of Burgundy eventually became the charge of the Catholic church. The Benedectine monks, specifically the Cistercians, were the first to realize different vineyards produced different wines and that not all of them were created equal. It is their observations which are responsible for creating the vineyard landscape of this world renowned wine region and establishing the framework for the Burgundy cru system.

The newer of our two New World wine regions was Oregon's Willamette Valley which was represented by the 2010 Biggio Hamina "Zenith Vineyard" Pinot Noir ($42) from Eola-Amity Hills, one of the Valley's sub-AVAs. The Willamette Valley was established in 1984 and is the largest AVA in the state of Oregon. This geographical region benefits from the winds off the Pacific Ocean that enter through the Van Duzer corridor, a gap in the Oregon Coast Range, which moderates warm summer temperatures. The name Eola is a tribute to the windy conditions in the area, and is derived from Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.Biggio Hamina was founded in 2007 by winemaker Todd Hamina and his wife Caroline Biggio and this winemaker's goal is to let the terroir do the talking. During positions at Archery Summit, Elk Cove and Patton Valley, Hamina worked with some of Oregon’s most renowned winemakers including Adam Campbell, Gary Andrus and Sam Tannahill. This valuable experience greatly informed his style of winemaking which he describes as non-interventionist and as “hands-off” as possible.The Zenith Vineyard is a volcanic site with alluvial soils known for producing wines with notes of red fruit and minerals. During a conversations with Hamina he described 2010 as an optimal vintage and his decision to harvest was dictated strictly by physiologic ripeness and was not influenced by any adverse, external factors. The 2010 Hamina Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir was 47% whole cluster fermented and spent 24 months in barrel, resulting in a wine with perfumed aromas of red fruit preserves, potpourri and smoky minerals, with an exotic black cardamom nuance. This wine has an elegant character with raspberry and cherry-cola flavors and finishes with lingering floral notes and a hint of minerality. It paired deliciously well with Chef Remy's Warm Wild Mushroom Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette.

Our next New World wine region was California's Anderson Valley and our representative was the 2010 Copain "Les Voisins" Pinot Noir. Established in 1983, the Anderson Valley is located 10-15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and has a cool, coastal climate with a wide diurnal temperature shift, meaning warm, sunny days followed by cool nights. The region’s soils are primarily alluvial with clay and, together with the climate, create optimal conditions for growing cool climate grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from which both still and sparkling wines are produced.Copain was founded in 1999 by winemaker Wells Guthrie who chose the French word for “friend” or “buddy” as his winery’s name, based on his belief wine is an experience best shared with friends and family. Guthrie was deeply inspired by his time spent in France’s Northern Rhône valley, apprenticing with the renowned Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier. Guthrie’s goal today is to make some of the most balanced, low alcohol, and food-friendly wines in California. He achieves this through combining French sensibility with California fruit, focusing on the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County.“Les Voisins” is French for “the neighbors” and the grapes for this wine hail from three neighboring vineyards which are planted on Franciscan sandstone soils. 2010 was an unseasonably chilly vintage which meant a slower ripening of fruit which ultimately produced wines with more structure and acidity. The 2010 “Les Voisins” Pinot Noir was aged in neutral French oak barrels and has lovely aromatics of red fruit and spice. On the palate, flavors of red and black cherry, cassis, cedar and a dash of smoke accompany silky, supple tannins and a bright acidity. The flavors complemented Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms beautifully.

Our final Pinot Noir of the evening came from Burgundy, represented by the 2011 Vincent Girardin Pommard "Les Vignots" ($50) from the Cote de Beaune. It is important to note. however, that in Burgundy you will never find the words "Pinot Noir" on the label. Because wines produced here are all about place red Burgundy is always assumed to be Pinot Noir.Vincent Girardin is the 11th generation of a winemaking family whose origins date to the 17th century. Girardin began his career in 1982 with only 5 acres of vines and he has since grown his holdings to 54 acres as of 2010. Girardin is known for his pure, focused wines which represent one of the few sources of vinous value in this prohibitively priced wine region. Much like his fellow Burgundians, Girardin's goal is to produce wines which respect the individuality of their terroirs.The most prized vineyards in Burgundy are located in the Côte d'Or which is divided into the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. Pommard is a commune in the Côte de Beaune known for producing powerful, richly flavored red wines. “Les Vignots” is a vineyard parcel in this region whose vines are 65 years old and soils are comprised of limestone and clay. Fermentation begins with natural yeasts and the wine is aged in French oak (10% new) for 14 months. The 2011 Girardin Pommard “Les Vignots” has a purplish-red color with fragrant aromas of dark fruit, violet and wet earth. On the palate complex flavors of black cherry, raspberry, spice and earth accompany a bright acidity and lingering mineral and spice-tinged finish. It paired wonderfully well with the classic Boeuf Bourguignon.A very special thank you to Hank Hill of Four Hills Media for the fabulous video of our evening and the photos for this post! To see more of his wonderful work please visit www.fourhillsmedia.com. For information on purchasing any of our featured wines, please visit The Wine Atelier, our online wine boutique by clicking here. This week we are sfeaturing a selection of Pinot Noir and are offering 10% off your Pinot purchase of $100 or more! To receive the discount, just enter the code PINOT10 at checkout, offer is good through Sunday. So what's your favorite region for Pinot Noir? Do tell in the comment section below - I'd love to hear from you!Cheers,

Stephanie Miskew
Stephanie Miskew