Oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and…ancient on the planet.
– Miles in the movie Sideways, October 2004
If you remember the movie "Sideways", Miles was on a mission to drink great Pinot Noir. He looks down on most other wines but saves his greatest disdain for Merlot so what is it about Pinot Noir that Miles loves?
Pinot Noir is said to be an ancient grape, one of the oldest known to be planted. A grape that is thought to be Pinot Noir was described in the first century CE by Roman agricultural writer Columella. Despite it's long history, Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow. Pinot Noir grapes grow in tight bunches that resemble pine cones. As the grapes have very thin skins, the bunches are quite susceptible to rot and mold.
Due to the thin skins, Pinot Noir wine is rarely dark or tannic. When red wine is made, all the colour and most of the tannins come from the skins so the skins, seeds and pulp are left in the juice until the desired colour and tannin levels are reached. Other grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, are naturally much darker and have thicker skins so the resulting wines will be a deeper colour and have more mouth-puckering tannins.
Lately, in Niagara and other wine growing areas, winemakers have been taking advantage of this and have been using Pinot Noir to make Rosé wines. The winemaker simply leaves the skins in the fermenting juice for a few days and then drains out the pink wine and lets it finish fermenting without the skins.
Stylistically, there is a difference between Burgundy and New World Pinot Noirs. Burgundy tends to be characterized by complex, subtle aromas and a texture that is not too heavy and is satiny smooth on the palate. New world Pinot Noir, on the other hand, tends to be more fruit forward in it's aromas and flavours with somewhat more noticeable tannins and acidity.
Due to the lighter aromas and flavours of Pinot Noir, many people find it more enjoyable than a Cabernet, for example, when just having a glass of wine. I also find that it pairs with many foods that are too light for a big red but too heavy for many whites. For example, grilled or planked salmon works very nicely with Pinot as does turkey. Whenever I serve turkey, I always serve a 5 or 6 year old barrel fermented Chardonnay and a 3 to 4 year old Pinot Noir with it.
Where are good Pinot Noirs from? It depends on the style you like. I have had excellent Pinot Noirs from Ontario, Oregon's Willamette Valley, New Zealand's Central Otago and Sonoma's Russian River. However, you should also try some actual Burgundy as a great burgundy can leave you a little breathless.
You have the chicken ready to go on the grill with a light barbecue sauce to finish it, the spinach salad with fresh strawberries, almond slivers, red onions with a raspberry vinaigrette and the potato salad are in the fridge. Then it hits you – the wine! Generally you go with a white for the chicken but the sauce will overwhelm any white but even a light red will be too big for the sauce. Go halfway and choose a Rosé!
Many people shy away from rosé wines as they remember when most Ontario rosés were simple, fruity and overly sweet wines. However, the majority of the rosé wines made in Ontario are now more European in style, crisp, dry but still fruit driven.
Rosé wines are made just like red wines. The grapes are picked, destemmed and crushed and then the juice, grape pulp, seeds and skins are put into the fermenting tank and yeast is added to start the fermentation. If you have ever looked at the pulp and juice of a red grape, even a Thompson seedless, the pulp is green and the juice is clear. All the colour in red wine, or a rosé, comes from the skins. Once fermentation has started, the alcohol starts to pull the colour from the skin. If you are making a traditional red wine, you let the wine ferment on the skins for several days. However, if you are making a rosé, you simply remove the wines from the skins and pulp after a few hours or a day and then let the light red, or rosé wine finish fermenting in a tank.
Some winemakers will make both rosé and a red wine from one batch by removing some of the juice from a red wine fermentation after a few hours to make the rosé and letting the rest of the juice finish fermenting as a red wine. This actually benefits the juice that is left on the skins as it intensifies the colour of the wine.
Many of the rosé wines made in Ontario are made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Gamay Noir while others are blends of juice from several different types of red grapes. There are also some white wines being made from red juice by not allowing any skin contact at all.
Rosé wines fill that gap when you aren't sure if you should select a white or a red however, like a white, they should always be served chilled. Try some over the summer. I'm sure you'll find at least one that you like.