‘e’ Wine of the Week
By Bruce Cochran
This week we’ll look at one of the world’s favorite grape varieties and where the best is grown. It’s also one of the world’s most versatile wines, pairing well with dishes from beef to pork and even some seafood recipes. If you enjoy traveling, you’ll enjoy this round-the-world look at a wine lover’s favorite grape.
Try a new wine this week!
Friuli Pinot Noir
Loved by wine fans for generations, discovered by the public in recent years, pinot noir has fans that are among the most loyal of any in the world of wine. It hasn’t always been easy to be a pinot fan, as good ones tend to cost more than wines made from other grape varieties. But, being a very food-friendly wine, and one of the few reds that really pairs well with some seafood dishes (salmon, for instance, and tuna), it has become a mainstay on many restaurant wine lists. Let’s look at some of the places where the best ones are grown.
Pinot noir grows best in cool climates, so places that are farther north, or near a mountain range or cold body of water are usually where you’ll find the good ones. The grape’s original home is the Burgundy region of east central France. That’s about as far north as Oregon’s Willamette River Valley. Because of their success some people claim Oregon as pinot’s new home.
But people in California would disagree. While many parts of California might not be well suited to pinot noir, other places rank among the world’s best. Here are a few of them:
North of San Francisco, the Russian River Valley is one of my favorite pinot places. It’s in the westernmost part of Sonoma County, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Morning fogs persist well into the morning, sometimes even longer, reducing temperatures in the vineyard and allowing grapes to ripen slowly and completely.
A nearby place that’s been home to fine pinot noir for years is the Carneros District. It stretches across the southern reaches of both Sonoma and Napa valleys. Lying next to an offshoot of San Francisco Bay, it, too, enjoys cool, foggy mornings and sunny afternoons.
Southern Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley is another region to put on your pinot map. If you prefer to visit less-touristed wine regions, this might be the place for you. Beautiful, not difficult to get to, great wines, and oftentimes you can still meet the winemaker in Anderson Valley wineries.
Along California’s Central Coast are some of the state’s newest yet finest pinot places, particularly areas where the mountains run east-west, allowing cool Pacific breezes inland. Look for Santa Barbara County — especially Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Solomon Hills — and southern San Luis Obispo County’s Edna Valley. Monterey County enjoys a similar situation, being naturally cooled by those same Pacific breezes.
In recent years, other places around the world have emerged as having climates well suited to pinot noir. New Zealand’s Central Otago district is one as is Patagonia in Argentina and Chile’s Bio Bio River.
In Europe, France’s Alsace region and some parts of Germany excel with this grape as do some nooks and crannies around the Alps, both on the Swiss side and the Italian side. I especially like the Grave district of Friuli in northeastern Italy, where I found a pinot noir on one of my trips. We call it Friuli Pinot Noir. Grapes for Friuli Pinot Noir are grown in the shadow of the Julian Alps where Italy joins Austria and Slovenia. This wine combines some of the elegance of France with a New World style fruit. It’s actually aged in American oak barrels with deep colored, rich fruit, a clean mineral finish and palate-cleansing acidity that helps it pair well with many dishes from salmon to pork to beef. Friuli Pinot Noir retails for about $15.
Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.