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North American Pinot Noir

North American Pinot Noir

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 455
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  • Book Info
    North American Pinot Noir
    Book Description:

    Pinot noir, the famously elegant, sexy, and capricious red grape of Burgundy, is finally producing impressive wines in North America. Credit talented winemakers, enthusiastic restaurateurs, and consumers in search of alternatives to cabernet and zinfandel. Considered perhaps the ultimate food wine, pinot noir has an allure based on its special combination of aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel; on its legendary capacity to reflect theterroirwhere it is grown; and on its reputation for being hard to grow and make. This is the definitive work on pinot noir in North America. A comprehensive reference for winemakers and aficionados as well as a sourcebook for casual enthusiasts, it includes extensive historical and viticultural background on pinot noir in the New World and profiles of six dozen prominent producers in California, Oregon, British Columbia, and New York.John Winthrop Haeger, known for his perceptive wine writing for more than fifteen years, gives contextual and comparative information about pinot noir in Burgundy and then tells the story of wine producers' early failures, frustrations, and breakthroughs in North America. He discusses plant genetics and clones, identifies the essential conditions for really good pinot, tells where the best wines are grown and made, and analyzes the factors that determine wine styles and signatures. In the second part of the book, he presents detailed producer profiles with accessibly written tasting notes on recent and mature vintages. A final section covers glassware, vintages, wine and food pairings, and other matters of interest to consumers. Maps prepared especially for this book cover all the major pinot-producing regions in North America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93094-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    I wasn’t raised around pinot noir or, for that matter, wine of any kind. My parents’ libations were Johnnie Walker Red Label before dinner and water or reheated breakfast coffee with meals. On those occasions when guests or other circumstances seemed to require something special with the food itself, my father consulted his whiskey merchant. These interactions generally produced something like Mateus or a shipper’s bottling of Médoc. Somehow, in the 1960s, it came to my father’s attention that champagne had been served historically in tall flutes rather than shallow saucers. An architect by training, with wonderful taste and a...


    • Chapter 1 THE BASICS
      (pp. 11-23)

      The names of wine grape varieties, from albariño to zinfandel, have become the bedrock vocabulary of wine talk worldwide. Nearly everyone who buys or drinks wine in the New World knows the names of ubiquitous varieties like cabernet, chardonnay, and merlot. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB; formerly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), which regulates the labels of wine sold in the United States, recognizes about 260 varietal names, but its rather odd list includes quite a number of names that are not true varieties, as well as many hybrids. Spain, a country of surprising...

      (pp. 24-32)

      Burgundy lies about 170 miles southeast of Paris, astride the main medieval trade routes linking the Mediterranean with the “new” cities of northern Europe, and bisected now by the high-speed rail line from Paris to Lyon. Defined as the Région Bourgogne, it covers just over 12,000 square miles, or about three times the area of Los Angeles County. Burgundy is mostly green fields and woodland, sustaining dairy farming and an assortment of field crops—including seeds for Dijon’s famous mustards. France’s Charolais beef takes its name from the town of Charolles, near Mâcon in the southern part of the region;...

      (pp. 33-60)

      Pinot noir, we are told by Jancis Robinson, “travels sullenly.” In a memorable and oft-repeated phrase, Robinson contrasts pinot’s alleged aptitudes with those of cabernet sauvignon, which “happily packs its bags and travels about the world.” One could be excused for assuming that pinot noir was an especially rare or tardy import to North America, or that it failed here more persistently than did other varieties of vinifera. Unsurprisingly, the real story, inevitably woven in and around the whole history of wine in North America, is rather more complex. Pinot noir was present almost from the beginning of North America’s...

    • Chapter 4 WHERE IT HAPPENS
      (pp. 61-127)

      Across North America, there are about 30,000 acres of pinot noir. This translates to about 6 percent of the acreage devoted to all red wine grapes. By a different yardstick, it is a surface slightly larger than the borough of Manhattan, but smaller than the District of Columbia. If it were all bearing and made entirely into varietal table wine, 30,000 acres would be enough to produce about 7.6 million cases in an average year. With allowances for nonbearing acreage, sparkling wine, and the pinot noir that disappears into red blends, North America’s pinot vineyards now turn out closer to...

      (pp. 128-148)

      Clone, thecword, ranks second only toterroir, thetword, in the conversations that winegrowers, retailers, and even consumers have almost constantly about pinot noir. Cloning plants has nothing in common with the cutting-edge technology and ethical dilemmas associated, even in lay discourse, with cloning animals like Dolly the sheep. For once etymology is a friend: Englishcloneis based on the Greek word for a twig and refers to nothing more complicated than the age-old practice of generating a new plant, genetically identical to its parent, by taking and propagating a cutting. Anyone who has rooted a...

      (pp. 149-174)

      The basics of growing red-wine grapes and turning them into wine are relatively straightforward. Tens of thousands of growers, professional winemakers, and amateur practitioners do the trick every year around the world. Healthy fruit is harvested properly ripe. Yeasts transform sugar into alcohol. Before, during, and after fermentation, the stuff of red wine is extracted from the grapes’ skins. The wine is then “raised,” finished, and bottled. And many millions of bottles of more or less sound red wine, crafted from many varieties of vinifera, are then sent to market.

      When the object of attention isfinewine, however, the...

      (pp. 175-186)

      Everyone asks: How is North American pinot noir different from red Burgundy? Is it a fundamentally different beast? Is it fair to compare them? Which is better? Which is better value? Which lives longer? Which ages more gracefully? Should a consumer expect the same flavors, textures, satisfactions, and pleasures from both families of wine, or should these wines satisfy in quite different ways? Alternatively, beginning with the presumption that Burgundy has the advantage of history and accumulated experience, are the best pinots grown in North America as good as the greatest red Burgundies? Are American pinots comparable to Burgundy’s lesser...

    • Chapter 8 REFLECTIONS
      (pp. 187-190)

      When we take stock and look forward, the proverbial glass (of North American pinot noir in 2003) is certainly more than half full. The gravely flawed wines of the 1970s are gone. The basic truth that pinotcannotbe made successfully if it is treated like any other red grape is well understood. Several hundred producers are at work on the variety in at least 13 states and two Canadian provinces. Many dozens of them are turning out very good wines, and newly minted labels of exceptional quality enter the market with each successive vintage. The best North American pinots...

    • MAPS
      (pp. None)

    • Introduction
      (pp. 193-396)

      The six dozen producers profiled in the following pages vary enormously in size, style, program, and personality. Some are bona fide boutique producers; others make up to 40,000 cases of pinot annually. Pinot noir is the raison d’être for some; for others it qualifies,almost, as a sideline. Some producers make only a single pinot noir in each vintage; others have complex portfolios extending to a dozen or more wines, made from grapes sourced from widely scattered regions. Taken together, they represent a fair picture of pinot production in the United States and Canada at the beginning of the new...

      (pp. 397-400)

      A measure of the contemporary interest in pinot noir, and the enormous acreage that has been planted since the mid 1990s, is the proliferation of producers and labels that have appeared in the marketplace since the 1997 vintage. Some of these are associated with genuinely new winegrowing talent and new or replanted vineyards. Domaine Alfred, a new vineyard and winery on the site of one of Edna Valley’s pioneer plantings, comes to mind, as do Stewart Dorman’s Adrian Fog label, sourced primarily from Anderson Valley vineyards, and Jim Prosser’s J. K. Carrière brand, whose first wines were made in 1998....


    • Advice for Consumers
      (pp. 403-416)

      Good pinot noir is not entirely easy to acquire. North American pinot noir priced in the same tier as basic cabernet, merlot, or chardonnay is almost universally unrewarding. Usually pinot in this tier has been made from mediocre or overcropped fruit or was blended with a very perceptible amount of some other grape variety. In a testament to the problem, only two pinot noirs madeDecantermagazine’s 2002 list of the top 50 red wines priced under ten pounds sterling (about $15)—a Mercurey 1er Cru from Domaine Levert and a Kaituna Hills Reserve from Marlborough in New Zealand—while...

  9. Pinot Terminology
    (pp. 417-426)
  10. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 427-430)
  11. Index
    (pp. 431-445)