May 01 2009

You Had Me at Pinot

by Brett Ashley McKenzie

Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?
Miles Raymond: Sure.
Maya: Why are you so in to Pinot? I mean, it’s like a thing with you.
Miles Raymond: Uh, I don’t know. Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.

This exchange from the film “Sideways” is in no small part responsible for an overwhelming increase of interest in the Pinot Noir varietal, and an increase in its demand everywhere from five-star restaurants to right here in our store. Miles isn’t alone with his effusive praise of this difficult, dark grape. Robert Parker once wrote, “When it’s great, Pinot noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world.” One master sommelier even calls Pinot “sex in a glass.”

Miles may be a Pinot Snob, but he gets it right.

Miles may be a Pinot Snob, but he gets it right.

What is it about Pinot Noir? The often deceptive light hues, disguising surprising flavors and strength? The low tannins, which even white wine fanatics can appreciate? The smooth and silky texture?

Just Grapes’ managing partner Don Sritong often recalls his amazement in learning that Pinot Noir had become the most popular wine sold in the store. “If you told me that when we opened five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said in a recent in-store class. Yet our customers flock to our Pinots, new world and old world (and both, in the unique Two Worlds collaboration between Dr. Loosen and J. Christopher, which features 90% German grapes and 10% Oregonian). In private events, Pinots are the wines that are requested to be tasted again and again and again. Whether watching the face of someone trying the varietal for the first time or a connoisseur surprised by a burst of something unexpected, you see the same range of emotions and pleasure and curiosity. It’s simply mesmerizing.

What about Pinot Noir attracts or surprises you?

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