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Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm No Miles

It's the most famous line about wine in recent film history, and maybe in all of film history:

"If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!"
The film, of course, is Sideways, and with these words Miles--the self-loathing writer, Pinot Noir lover, and arbiter of taste for would-be wine snobs across the nation--sounded the death-knell of the Merlot glut of the 90's and issued in the Age of Pinot. (Though in acutality Merlot sales went up after the film's release--go figure.) Nowadays, one can hardly go to a party or a tasting without someone proclaiming, "I'm not a big fan of Merlot. I like Pinots." True, maybe some of them came by their opinions honestly. But I hear that same sentiment uttered often enough to make me think there are lots of wine drinkers out there who just do what the latest screenwriter or best-selling author tells them to do. (By the way, one reason Merlot is so good for any occasion is that it tends to have lush but not cloying fruit and a soft, supple texture, making it easy to drink with or without food.)

So why should we care? Normally, I wouldn't, but the law of supply and demand says that the more people who want to drink Pinot Noir, the more money wineries, distributors, and merchants can charge for it. That's why you can hardly find a decent--not great, mind you, but decent--bottle of the stuff for under $20. (Well, that and the fact that the Pinot Noir grape is notoriously--and, I should add, literally--thin-skinned and, so, temperamental.) Fortunately for me, I happen to like Merlot (bane of party goers everywhere, it would seem). I also like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Malbec, Carmenère, and Pinotage, to name a few of my favorite reds. In fact, the one thing I do come close to wine snobbery about has nothing to do with the price of the bottle, the prestige of the winery, or even the quality of the wine (the evaluation of which is very subjective). Instead, I'm snobbish in my conviction that, if you want to call yourself a wine lover, you should at least try to appreciate a range of colors, bodies, styles, and flavors. Besides, when you don't have a mint to spend on wine, broad-ranging taste is an assett.

Still, I do like a good Pinot. But what I consider to be a "good Pinot" doesn't mesh perfectly with popular or critical tastes. I prefer the softer, rounder, more full-bodied style (the Sanford below is a good example) to the more elegant, crisp-almost-to-the-point-of-effervescence style. (The Beaux Freres below isn't this way in the extreme, but it does flirt with it.) Don't get me wrong--a good Pinot Noir has to have a solid backbone of acidity, and the best ones will be infused with seductive, earthy notes. It's just that the austere snap that makes Pinot so exciting for many wine lovers can, for me, be taken too far.

In sum, I will gladly drink fucking Merlot, along with all the other varietals I mention above (not to mention the gamut of white wines, all of which can be delicious--in fact, I just had an oily, petrolium-laden Alsatian Gewürztraminer that was super fun, though not something I drink often). And, of course, that includes Pinot Noir. To come at wine from any other direction is, to my mind, to come at it sideways.

Now, the notes:

1. Leroy Bourgone 1999 ($44.99/bottle)
This basic Burgundy has a nice, balanced nose of baked plums, dried leaves, damp earth, and spice and has a light-medium body on the palate. A very earthy core is infused with black cherry, licorice, and spice notes, with fine tannins and a long, peppery finish.

2. Sanford Santa Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 2002 ($49.99/bottle)
The nose is ripe, rich, and plummy, with some woody and sweet tar notes. Medium bodied, with a smooth, silky mouthfeel, this Pinot boasts flavors of dark plum and berry, toast, and new leather, all strung on a taught but not overwhelming rope of acidity. The long finish is pure black tea. Spectator gave this one 87; I'd bump it up 5 points. Excellent.

3. Taz Fiddlestix Vineyard 2005 ($36.99/bottle)
This silky, medium bodied Pinot offers aromas of cherry and raspberry cola and a lightly floral perfumed note. Snappy acidity gives lift to flavors of cola, tea, and smoke. The finish is dark and herbal. Nice.

4. Etude Pinot Noir 2004 ($42.99/bottle)
The nose is pure Old World, dominated by wild mushrooms, minerality, and barnyard notes. Medium bodied, with black cherry and plum fruit, mountains of black soil, and cigarette tobacco on the palate. This is a beautifully sensuous, seductive wine.

5. Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highlighner 2005 ($44.99/bottle)
Smooth and medium bodied with sprightly acidity, this Pinot offers aromas of straight cola, peppery spice, and flowers, and flavors of sweet dark berries, tar, cola, and a hint of earth. This is a nice, solid wine.

6. Beaux Freres Ribbon Ridge Vineyard 2006 ($79.99/bottle)
Black cherry, toasted wood, and rich perfumed spice aromas give way to a medium bodied palate. Flavors of sweet cherry, red and black licorice, and spice seem to jump around on your tongue, so kinetic is the acidity. As my introductory comments imply, this is not my ideal style of Pinot. But becuase it has some richness for balance, it is a very good example of that style. If you like your Pinots lively, you will love this one.

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At 10:31 PM, Blogger Earnest English said...

I'm a newbie to your blog. I came for the promise of Writing Studies talk, but got sucked into the pinot discussion! I do like that movie -- quite a lot actually, but I hate what it has done to the sales of my absolutely favorite wine, which, sadly, is, and always has been, Pinot Noir! It has made Pinot Noir and therefore not cheap. Yes, it's nice to be able to find it in less filled-out liquor stores, but BV Pinot Noir (not the stuff they imported from France during that one really bad year) was a good solid Pinot for a mere $10. Can one find a decent Pinot for such a price anymore? Hardly. It became trendy. I hate trendy. I just want to hide in a corner with my Pinot. Without any commentary about Sideways. I was a Pinot fan way before the movie. I have the alcoholic friends to prove it!


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