Requiring the shortest growing season to fully mature, Pinot Noir is often seen as winedom’s Holy Grail: The most difficult wine to make, but the most alluring when done well. Where many varieties focus on flavor, the Pinot is all about its almost sinful textural qualities, characteristics that call forth descriptors like succulent, sensual, silky, satin-like, fleshy, juicy, enticing. Plus, Pinot Noir is just plain difficult: It ripens unevenly, it wants to race through fermentation, and it goes through “dumb” stages—in barrel and in bottle—where winemakers wish to pour it down the drain. The wise ones do not.
Such impetuousness requires the coolest of vineland climates to slow it down, which is why we see the grape on the Sonoma Coast, the Russian River Valley and in the Carneros, where the San Francisco Bay serves to slow the ripening curve dramatically. The longer the fruit stays on the vine, the richer the wines.
Richness in texture—the sort of suppleness that is all “wet”—is what Pinot Noir is all about. The flavors are there, too, from the bright cherry (red and black) and strawberry on the fruity side, to the wonderfully complex mushroom and leather of the earthy side, on to the absolutely yummy “filet mignon” meaty character the most of us simply drool over.
When you combine Pinot’s extraordinary range of texture and flavor, you have a wine that is open to the widest possible wine-food match-ups. Almost anything is fair game. You like fish? Pinot can do that. You like spicy food? Pinot can do that. You like the classic filet mignon slathered in sautéed mushrooms? Pinot can definitely do that! Or if you want, just open a bottle and enjoy the sunset.