A few good bottles of Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving.
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Mass market bottles can veer toward sweet-and-jammy, without acidity to balance the wine. And if it's not blended with other stuff, budget Pinot Noir can be thin, bitter, sour, and unpleasant to drink. When you spend a little more, Pinot Noir can get earthy and mushroomy, bright and tart, filled out with fruit and herbal flavors. But can you get any of that in a weeknight wine? We decided to put a mixed case to the test.
We tried 23 different bottles to figure out which nonvintage Champagnes tasted best. What's the best value in this region of fancy bubbly? Here's what we found.
I started babysitting them when there were only sixteen, checking in twice a day to see what they were up to. At first they were kind of boring, just lying around doing nothing. But they are now off and gurgling, full of interesting—and disturbing—smells. It feels nice to have traveled across the country to find a new family already waiting, even if they are only barrels of fermenting grape juice.
This new line of sparkling wine from Jean-Charles Boisset is sold by number: No. 69 is a brut rosé, made from pinot noir grapes from Burgundy, while No. 21 is a brut blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. The rosé is berry-flavored and cheerful, but we were much more impressed with the brut.
The wines we tried were impressively smooth, silky and luscious, often luxuriously textured, but with much more fruit than earth, robustly savory but almost never rustic. When I hear pinot, I often think of delicate black fruit that lets lavender and eucalyptus peek through. I expect subtle mushroomy flavors, herbs, black soil. Though some were complex and detailed, many of these wines were dominated by bold red fruit, leaning toward ketchup and sundried tomato flavor, with bombastic oak treatment and alcohol levels soaring into the 14.5% ABV range. For California, this may be cool-climate. But for me, these wines were sometimes hot.
Quick exercise: pick a single event from each year of your life that most affected you. For me, some years are difficult. In 1983, was it when I first picked up the violin, or when He-Man first aired? 2004, on the other hand, is easy. The one event that screwed with my life more than anything else was the release of the movie Sideways.
Pinot Noir is an excellent choice for Thanksgiving. Why? These wines are food-friendly, with soft tannins and a fresh burst of tart acidity that helps to cut through rich dishes. They have herbal notes that complement all the sage, thyme, and fennel in a Thanksgiving feast, and an earthiness that brings out the best in mushroom gravy, stuffing, and turkey itself.
The natural wine movement is growing, spurred by winemakers' concerns about the long-term viability of their land, the quality of their wine, and the protection of the environment. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, we chatted with Michael Honig about his efforts toward sustainability at Honig Vineyard and Winery in California, and taste-tested a few great natural wines to recommend.
There is a price to pay for eclecticism: you can forget to drink the six grapes that provide the backbone for wine production throughout the world. These six "noble grapes"--Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir--have been cultivated all over the world and been made into distinguished, even legendary wines.