Are you SURE that’s Pinot you are drinking?


How often is your Pinot Noir NOT Pinot Noir? 
How often is it blended with Syrah or some other body and color enhancer? Consider this tidbit from Jordan MacKay’s "Noir Taboo" article in the latest issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine:

"…2005 Pinot Noir sales are up 73 percent from the previous year. Yet the growth of Pinot bearing acreage is for the most part flat."

Clearly there is lot of "Pinot Noir" being made that just isn’t 100% Pinot Noir.

There’s nothing illegal with this as long as the "added varietal" isn’t more than 25% of the wine. What’s interesting is that Mackay could find no one to own up to blending other varieties into their Pinot. Meaning, it’s not something they are proud of.

The other factor is that Pinot seems to get darker and darker every year. Again, the winemakers say that it’s a case of "other guys" (big wineries, they claim) using things like Grenache and Syrah in their Pinot" or it’s just a case of California producers being able to get their Pinots darkly ripe.

I find it unlikely that it is just the big producers who are blending in other varietals into their Pinot to stretch it or make it darker and bulkier. Very unlikely. But do you care?

I guess this depends on what you want out of your wines? if you want something reliably LARGE, DARK and UNCTUOUS you really don’t care what’s in the bottle or what they call it on the label. And this is every bit a legitimate way to approach your appreciation of wine as the person who is looking no so much for girth than for an authentic experience with a wine of character and uniqueness.

On a side note, Wine & Spirits Magazine is really a killer product. This issue (April 2005) alone has the article mentioned above (a story not a lot of other wine publications would touch), a great rundown of the most popular wines in restaurants, a column by Rod Smith–clearly one of the best wine writers in the world), as well as an article by David Schildknect on "extreme Riesling vineyards" of Europe and the effect global warming is having on them.

Josh Greene is the Publisher of Wine & Spirits and has really done a great job with it. Kudos!!

5 Responses

  1. James Bateman - March 16, 2006

    I believe the Fed`s only require 75% of the wine to be from the named varietal. I might be wrong, I`ve never had to lie with my wines.

  2. Al - March 16, 2006

    “And this is every bit a legitimate way to approach your appreciation of wine as the person who is looking no so much for girth than for an authentic experience with a wine of character and uniqueness.”
    Is it just me or does that comment strike everyone else as being rather snobbish?
    I had no idea that the those qualities were so exclusively separated.

  3. tom - March 16, 2006

    No…you’re right. It’s a tad “snobbish”. It was meant to be. Wines that are heavily extracted and overripe, tend to obliterate both varietal and locality in the wine. If that is ok with a drinker, if they don’t mind that, then that’s fine. They’ve got a ton of wines out there that will please them. It just doesn’t matter too much which ones they choose.

  4. St.Vini - March 16, 2006

    I assume this is from the March W&S, which I haven’t gotten yet. Therefore, I’m speaking without having read the article, so my apologies to Mr. MacKay if I misspeak here. I am only responding to what was written above, particularly “Clearly there is lot of ‘Pinot Noir’ being made that just isn’t 100% Pinot Noir”
    Looking at bearing acres is not particularly informative. You have to look at tons produced. In 2003, California produced 58,000 tons. In 2004, we produced 20% more, or 70,000 tons. This is all available here by the way.
    Second, you have to look at how much excess wine was held in tank/barrel/bottle vs now. There’s no easy measure of this, but a simple call to Ciatti or Turrentine (the two major bulk wine brokers in California) would have brought to light that inventories of Pinot are down, way down from their previous oversupplies and people are scavenging desperately for more.
    I’m not saying blending isn’t occuring, but its certainly not driving the 73% increase in Pinot sales 2005 vs. 2004! To conclude that the excess in sales comes from blending is grossly inaccurate without considering the whole picture.

  5. Craig Camp - March 19, 2006

    While the Federal requirement to use a varietal name is 75%, here in Oregon, the requirement for pinot noir (not cab by the way) is 90%.
    Sounds great, but its not. 10% syrah will obliterate any pinot.
    Big, dark pinot is not only caused by blending, as there are many potions in the modern winemaking bag of tricks to make your wine as dark as you want. Of course, these tricks also destroy the varietal character of pinot noir.
    It is also worth noting that some vineyards produce darker pinot noir as part of their character. Not all dark pinot is manipulated.
    Pinot noir, like any varietal, has its commercial producers and artisan producers. The difference with pinot noir is that while you can make a pretty drinkable cabernet at $8.00 a bottle, with pinot it can’t be done. Cheap pinot must be manipulated to make it pleasant to drink. The 75% requirement makes that manipulation easy.
    Consumers who want to drink real pinot noir must realize it can never be cheap. For example, farming costs in the north Willamette Valley translate into wines that start, not finish at $20 a bottle. This is why pinot noir cannot become another merlot.

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