The Cellar: Pinot Noir

Friday, May 17, 2013


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Have you ever heard someone describe a wine as being ‘lean and fruity’ or how about ‘big and ripe’ or ‘fruit-forward’? Ever wondered what all these terms mean? Well, this week I will be discussing some of them and in doing so feature two wines that show very different characteristics and carry some of these descriptors.

Grape variety matter, but…

Obviously the grape variety in question matter. Zinfandel grapes are almost always going to produce bigger and richer wines than those made from Gamay grapes. But how about two wines made from the same variety? Can they really be that different? Yes! The place where the grapes are grown plays a huge role in determining the wine's final expression, as does the way the wines has been made – length of maceration, exposure to oak, etc. Let’s look at two Pinot Noirs and see how they differ.

2010 Adelsheim Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

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The first one is the 2010 Adelsheim Pinot Noir. Adelsheim has been around since 1971 and remains family owned and operated. Its 12 vineyards cover 237 acres and are scattered throughout the northern part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Northern Oregon is relatively cool so the grapes often struggle to fully ripen. This results in lighter colored grapes with less sugars and higher acidity levels. In 2010, this resulted in winemaker David Adelsheim making a light Pinot Noir (both in color and in body) with a bright red fruit profile and vivid acidity. He was very careful in his use of new French oak exposing only 20% of the wine to it (for 9 months) so as to not allow the assertive oak flavors of new oak to overtake this Pinot Noir’s delicate floral, fruity and savory aromas and flavors.

2011 Meomi Pinot Noir, Monterey/Santa-Barbara/Sonoma Counties, California

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A year later, 5th-generation winemaker Joseph Wagner (from the Wagner family that brings us iconic wines such as Caymus and Belle Glos) would make his entry-level Pinot. However, these grapes are sourced from much warmer vineyards. In making the Meomi, Joseph sources grapes from vineyards along the Pacific coastline stretching from Santa Barbara up through Monterrey and into Sonoma County. These are riper and darker Pinot Noir grapes, which produce a darker and more fruit-forward style of wine – a wine that displays a broad array of ripe dark fruits, spices and oak. The higher sugar levels produce a more alcoholic wine, one that is fuller in body (we all know that sugars are converted into alcohol during fermentation, right?). Because of the increased ripeness and concentration of flavors, the wine was able to stand up to much more oak. 60% of this wine was aged in new French oak for 10 months.

Experience the difference between the ‘lean and red fruity’ wine and the ‘big, ripe and fruit-forward’ wine for yourself. These two wines are readily available and illustrate perfectly the differences in the two styles. Enjoy!!

Steffen Rasch is a Certified Sommelier and Specialist of Wine. Feel free to email him at [email protected] with any wine-related question. If you want to further explore your passion for wine consider signing up for one of his tastings through the Providence Wine Academy.


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