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Do you know Pinot?

In this edition of Wine All The Time, Vin shares his thoughts on some great pinots and one of the deepest, most enticing red wines he's had the pleasure of discovering
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A recent article in the Canadian Wine Magazine, quench, dealt with the different grapes that fall under the “Pinot” (Peen-oh) category, and it got me thinking.

A number of well-known grape varietals have Pinot as part of their name, and it is because they are descendants of the Pinot grape. One fairly common characteristic is the shape of the grape bunch – like a pinecone; hence the name, “pinot”.

The most common grape types bearing the name Pinot are the red, Pinot Noir, and the white – or grey, as the name indicates – Pinot Grigio. The latter also goes by Pinot Gris. Aside from the one name being Italian, the other French, the most significant distinction between the two is style.  

With Pinot Grigio, we associate a lighter, lively style, while Pinot Gris tends to be deeper hued and more richly flavoured.

Pinot Noir is the “star” red, sometimes called the Queen of Grapes, sometimes called the “Heartbreak Grape” for the difficulties the vignerons have in growing it. As with all varietals, there can be significant differences in style, depending on where the grape is grown.

The main grapes bearing the word Pinot in their name are Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and the lesser known Pinot Meunier. 

With Pinot Noir, the stylistic differences seem to be based on cooler climate versus warmer climate.  In the cooler climate category, we could include our own Niagara region, along with Burgundy, New Zealand, and parts of Oregon. Even the warmer climate versions, such as found in parts of California and Australia, still do better in a more moderate climate such a regions along the coasts or at higher elevations, in countries such as Chile. Compared with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Pinot Noir is usually more medium to light-bodied. 

Here are some examples for your consideration. Chile’s Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir, on the regular shelves for $11.95, is a terrific ‘entry-level’ example. It shows the character of the grape – cherry, earth, plum, and cinnamon come to mind. Light-bodied, it stills delivers a lot for the price.

For an “old world” example, consider the Jean-Claude Boisset les Ursalines Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2016, $24.95, in Vintages. calls it “a smoky version, offering black cherry, blackberry, earth and spice flavors…This is succulent.” – 90.

On the September 15 release, the Henry of Pelham Estate Pinot Noir, 2016, $24.95, is, according to the winery, paradoxical: “it is both light and delicate while at the same time rich and complex. Aromas of raspberry and clove spice are followed by flavours of cherry with light notes of tobacco and oak.”

California’s La Crema, part of the Jackson Estates portfolio, has its Monterey Pinot Noir 2015 here at $29.95. In the “” it is described as “superbly rich” with an “intense deep, long palate.” – 95.  (The Sonoma County version is $34.95)

Pinot Grigio has become immensely popular over the past few years, as it can be refreshing, in-expensive, and easy to sip – no seminar, please, just let me enjoy it. A good citrusy ‘pop’, with pear, melon or apple flavours tend to characterize most Pinot Grigio offerings.

You can find Pinot Grigio wines from about $10 a bottle up to $30 a bottle and more.  There are several very good ones in the $18 to $20 range. The most popular white wine in Vintages may be the Santa Margherita from the Alto Adige/ Trentino region at the very top of Italy. It currently sells for $19.95. Santa Margherita is said to be the first to make a white wine out of the greyish-pink Pinot Grigio grape.

Sommelier Jane Staples observes “pretty nose of peach, apple and citrus notes and mouth-watering fruity palate. Crisp with refreshing acidity and long citrus rind finish.” – 91.

RuffinoRuffino Il Ducale Pinot Grigio 2017, $19.95
Coming on September 15 is the Ruffino Il Ducale Pinot Grigio 2017, $19.95, which could give the Santa Margherita a run for its money, and more. It bursts with flavour, richness of fruit and roundness of texture, finishing with mineral and herbal notes.  An absolute Home Run.

The Pinot Gris variation is a style associated often with Alsace, with crisp acidity and minerality traded for a richer, more deeply flavoured approach. We can find these wines as well in the Pacific Northwest, and in our own Niagara.

Of their 2017 Pinot Gris, $16.95, Cave Spring Cellars writes, “this wine offers perfumed notes of orange blossom and ripe cantaloupe, with soft herbal scents reminiscent of sage, thyme and mint … The palate is rich and medium bodied, with ripe flavours of melon and red apple. A refreshing seam of acidity emerges for balance, carrying very persistent orange peel flavours long onto the finish.”

SayYesDirty Laundry ‘Say Yes’ Pinot Gris 2016, $21.95
In Vintages, B.C.’s Dirty Laundry ‘Say Yes’ Pinot Gris 2016, $21.95, with a Silver from the International Wine and Spirit Awards, offers similar flavours. As you would expect with Pinot Gris, there is somewhat less acidity than you find in a Pinot Grigio. The citrus flavours go more towards the orange and tangerine than to the lemon found with the “Grigio”.

On the September 15 release, you will find the Pierre Sparr Réserve Pinot Gris 2016, $18.95 from Alsace, which emphasizes flavour. Expect peach, melon, orange and even ginger in this honeyed, rich and textured example

Beyond Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, we just find a little Pinot Blanc and/or Pinot Bianco. 

Currently, the only Pinot Blanc widely available is from Niagara’s Konzelmann Estate Winery at $14.95. This is lighter in style with a relatively creamy texture, and impressions of apple, stone fruit and citrus. While it could pair with lighter Asian cuisine, it would work well with delicate cheeses, such as mozzarella.

Of Pinot Meunier, aside from its role as a blending component in Champagne, we find next to none. 

Ontario’s Vineland Estates has the only wildly available Pinot Meunier, but you may need an inter-store transfer.  The Boteek Vineyard 2016, $25 is described by as a “great beauty with charm, elegance and subtlety. The alluring essences of Bing cherry, raspberry and sweet beet open the way to base notes of fresh crumbled clay-loam and bergamot tea.” Try it alongside a similarly priced Pinot Noir.

Until recently, I was of the impression that Chardonnay was a member of the Pinot family. When the quench article didn’t include it, my initial research said that mine was a common misconception; however, a research study out of the University of California/Davis (1999) says DNA evidence shows Chardonnay as a cross between Pinot and an old vine called Gouais Blanc. The non-descript Gouais Blanc is now actually banned in France; still, it has some interesting descendants.

So, a member of the family or not? Let’s not worry, and just enjoy.

September 15 Vintages Release


Pfaff Special 2016, $13.95, from Alsace blends the workhorse Sylvaner grape with the Pinot Blanc mentioned above. It is dry but flavourful, with notes of pear and nectarine on the palate, and citrus on the finish.

GoodKharmaFlat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2016, $16.95
Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2016, $16.95, takes its name from the positive energy generated by the dedication of part of its sales to the Ontario Association of Food Banks. The LCBO promises that “you will find this to be a big, rich wine offering great depth of pear, pineapple, smoke, toast, butter and mineral notes.” 

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016, $19.95, has long been one of Ontario’s top examples. “Just wow on the palate, an initial blast of lemon-lime then honey crisp apple and peach, then waves of wet stone that is all perfectly balanced by racy acidity that runs through the core.” - 92.

On the regular-list shelves is an organic Sauvignon Blanc, the Emiliana Adobe Reserva 2018, a wonderful example for just $13.15. On the nose, there are intimations of cut-grass and grapefruit, while on the palate, if not over-chilled, you can get some tropical impressions to accompany the citrus. On the finish, you may get a slight, lemon-peel bitter note, but it is all good.


Marquès de Caceres Rosado 2017, $14.95 from Spain’s Rioja “offers a savory character with herbal, green olive and clove notes that frame a core of cherry and watermelon.” – – 89. 

MeioniMeiomi Rosé 2017, $27.95
Meiomi Rosé 2017, $27.95, from California, offers wonderfully expressive strawberry, raspberry and tangerine fruit with flavours that expand and linger.  Significant intensity here in a wine that can stand up to entrées such as chicken breast, salmon, and even pork loin. This year we are seeing more and more rosés at higher price points, but the quality is clearly there.


El Goru Monastrell/Syrah/ PetIit Verdot 2016, $13.95. The winey located in Jumilla and Spain describes the wine this way: “it is fruity and flavourful in the mouth, meaty and toasted with a soft and ripe tannins. Reminiscent of vanilla and cinnamon.”

Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2017, $16.95, is an Italian red wine from the Piedmont but one which brings an acidic crunch to the finish, as is typical of this grape. A pizza wine, a pasta wine, a wine for roasted meats and sharp cheese. The tannins are soft, and the flavours combine tart cherry and raspberry.

Castellani Filicheto Vino Nobile di Montepuciano 2013, $19.95, is another noble Tuscan.  It is rare to find one at this price. Smoke, leather, and cherry, all harmoniously integrated with soft tannins characterize this very well-made and well-priced wine. A good chance to try something we don’t always see a lot of.

A tale of Two Merlots. I was able to try two merlots recently, and they present an interesting contrast. The Emilian Adobe Reserva Merlot, is on the regular shelves for just $11.15 until September 16 ($2 off). In a sense, it is “textbook” – light on entry, but with light tannins and red and black berry fruit kicking in towards the finish, with the resulting impression of a wine of very decent substance – bright, satisfying and well-made. 

ThornMerlotThorn, a 2014 Merlot from the Napa Valley is $39.95

In Vintages is Thorn. This 2014 Merlot from the Napa Valley is $39.95, but Holy Smoke. It is deep, dark and sensual with rich integrated dark berry fruit and an impression that is almost like cherry liqueur, before concluding with a note of dark chocolate. The flavours dance, long on the palate, long on the finish. It is a wine that seduces you… just another sip, please, just another sip. A totally amazing experience.