How can one grape taste so different?
That’s the question that has been puzzling and obsessing wine lovers for centuries.
The same grape grown in one place can taste completely different in another one.
Sometimes, that place can be a few feet away. Trust me. It’s amazing how similar grapes grown in some vineyards in France’s Burgundy region can taste completely different from another vineyard right next door.
The French call this phenomenon “terroir,” a word that refers to a wine’s personality based on where it comes from, its “sense of place.”
That’s why it’s often great to compare similar wines from similar regions.
It’s also how most wine tastings are done – similar wines from the same wine region (and perhaps even the same vintage) tasted side by side.
I love tasting wine this way. And I think it’s one of the best ways to learn about wine from a particular wine region.
But who says you have to do everything the same way every time?
So this week, I thought I would try something completely different, as John Cleese used to say on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
This week, I thought it might be fun to taste wines side by side made with the same grape from different regions – very different regions.
The grape? Pinot noir – mostly. (I’ll explain in a bit.)
The wine regions? Five different continents – North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any pinot noir wines from Asia or Antarctica, although I’m sure they’re out there. And in the case of Africa, the grape is pinotage, which comes from pinot noir grapes.)
And to keep things fair, all five wines cost less than $20 a bottle.
So how different do pinot noirs from five different continents taste? Let’s find out.
I also included a brief history of pinot noir for all you fellow wine nerds out there.
Hope you enjoy.
People have been making wine using pinot noir grapes for hundreds of years. In fact, even before pinot noir was called pinot noir, people started making wine using this grape about 2,000 years ago in France’s Burgundy region. Although the grape may have come from somewhere else even before then, according to “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz. The same book notes that pinot noir began being used as a name sometime in the 1300s. Since then, pinot noir has become one of the best-loved wine grapes in the world.
If someone’s making wine somewhere, odds are they’re making wine with pinot noir. Nearly every wine region in the world includes a winemaker attempting to make wine with pinot noir grapes. This is surprising since pinot noir can be a challenging grape to grow. If it’s too cold or too hot, these thin-skinned grapes can freeze or ripen too early and shrivel on the vine. But when done right, they can create some of the most magical red wines in the world.
Some of the best-known pinot noir wine regions in the world include France’s Burgundy region, California’s Sonoma County, Oregon and New Zealand. And if you love Champagne, many of the best ones include pinot noir grapes blended with other grape varieties.
2019 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Sonoma County ($19.99 at Table & Vine in West Springfield)
Wine grapes are like sponges. They absorb the flavors and aromas around them in the soil and the air. That’s why I’ve long been a big fan of pinot noirs from California’s Russian River Valley. Located in Sonoma County just west of Napa Valley near the Pacific Ocean, this particular part of California consistently produces earthy, elegant pinot noirs with a hint of ocean air. This outstanding wine has hints of red licorice and spice straight out of the bottle. A few minutes later, those flavors become softer and lighter. Best of all, this wine tastes great the next day and the day after. Way to go, North America!
2021 Natura Pinot Noir ($11.99 at Table & Vine)
Let’s head south now to Chile to taste this delightful, delicate pinot noir. Made with organic grapes, I wasn’t sure if I liked this South American pinot noir at first. Part of it had to do with tasting it right after the first one described above. The Sonoma County pinot noir power overshadowed this lighter-than-air pinot. But once I had time to adjust to this wine, I was charmed by its soft, gentle, understated flavors, which include hints of cherry and cotton candy. The next day, the wine’s even smoother and more delicate. But don’t wait to finish this bottle. Two days after I first opened it, all subtle flavors vanished into thin air. But overall, great job, South America!
2021 Doolhof Dark Lady Of The Labyrinth Pinotage ($16.99 at Table & Vine)
As I explained briefly above, this wine isn’t a pinot noir, but it’s close. Instead, this powerful wine from South Africa is made with pinotage grapes, which are a combination of pinot noir and cinsault. Again, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s pretty close. And if you love big, powerful, intense wines, this is the one for you. Flinty and earthy with hints of black cherry and plum, this wine packs a punch that lasts for days after you open the bottle. Amazing, Africa!
2020 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir ($14.99 at Table & Vine)
Let’s set sail now for the continent of Australia and the country of New Zealand. Best known wine-wise for its sauvignon blancs, its pinot noirs are a thing of beauty and wonderfully express the cool, ocean air from the Marlborough region on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. This particular pinot is bright and light with vibrant fruit flavors and a crisp, clean finish. You can clearly taste the fruit without the sweet fruitiness, if that makes any sense. Let me add this is another wine that still tastes great days after you first open the bottle. It’s a wonder from Down Under!
2021 La Petite Perriere Pinot Noir ($14.99 at Table & Vine)
No globetrotting pinot noir tasting would be complete without one that includes Europe and specifically France. This delightful wine also shows that Burgundy isn’t the only wine region in France that makes great pinot noirs. This velvety-smooth pinot comes from France’s Loire Valley west of Burgundy. Compared to pinot noirs from the celebrated Burgundy region, this soft, smooth pinot reminds me of ones from the southern part of Burgundy near the Beaujolais region. Its flavors are crisp and clean and include hints of fresh raspberries and blackberries. What’s not to love about this European wine or pinot noir in general?