Let me just first say… this little rant is NOT for the wine professional out there. It’s for people like me, my friends, and anyone (in general) that is wanting to grow in their wine knowledge, as well as learn how to navigate endless shelves of vino. One other thing… the “big chain grocery store wine people” don’t want you to know this stuff.
To get to the point, the majority of inexpensive Pinot Noir coming out of California these days is pushing 24% Syrah. You see in California, the wine laws state that if you list a varietal on the front label, it must consist of at least 75% of that grape. This can go for any wine, really… Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. I think it’s understood (and at least not questioned) that Cabernet Sauvignon is rarely 100% Cab. If you take the time to look at the tech sheets that are available on wineries websites (look for the link “trade”), you will find transparency… generally speaking. A little Cabernet Franc, a splash of Merlot, and a touch of Petite Sirah does wonders to a Cabernet that may have some missing holes all by itself. The Cabernet Sauvignon’s out there that are 100% (AND usually from a single vineyard) are extremely expensive, and have the beauty and power to stand on its own.
But, while thinking about Pinot Noir, we rarely question or wonder if there’s anything else in there. The truth about the grape Pinot Noir, was said best in the movie Sideways by the main character Miles. He said, “…it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”
The big producers that are making $8-$19 Pinot’s for the grocery store, have realized that they can’t grow the quality that they need, and still sell it at that price-point, and make any money. They need help from across the isle… I mean… row. Sorry.
To me, the biggest culprit out there right now is Meiomi from Belle Glos. The darkness of the color, the spice, the rustic earthiness screams Syrah… and Mega Purple. And Robitussin D. The amount of sugar in the wine is one thing (it’s a lot), but the amount of Syrah in the blend buries the beautiful fruit that Pinot can possess by itself.
Look, If you really love those big spicy Pinot’s out there, you should do yourself a favor, and cheat on your Pinot Noir with a Syrah.