Pinot Noir has to be the Best Thanksgiving Wine

In continuing with our series,  this week I would like to look at Pinot Noir. Most of you have heard of this great variety and it’s absolutely amazing. It never gets the recognition it deserves. Today I want to focus on its qualities. Next week, we will look at 2 Pinot noirs that I purchased to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Before we get into this article, I want to update you about last week’s Lambrusco. I went back and purchased another bottle from Trader Joe’s. All of these bottles had that 2-inch gap. I’m wondering if it was a production flaw or that’s just the way it comes. In any case, I tried it again. Go to last week’s article to see my updated notes on it.

How to Pronounce?

Pinot noir is an interesting grape to pronounce. I have heard many versions of it related to peanuts ( I wish I were kidding).  However, it’s quite simple. You have to think French and pronounce it like it’s French. Even though the spelling looks like you want to pronounce it differently.

Here is the correct pronunciation.

Important facts.

This is a Low Tannin Earthy Grape.

I love Pinot Noir and I should drink more of it daily.  I love that it’s low tannin so it’s more approachable.  I also love its earthy qualities.  When you try Pinot Noir, most people look for big fruit like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yes, Pinot Noir has fruit,  but it’s earthy or what I refer to as supermarket berries and plums.  We all know that when we go to the market, it’s rare to get really ripe fruit (just the way it is due to transportation).  That’s why I tend to describe Pinot in terms like:

  • Unripe raspberry
  • Supermarket strawberries, or
  • MI cranberries (MI is a huge producer of cranberries).

Please note that this is not an insult to supermarkets.  It’s just a safe way to let you know what to expect.  It’s rare to find any Pinot Noir jammy.

Barnyard Aroma.

This is one that I’ve been trying to change for ages.  There is a good number of wine books that describe Pinot Noir as a barnyard aroma.  When I teach this to students, they instantly think of what?  Cows, horses, and manure.  This wine is far from the truth of having any of those qualities because who would drink that mixture?

Barnyard refers to earthy notes (like mushrooms) and walking through an empty barn.  As a kid, I was able to go to a number of farms and walking through an empty barn always stuck with me for some reason.  Barnyard to me equals musty.  The best example of this would be going into an older home’s basement.  The example I most commonly use is going into an old or rare bookstore.  The pages and books have a musty tone to them.  This is similar to what you will find for the aroma of Pinot Noir.

Explore wines from Oregon and New Zealand

France (especially the region of Burgundy) will always in my mind be considered the benchmark for Pinot Noir.  The wines from this region are distinctive and have diverse and amazing qualities.  A few years ago, I remember having a Burgundian Pinot Noir paired with a grilled Ribeye and it was a perfect match from the flavor to mouthfeel.  However, most people have not explored Oregon.

Oregon, especially around the Willamette Valley (and that is pronounced Willamette like Dammit), produce some incredible Pinot Noirs.  I was able to travel there for about a week and was amazed at the quality and flavor profiles available.  My only issue with wines from this area is that they can be a bit expensive for everyday drinking.  Yes, there are some that show quite well and are economical.  However, I know that when I want one with depth, I’m starting around the $40 range.

This is one of the reasons why I love New Zealand.  There is very good quality Pinot Noir from these regions (and volcanic soils).  I’ve been able to try a few for under $20 that were a good buy.  The more expensive ones are fantastic.  The only issue is availability, but you are starting to see more on the shelves.

Perfect for Thanksgiving

Automatically, I choose Pinot noir for Thanksgiving.  Since I’m Canadian (and have two Thanksgivings a year), I love serving and recommending Pinot Noir.  In fact, during this time, I would only recommend Pinot Noir unless you were having a different meat (such as Prime Rib or lamb) for Thanksgiving.  Why Does Pinot work so well?  It’s simple.  I always ask this question:

  • Explain to me the flavor profile of either Turkey or Ham?

I normally get dead silence, and then I hear answers related to whatever it was seasoned with (such as cloves and brown sugar on ham).  Or I will get the answer which says, you know what turkey tastes like.  Yes, I do know what it tastes like which is:

  • Not much of anything.

Do not start writing hate mail!  I love turkey as I purchase 4 turkey breasts around this time to freeze and smoke all year round.  Turkey should be available more (and not ground up or in lunch meat format) as an option.  But when you really look at turkey meat and try it, its earthy and bland.  Ham is not much different unless it’s flavored, seasoned or heavily salted. 

That’s where Pinot comes in.  Later in the article, I’ll list Pinot’s Profile.  However, a typical Thanksgiving meal is:

  • Turkey or ham,
  • Stuffing (or dressing if its not in the bird – yes, I hear you),
  • Green bean casserole,
  • Cranberry sauce,
  • Mac and cheese (for my Southern friends),
  • Gravy (for the dry meat),
  • Potatoes cooked some way (or sweet potatoes/yams),
  • Rolls or bread,
  • And some types of pie (apple, cherry, pumpkin, cream, pecan).

Overall, then (except for dessert and sugar in sauce or sweet potatoes), you have a bland meal.  Again, no hate mail because I’d be eating right beside you!  Overall, we are looking at earthy selection that needs structure and body without big fruit and over-powering tannins (medium body foods, not acidic).

Pinot Noir’s Profile

Here’s is the profile for Pinot Noir in regard to what is typically in a glass

Color range:  purple to ruby (black cherry Kool aid)

Sweetness level:  dry to off dry

Acid level: typically, medium

Body:   typically, medium

Tannin levels from grape:  low to medium –

Typical Aromas:  unripe red fruits (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and plums), cranberries, mushrooms, musty areas, dried leaves (as in Fall)

Typical Flavors:  unripe fruits (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, plums, pomegranate), mushrooms, blood oranges, rose petals, dried herbs, cloves, cinnamon

Anchor for me

Again, an anchor is something that I can use to recognize one variety from another.  For Pinot Noir, 95+ of all Pinot Noir to me looks like Black Cherry Kool Aid.  Don’t confuse this with ‘Red’ or whatever flavor that is.  There is a flavor called Black Cherry and the hue of this looks almost exactly the same as Pinot Noir.  Again, the anchor is for me and me alone. 

Final Thoughts

Next Week, I will have my tasting notes on two Pinot Noirs that I’ve tried and some suggestions for others.  My suggestion after you check this out is to either find my suggestions or see what your local wine store has.  Talk with a  representative and see what they think.  Remember, the holiday is stressful enough with family, etc. plus Black Friday nonsense so let’s all do the best we can to enjoy it.

Quick reminder – check out last week’s notes at the bottom for the updated notes on the Lambrusco from Trader Joes.

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