Pinot Noir wines offer great pleasure but prices will be high
April 11, 2001
When I first began writing about wine, I made myself two promises. One was to write about wines the people of this state could afford to buy. That would be wines in the $10-25 price range. I would avoid the wines that came on the market at $75 and up mostly up because the older they get, the pricier they become.
Second, I would feature wines that could be purchased in Mississippi. If in-state retailers couldn't purchase it from the state warehouse, I would avoid featuring wine that could only be purchased in New Orleans or some other far away place.
In the main, those rules are still in place. But a week ago, I was asked to critique two Pinot Noirs from Oregon. The Pinot Noir grape that is used in France makes that country's greatest red burgundies and I can't write about burgundy wines and follow the rules about price and availability. Wines from Oregon are the next best thing.
Burgundy wines from France are expensive. Because we're talking about big bucks, the very best of them must be purchased out of state. They wouldn't sell in Mississippi at those prices. Simple as that.
The truth is the world's greatest Pinot Noir based wines are indeed made in Burgundy, or Bourgogne as it is known in France. Most of the vineyards are small, even as little as one acre. Back in the late 1700s, the church owned most of the vineyards but after the French Revolution, they were broken up into small pieces. Many of them are even smaller today because of the inheritance laws in France. It is not uncommon for many growths have as many as 85 owners.
There are many areas in what is known as Burgundy. The best wines probably come from Cotes de Nuits and Cotes de Beaune. The wines of the Cote d'Or are excellent and there are others. The worst wines are produced in the Beaujolais, wines totally unworthy of their reputation. Yes, there are a few good ones, but the majority are without any endearing distinction and the so called Beaujolais Nouveau which comes out in November and is flown all over the world as the first wine of the new vintage is absolutely a joke. I'd call it soda pop but soda pop is better.
White burgundies can be great at their best and very good when they come from an area such as the Macon. Unfortunately, the great ones also have a great price but the Macons are one of Frances best bargains in a quality wine.
It is not likely, however, that you will ever taste the best of the French reds. I'm scanning some of the wines from the recent 1998 vintage a fair year, but not one of the great ones. The Denis Mortet Chambertin, rated an astounding 98, came out at $193. The Bernard Dugat-Py, rated 96, was offered at $160. The Meo-Camuzet Vosne Romanee, rated 95, was sold for $142.
Yes, there are some lesser wines at lesser prices. The highest rated affordable wine is Chofflet-Valdenaire. It was reviewed with an 89 rating but the coming out price was only $25 per bottle. That's their better wine, the Givry Clos-Jus. Their second wine, labeled just Chofflet-Valdenaire Givry, is only $16 but the rating is down to 87, still pretty good frankly. But where can you find some? Other than New Orleans, I have no idea.
But after all of the sad story above, there is still somewhere to turn. The same grape, Pinot Noir, American version is being used wisely in Oregon. The quantities are small, but some of the wines are lovely.
The two I mentioned reviewing are the Sanford and the Murphy-Goode. Both are 98s and are available in Mississippi. The Sanford is the best of the two. It has the cherry accents that are desirable in a bottle of Pinot Noir. The Murphy-Goode also has the nice cherry-strawberry flavor and the beautiful sparkling red color of that particular grape. Both are smooth and rich and marvelous with a soft white cheese such as Brie or my current favorite, the Exploratore, found at Martin's wine store in New Orleans. One of my better friends discovered this marvelous French cheese, but I suspect I'm now one of Exploratore's better customers. With Bremner wafers and a nice Pinot Noir, it is to die for.
There are other Pinot Noirs from Oregon that are well worth the price. Look for wines from the Williamette Valley such as Brick House, Ken Wright and one named directly for the place of its birth, Williamette Valley. All are priced between $20 and $40, not inexpensive, but as we said at the beginning, no quality Pinot Noir, French or American will be cheap.
If you like to adventure in wine, two of the roads to great pleasure lead to France for its red burgundies or to Oregon for its Pinot Noirs. You'll enjoy the journey.
Stan Torgerson, a longtime Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years.