The Myth of Pinot Noir

Recently here at Insolence & Wine, we’ve come across some fellow bloggers giving wine advice. And while we are definitely all for wine and love for consumers to learn all they can about wine so they can make informed decisions they will be happy about, well, we felt we just had to answer and shoot down some shoddy wine advice.

The advice/myth we are going to shoot down is “A light Pinot Noir is a young Pinot Noir.” Just. Not. True.

What is it about Pinot Noir that makes so many people want to talk about it and try it? It’s a versatile wine that goes with so many different dishes, cuisine types and even an ability to just be enjoyed by itself, by the glass.

Wrath Winery
Sabrine Rodems at Wrath Winery

So to get the lowdown on Pinot, we went to an expert—winemaker Sabrine Rodems at Wrath Winery in Soledad, CA. Wrath is simply the “Pinot Palace” on Monterey County’s River Road Wine Trail. At any time Wrath has a selection of 10 to 13 Pinots in different styles, from “light” to “heavy.” For our demonstration and sobriety purposes, we tasted and talked about four different Pinot Noir wines during this visit.

But wait, what exactly does “light” and “heavy” mean? Generally speaking, a “light” red wine is one with subtile flavors that doesn’t punch you in the nose scent-wise. They tend to have lighter tannins, more acidity and somewhat lower alcohol content. Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red wine, but within the Pinot Noir family, those wines can be lighter and fruity or more complex and minerally.

So how does light and heavy happen to a Pinot wine? It’s all about when the grapes are picked. When the grapes have a higher sugar content, their wines have less acidity and a lower alcohol content than a lower sugar/higher acidity/higher alcohol content full-bodied or “heavy” wine. It’s a balancing act for the winemaker as to when to pick grapes, based on the knowledge of variety of grape and what has happened during the growing season. At Wrath, the lighter-bodied Pinots are picked by hand early in the season, generally in late August or early September.

Wrath Winery Tasting Menu Spring 2017

An excellent example of a light Pinot is Wrath’s Ex Amina 2014. It’s a higher acidity, lower alcohol content. Its lightness is also augmented by leaving stems in the juice, which adds potassium into the mix, increasing acidity. You’ll taste light, fruity flavors, such as strawberry, peach or bright bing cherry in a light-style pinot, with maybe a bit of minerality (here in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, some liken the taste to dirt). Wrath has since released its newest vintage of the Ex Amina Pinot Noir, available here.

Moving into a different flavor profile, but still in the realm of Pinot Noir, is the 2016 Wrath Saigneé. This is considered a rosé, made of 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes, with summer fruits such as strawberry, rhubarb and watermelon on the palate, and a high acidity/higher alcohol level. It’s the perfect summer sipping wine (and isn’t made in large quantities, so you better get some now!). This wine is truly unique to the River Road Wine Trail—no one has anything like it!

Saingee Rosé Wrath Winery

Our next Pinot was the 2014 Wrath Pinot Noir, Tondré Grapefield, which is the “heaviest” Pinot on the menu. These grapes are grown exclusively in the SLH AVA and are picked at the end of September. It is more intense in color versus the Ex Amina, and the fruity tastes are a bit more intense, with mixed berries and plum. Interestingly, as this wine sits around waiting for you to drink it, it develops a caramel flavor that goes nicely with the bolder fruit. We jumped ahead on the Pinot list to show contrast between the light and heavy styles of Pinot Noir.

Finally, the “medium” Pinot we tasted was the 2014 Wrath Pinot Noir, 115/667. This wine was everything a person expects in a Pinot Noir: flowery on the nose, but heavier on the dark cherry and plum flavors, and you can taste the gravelly soil the grapes were grown upon—one of our tasters said “it tastes like blood.” Taster’s notes say “In Pinot speak, that’s a good thing." These grapes are among the last picked during the SLH’s long growing season.

 Ex Amina, 115/667 and Tondré from left to right. You can really see the difference in color!

Ex Amina, 115/667 and Tondré from left to right. You can really see the difference in color!

What’s a “young Pinot” then? Sabrine remarked that most California wineries sell their products “ready to drink.” If not, you’ll be told otherwise at the winery. A Pinot wine offered for sale is one that is ready to drink now, regardless of what year it was picked. A winemaker’s palate determines when a wine is ready to bottle and sell. Right now, wineries are selling 2014 vintages of Pinot Noir, and Wrath has just released some 2015 vintages. They are ready to drink. Their flavors won’t develop into a heavier or fruitier style. What is in the bottle today is what the wine will be next year. It’s not going to improve by sitting on your wine rack. Take it home and drink it!  

So what makes Wrath’s Pinot Noir wines special? The grapes are acquired from various sources along the SLH appellation, as well as Monterey County. The handpicked grapes are not crushed, but juice is extracted by tank pump-overs twice a day, which results in a better extraction of the juices, and the skin, seeds and sometimes stems are allowed to stay in the juice for upwards of 30 days to alter the pH, color and flavors. There simply isn’t another winery that has as many different Pinot styles available. 

Wrath Winery, Soledad California

Wrath is pleased to have just established a wine club. The very best benefit of membership is members have first dibs on some very limited production wines, and you can join its special “Pinot Circle” club, four shipments a year, with six bottles per shipment. 

We are also excited to announce that winemaker Sabrine Rodems will soon have her very own wines released very soon. Follow along with Scratch Wines here.

Do you have a better understanding of what a light or heavy Pinot Noir wine is all about? Are you curious about just what kind of Pinot you like the best?