For me, the daylight saving adage should be "spring forward to white wine, fall back to red wine." This is the time of year when my palate begins its migration from bright whites to cool reds. I am referring most, of course, to pinot noir.
Pinot noir is it is a persnickety varietal, thin-skinned, temperamental and difficult to cultivate. When there is too much rain, the grapes become swollen, diluting the flavors. When there is too much sun, the delicate skins can burn and blister, which can destroy an entire crop. But when all goes well, the payoff can be immensely rewarding.
It was originally thought that Roman conquerors brought the grape with them to Burgundy, France, about the first century AD, during their invasion of Gaul, but recent evidence suggests the grape was already being cultivated when they arrived. Today, wonderful expressions of pinot noir can be found in several countries around the world, including New Zealand, Chile and the United States, particularly California and Oregon. Retail prices are approximate.
Chile has made big inroads with pinot noir lately, and the 2010 Chilcas Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($20), from the Valle del Maule region, is a perfect example. The fragrant nose features aromas of violet and wild strawberry. In the mouth, it delivers vibrant notes of cherry, fresh raspberry and juicy yellow plum. Touches of mineral mingle with notes of graphite on the mellow, light-bodied finish. QPR 8
The philosophy of the tiny, family-owned Toluca Lane winery, located in Yamhill County, Ore., is to make intense, handcrafted pinot noir using minimal intervention in order to let the character of the vineyard express itself. The fruit for the 2010 Toluca Lane Pinot Noir ($20) comes from vineyards located in the Walnut Hill area of the Eola-Amity Hills Valley and produces a wine with a bouquet of dark strawberries and cola. The flavors of black cherry, wild strawberries and cassis stands tall in the mouth while hints of vanilla and baking spices play out on the deep, long finish. QPR 9.5
New Zealand is the where to find a good values in cool-climate pinot noir. The 2009 Lawson's Dry Hills Wines Pinot Noir ($23) from the Marlborough region. It displays floral aromas of lavender and ripe cherry with a touch of forest undergrowth. In the mouth, the wine is rich and round with flavors of dark strawberry, ripe raspberry and black cherry. An interesting balance between notes of berry fruit and tobacco lends complexity on the long, balanced finish. QPR 9
Blair Pethel moved from Potomac to Burgundy in 2003 to fulfill a desire to make world-class pinot noir. With his 2009 Dublere Savigny-les-Beaune Les Planchots du Nord ($30), I would certainly say he succeeded. This vineyard is located behind the winery and is the only pinot Blair produces that is not Premier Cur or Grand Cru. It boasts a bouquet of rose petals and strawberry. The soft, supple flavors of fresh dark berries, ripe raspberry and earthy notes coat the palate in waves. The well-balanced finish is polished and expansive, thanks to abundant acidity, with hints of baking spices sliding in at the end. QPR 9.5
From the producers of Silver Oak Cellars comes the 2010 Twomey Cellars Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir ($40) from Santa Maria Valley, Calif. The fruit is grown on steep hillsides located near the coast were the bright sunshine and cool night air produces a wine with a lavish bouquet of lavender with hints of wild strawberry and boysenberry. In the mouth, well-defined flavors of red berry fruit and cloves are buoyed by vibrant acidity -- thanks to significant diurnal swings -- that leads to a silky finish. QPR 8.5
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.