I am tough on Pinot Noirs. What most people define as an "earthy" taste, I call dirt. To me it feels like a bully in the playground has forced me to eat a mouthful of mud. You might have noticed that I don't write a lot of reviews on Pinot Noirs and now you know why. A friend of mine has been pushing me to try various types of Pinot Noirs by encouraging me to try different regions and wineries that produce Pinots. So I did and I tasted - dirt.
In my endless pursuit of finding a Pinot Noir that I would like, I stumbled across a winery called Schug Carneros Estate. This winery is named after Walter Schug, the winemaker and owner. He purchased his own land and started the winery in the early 1980s with the intention of bringing old world wine-making to new world grapes. The wine I tasted was the 2007 Schug Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
As is true with most Pinot Noirs, this wine starts off with that earthy or mushroom scent. I was nervous that it would be just one more of those dirty Pinots. The look of the wine caught my attention though. It had a darker and more pleasing color than most Pinots and should continue to age nicely for the next two to four years. As important and as appealing are the nose and look of a wine - the ultimate test, as always, lies in the taste.
In my opinion, this is not your typical Pinot Noir. This taste was full of berries and cherries with a hint of oak that warms on you with just the right amount of tannins. It gets better though; my favorite part of the wine is the after taste. In this case, it rests at the back of the mouth and leaves a beautiful remnant almost pleading with you to open another bottle.
After doing a bit more research, it turns out that Pinot Noir grapes can have a wide range of flavors. Earthy (dirty) is one of the common tastes, but not the only one. They can range from floral to spicy, berries to gamey (although I must confess I am not sure I would know what is a gamey grape taste). In my case, as long as I continue to find the Pinot Noir winemakers that produce clean tasting Pinot Noir - I will be interested in their wine.
Having learned about Pinot Noirs, it turns out that the Schug Pinot Noir's taste is true to its varietal. It is on the lighter side of the red grape family and as such would match nicely with lighter fish, most vegetarian dishes and white meat meals. If using a sauce on top of one of the meals, match the grape to the sauce not the meat. In this case I would use a lighter sauce and avoid heavy tomato based or spicy ones that might overpower the flavor of the wine.
At $24 a bottle (available at Cost Plus or Whole Foods) it is at the higher end of the range for my typical everyday wine - but given that it is a Pinot Noir, which I rarely like, it is worth every penny. Thank you to Walter Schug for opening my eyes to yet another type of red wine.
Don Colman, the Everyday Wine Guy lives in Danville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org