Finger Lakes Wine Primer: Pinot Noir

Shorter growing seasons may not be favorable in other parts of the world, but that limitation has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Finger Lakes. It has determined our legacy. Certain grapes prefer a cooler climate, resulting in wines of higher acidity that are now being celebrated for their prowess at the dinner table. In this post we’re looking at one of our region’s up-and-coming red varietals, Pinot Noir.

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If any other red grape could proclaim its preference for cool seasons, it would have to be Pinot Noir. This grape is known best for its role in producing sophisticated and complex reds in the continental climate of Burgundy, France. It became a star in the United States back in 2004, when it played the leading role in a movie called “Sideways.” Since then, it has been enjoying cult-like status.

However, it is probably one of the hardest grapes to grow, because it is tightly clustered and prone to disease. It commands attention, devotion and a whole lot of patience. For the passionate winemakers that are growing Pinot Noir, it is almost an obsession. Because when you get it right, it is just one of the most captivating and memorable wines you will ever drink.

Pinot Noir now resides on 199 acres in the Finger Lakes. The wine itself tends to be lighter in color than other reds, because the grape is thin-skinned, reducing the pigment potential in the wine. But don’t let the color fool you. The flavors will meet you in layers of red fruit, spice and a hint of earthiness. They call Pinot Noir the chameleon grape. It becomes the flavor of the land itself, and can carry a true taste of place in each glass.

As for food pairing, Pinot especially loves mushroom-based dishes and sauces. Must be that connection to the earth. Also, try this wine with salmon, tuna steaks, baked hams and rotisserie chicken. It is tremendously food-friendly and a pleasure to experience. –Holly Howell

The above is excerpted from a larger piece in our 2013 Wine issue.

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