Thursday, March 15, 2012

The ABC’s Of Wine Varietals: P

As you start drinking and learning about wine, it's good to, at some point, to start paying attention to the varietal and its general characteristics. This will help when you taste a winery's Cabernet Sauvignon and compare it to, say, its Zinfandel. Knowing the characteristic of a varietal will also help note differences between the grapes taste and body when compared across wineries, regions, or from a different country.

When looking for wine info, I often turn to the Wine Spectator, both for its broad reporting and its attention to basics. They have some introductory information on Varietal Characteristics, here is one starting with the letter P:

Source: Etsy

"PETITE SIRAH (Red) [peh-TEET sih-RAH] - Known for its dark hue and firm tannins, Petite Sirah has often been used as a blending wine to provide color and structure, particularly to Zinfandel. On its own, Petite Sirah can also make intense, peppery, ageworthy wines, but few experts consider it as complex as Syrah itself.

There has been much confusion over the years about Petite Sirah's origins. For a long time, the grape was thought to be completely unrelated to Syrah, despite its name. Petite Sirah was believed to actually be Durif, a minor red grape variety first grown in southern France in the late 1800s. However, recent DNA research shows Petite Sirah and Syrah are related after all. A study done at the University of California at Davis determined not only that 90 percent of the Petite Sirah found in California is indeed Durif, but also that Durif is a cross between Peloursin and Syrah.

Just to make things more confusing, in France, growers refer to different variants of Syrah as Petite and Grosse, which has to do with the yield of the vines.

PINOT BLANC (White) [PEE-no BLAHNK] - Often referred to as a poor man's Chardonnay because of its similar flavor and texture profile, Pinot Blanc is used in Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, Italy and California and can make a terrific wine. When well made, it is intense, concentrated and complex, with ripe pear, spice, citrus and honey notes. Can age, but is best early on while its fruit shines through.

PINOT GRIS or PINOT GRIGIO (White) [PEE-no GREE or GREE-zho] - Known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, where it is mainly found in the northeast, producing quite a lot of undistinguished dry white wine and Collio's excellent whites. As Pinot Gris, it used to be grown in Burgundy and the Loire, though it has been supplanted, but it comes into its own in Alsace—where it's known as Tokay. Southern Germany plants it as Ruländer. When good, this varietal is soft, gently perfumed and has more color than most whites.

PINOT NOIR (Red) [PEE-no NWAH] - Pinot Noir, the great grape of Burgundy, is a touchy variety. The best examples offer the classic black cherry, spice, raspberry and currant flavors, and an aroma that can resemble wilted roses, along with earth, tar, herb and cola notes. It can also be rather ordinary, light, simple, herbal, vegetal and occasionally weedy. It can even be downright funky, with pungent barnyard aromas. In fact, Pinot Noir is the most fickle of all grapes to grow: It reacts strongly to environmental changes such as heat and cold spells, and is notoriously fussy to work with once picked, since its thin skins are easily bruised and broken, setting the juice free. Even after fermentation, Pinot Noir can hide its weaknesses and strengths, making it a most difficult wine to evaluate out of barrel. In the bottle, too, it is often a chameleon, showing poorly one day, brilliantly the next.

The emphasis on cooler climates coincides with more rigorous clonal selection, eliminating those clones suited for sparkling wine, which have even thinner skins. These days there is also a greater understanding of and appreciation for different styles of Pinot Noir wine, even if there is less agreement about those styles—should it be rich, concentrated and loaded with flavor, or a wine of elegance, finesse and delicacy? Or can it, in classic Pinot Noir sense, be both? Even varietal character remains subject to debate. Pinot Noir can certainly be tannic, especially when it is fermented with some of its stems, a practice that many vintners around the world believe contributes to the wine's backbone and longevity. Pinot Noir can also be long-lived, but predicting with any precision which wines or vintages will age is often the ultimate challenge in forecasting.

Pinot Noir is the classic grape of Burgundy and also of Champagne, where it is pressed immediately after picking in order to yield white juice. It is just about the only red grown in Alsace. In California, it excelled in the late 1980s and early 1990s and seems poised for further progress. Once producers stopped vinifying it as if it were Cabernet, planted vineyards in cooler climates and paid closer attention to tonnage, quality increased substantially. It's fair to say that California and Oregon have a legitimate claim to producing world-class Pinot Noir."

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