The "R" at the end of "noir" is not silent. The letter is meant to produce a distinct sound, and, in effect, "pinot noir" rhymes with "film noir." But in the upper echelons of wine drinking society, some say "pinot nu-aaah." Have you noticed? One must guess they think they're quite cultured when pronouncing the word as they suppose the French do -- and the French are laughing.
It was in their nation, after all, that pinot noir came of age -- perhaps as long as two millennia ago. It is the principal grape of the Burgundy region and a fruit of cool climate. It has since spread around the Earth. In California, after roughly four decades of truly getting to know pinot noir, winemakers have isolated the regions where it grows best. In the south, the Santa Rita Hills offer the mild climes favored by pinot. Further north, it has done best in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Carneros Valley, the Russian River Valley, and the Anderson Valley. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley produces esteemed pinot noirs.
Even in such favorable climates, pinot complains and objects if the weather isn't just right. It doesn't well tolerate frost or severe heat, and it is susceptible to fungal attacks. Yes -- if the weather isn't right, pinot noir may be a disobedient troublemaker. But grown just right, this grape can render the most elegant of red wines. And whereas Cabernet Sauvignon can simply bully its way to the top of the ratings with its easy-to-love fruit and force, Pinot Noir nimbly ascends the same scale, and it has become one of the most loved and respected of wines.
Given its merits, Pinot Noir tends to be relatively costly, and when perusing the supermarket, this writer, as a contributor to a column about cheap wines, tends to eye the floor-level shelf of wines - that lowly haven of bargains. Even on the crotch-level and knee-level shelves, pinot noirs can run $15 to $30. Indeed, when pinot shopping, we must eye the bottom shelf. Here, the cheapest pinot noirs usually run no less than $7. Other reds practically give themselves away at $4 and $5 without shame.
Which is all simply to make the point: Pinot is relatively costly, and so when a fine specimen is offered for just $10, we've got to grab it. Concannon Winery's 2009 Central Coast pinot noir is a burgundy-and-rose-colored wine. It smells of licorice and strawberries - but that's as fruity as it gets. In the mouth, it bites the tongue with a zesty acidity, and it tastes woody, earthy, smooth and polished. A very refreshing red wine, this is just pinot as usual.
Concannon Winery 2009 Central Coast Pinot Noir: $9.99 at Safeway, 298 King, 633-1001