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Pinot Noir: What you need to know and what brands to buy

Pinot Noir is a French grape from the Burgundy region. These dark purple grapes grow in a cone shape with thin skins and produce great wine. Pinor Noir grapes are difficult to grow because they are susceptible to rot, over ripening, and requires the correct microclimate to grow well. Today, Pinot Noir is grown in many parts of the world including California, New Zealand, France and Oregon. Oregon specifically has some unique growing conditions with the ocean fog, warm days and cooler temperatures that allow Pinot Noir grapes to thrive. Cold is key along with a slow ripening season.

Pinot Noir is almost always made as a single varietal that is seldom blended with other wines. The grape tends to have complex characteristics that help to complete the wine. Sometimes when Pinot Noir is handled too much it makes a wine that lacks flavor. If it is exposed to high heat, it will produce grapes with less acidity and lead to a wine that is bland and unexpressive. Winemakers will even put some whole grapes into the fermentation tanks to help keep more fruity flavors rather than crushing all the grapes.

For winemakers, a great Pinot often defines them, because it's a favorite to drink. Summer is a great time of the year to drink Pinot Noir because it is a lighter style red wine and is better to drink it slightly chilled at about 60 degrees. If you don't have one of those precise wine refrigeration appliances, I suggest putting the wine in the refrigerator an hour before serving. Take it out of the refrigerator after about 30 minutes (inside a cool house) and open the wine. Don't take it into the heat of summer until just before pouring.

Pinot Noir pairs well with grilled salmon, pork tenderloin, lamb, duck, mushrooms, Brie, Camembert, or Havarti cheeses. I have a few recent selections for you to try.

Mark West 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, $11.99

This wine has aromas of wild blackberries, and cherries with flavors of blackberries, toasted oak and chocolate. It is a powerful wine with a rich texture and intense fruit flavors. Mark West does a nice job with Pinot Noir at this price point and because of the Pa. state system, you save $7 per bottle. It normally costs $18.99

Dierberg 2010 Pinot Noir, $40

This Pinot Noir has bold aromas of black cherries and plums with a slight touch of violet. The tannins are fine with a medium acid and rich fruits cherry, currants, and strawberry. This is an excellent Pinot Noir with a medium to full bodied texture and a long finish with notes of pepper and vanilla. Robert Parker gave this wine 92 points and Wine Spectator gave it 90 points.

Kenneth Volk 2011 Pinot Noir, $28

This vintage's growing season was very cool and the winery took extra care to ensure the grapes were sorted out from berries that were shot before fermentation began. Aromas of red fruits and spice fill your nose while it tastes with flavors of raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, cherry, and cinnamon. The wine finishes nicely with a bright acidity and soft tannins.

La Merika 2013 Pinot Noir, $14.99

The aromas are of cloves, cherry, vanilla, strawberry and sage with flavors of cherry, strawberry, licorice and a hint of rhubarb. This wine is light bodied with a balanced crisp acidity and medium tannins. Award winner of 92 points at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

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