To manipulate or not to manipulate: that was one of the questions a panel of Pinot Noir experts discussed at an event during the 10th anniversary edition of the Cayman Cookout from Jan. 10 – 14.
The Pinot Noir panel wine tasting, one of 60 2018 Cayman Cookout events, was held in the Cayman Islands Ballroom at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, on Jan. 13. It featured two of the world’s best sommeliers-turned-winemakers in Larry Stone of Linqua Franca in Oregon and Rajat Parr, who is a partner of three different wineries in California and Oregon. Joining them were Tommy Fogarty of Thomas Fogarty Winery, Ehren Jordan of Failia, and Antoine Collet, a portfolio manager for wine distributor Kobrand, which represents Maison Louis Jadot.
Food & Wine Magazine Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle served as the moderator for the panel. The tasting featured several distinct regional expressions of Pinot Noir: two from the Eola-Amity Hills in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, one wine each from the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Rita Hills of California, as well as a Pommard from the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy, France.
While the guests tasted their wines over the course of an hour, the panelists discussed their opinions on one of the world’s greatest red-wine grapes. Fogarty spoke about how most winemakers try not to manipulate Pinot Noir during the production process.
“With Pinot Noir, there’s a really deliberate attempt to put as little of a winemaker’s fingerprint on the wine as possible,” he said, expressing a notion on which the others on the panel generally agreed.
“I don’t really manipulate,” Jordan said. “I’m a big believer that 80 per cent of a wine’s quality is ultimately decided on the day you pick the grapes.”
However, manipulating grapes and following winemaking traditions are two distinct things in Jordan’s mind. While the other winemakers would opt to ferment in large oak casks, probably using at least some whole clusters — a traditional Burgundian approach to making Pinot Noir — Jordan said he has fermented Pinot Noir in a variety of mediums including oak, concrete, terracotta and stainless steel. Rather than focusing on sourcing grapes from single vineyards, a general hallmark for most of the world’s great Pinot Noirs, Jordan blends grapes from multiple vineyards.
“I’m constantly experimenting,” he said, noting that he has been in the winemaking business for “only” 30 years, so he isn’t tied to deep tradition like Burgundy winemakers.
Jordan said that a winemaker could ruin a Pinot Noir wine, even if the grapes were great, if he or she made mistakes after harvest. However, he said that sometimes decisions are made because of winemaking exigencies, a point on which Fogerty agreed.
“Way more decisions are made on practicality and what is happening right now than the marketing people will have us believe,” Fogerty said.
Depending largely on where the grapes are grown, Pinot Noir wines can have different characteristics.
“I think Pinot Noir has two sides,” Parr said, adding that one expression is driven by red fruits and the other by black fruits. After the Pommard was tasted, the panel agreed that it clearly stood out from the rest of the wines.
“It’s not as fruit driven,” said Collet, “It’s more earthy and leathery.” Parr noted flavours of chocolate, coffee and black fruit in the French Burgundy.
“It’s one of the most masculine wines of the Cote de Beaune,” he said. Parr also spoke about differences between Pinot Noir produced in Oregon compared to that produced in California.
“It’s not a matter of better,” he said. “They’re just different.”
Jordan said it came down to personal taste.
“I’m from Pittsburgh, so I don’t have a stake in the Oregon versus California fight,” he said. “I just like good wine.”
Jordan said that a question he often asks people when they try to determine if a wine is good or not is simply: “Do you like it?”