Lucky to find a lovely new Pinot Noir

By Celia Strong

Sometimes, wine drinkers get lucky and find a great new wine that they really, really like at a great price (because price is always part of how much you like a particular wine). Finding a wine that’s good for its price is one thing. But finding a wine that’s great for its price is lucky.

Our tidbits for this week come from France. The first one is about a relatively new category of wines in France — the “Indication Géographique Protégé.”  The predecessor to the IGP category was the “Vin de Pays,” which was written in 1973 and passed into law in 1979. These wines were below the AC, or top, level but above the Vin de Table, bottom, level. In 2009, the new IGP category replaced the Vin de Pays. The name change was instigated for several reasons. The IGP category is more rigid in its location of origin specification, which is good for the consumer who wants to know such things. Also, IGPs are recognized by the European Union, good for selling these wines in European countries. Truth be known, and in keeping with the French “secret wine code” state-of-mind, French law allows producers to label their wines either Vin de Pays or IGP.  Nice?  Still, we have to keep up because it is their game. For our wine this week, the producer has chosen to use the new IGP designation Puy-de-Dôme that was established in 2011.

Puy-de-Dôme is an area located in central France, within the Massif Central which is a low mountain range in the south-central part of the country. The area has a hilly topography, shaped over time by volcanic activity. There is actually a volcano in the IGP that gave its name to this area. (Dôme refers to the volcano dome of a Puy mountain.)  The soils here are volcanic granite and basalt, making it a very suitable for vines. During the day, these soils store the sun’s heat and then reflect it back onto the vines and their grapes during the night. It’s one way that a cooler region like this can produce better grapes. This area can get some heavy rainfalls, more than the grapes really need, but a warm wind from off the mountains helps dry the vineyards.

Interestingly, the Puy-de-Dôme area is not known for an abundance of wines. (Even though at the end of the 19th century, Puy-de-Dôme was France’s third largest wine producing département.) They currently only have one small AC area. About 75 percent of their IGP wine production is reds, made mostly from Gamay, with a small amount of whites and rosés. In this area, they prefer their new IGP name and designation, hoping for more increased appreciation and sales of their wines.

Now, having told you most of the red wines from Puy-de-Dôme are made from the Gamay grape, I can relieve your concerns and tell you that our wine for this week is a Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir, as far as France is concerned, is the great grape of red Burgundies. It is said Burgundy made the grape famous, and Pinot Noir made Burgundy famous. It is said, too, that the Dukes of Valois, Burgundy nobles, were responsible for spreading this variety in the region. Pinot Noir has been grown in Burgundy since 100 AD, and has been planted in many other parts of the country too.

With food, Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile grapes. Its strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavors with a mix of spices like cinnamon, with cocoa and coffee and earthy undertones Some experts have been known to say that Pinot Noir has a red wine profile and a white wine style. It is lighter bodied than most red wines with subtle tannins, thanks to its thinner skin. There is a balancing acidity in Pinot Noir wines, making it taste better with a slight chill. And the list of food ideas goes on and on — mushroom bruschetta, fennel-garlic pork roast, vegan enchiladas, red curry squash soup, roasted goose, brined chicken with raisins and pine nuts, leek and pecorino pizza, smoked ham glazed with red pepper jelly, grilled squid with onions and sorrel, green lentil stew, whole wheat rigatoni with roasted vegetables, Provençal vegetable tart, fresh fettuccini with chicken liver sauce, five-spice pork in lettuce crisps, maple-glazed chicken with mustard sauce, ziti with portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and goat cheese, eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts, meat stuffed cabbage. And the list goes on.  If we look at this list, despite our rumbling stomachs, we can easily see there’s not much Pinot Noir won’t go with, proteins or seasonings.

Our Pinot Noir comes from Cave Saint-Verny. It’s called Le Pinot Noir. “The” Pinot Noir. This Cave is a co-op with 90 or so members who own about 445 acres. And, about 20 percent of their wines are under the IGP appellation. Because of their large membership, many of their grapes are still hand picked, a rarity in this part of France.  Their vines are spread over dozens of communes with a high proportion of volcanic soil. And this base is evident in our wine. It is a clear, deep garnet red color, medium bodied with light tannins and mild acidity. Its flavors are red fruits,  blackberries and black cherries, mild earthiness and cocoa with a hint of minerality and a warm graininess. Lots of fruit flavors for some of us, and textures too.

When I first got to taste this wine, it was with a group, so we all tasted each other’s foods with the wine: French onion soup, waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, cheeseburger, rare, homemade vegetable and feta cheese pizza, and pasta with an alfredo sauce. The good news is that we all liked this wine, before the food came, with the food, and after, again by itself. And isn’t that what we all like? A drinking wine and a food wine. Seems like sometimes we do get lucky!  Yay!  For only $10.99 at Bill’s Liquors on Lady’s Island. Enjoy.

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