Top pairings | Top pairings for Pinot Noir: some new ideas from Natasha Hughes

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Top pairings for Pinot Noir: some new ideas from Natasha Hughes

Natasha Hughes re-orders her hit list of wine matches for pinot following her visit to the International Pinot Noir Celebration.

If you happen to be an ardent Pinotphile, as I am, an invitation to the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) is of the same order as an invitation to a lock-in at the sweetie shop.

For an entire weekend every July, hundreds of Pinot lovers, professionals and amateurs alike, throng the Linfield College Campus in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley in order to talk about Pinot Noir – and taste it – with the men and women who make it.

Needless to say, a fair bit of Pinot gets drunk over the course of the festivities, most of it at the event’s lavish lunches and dinners. These are designed to showcase the very best produce from the Pacific Northwest, cooked by 40 of the top chefs from Oregon and Washington.

This year, along with bottles from Oregon’s most iconic producers, visitors to the IPNC got to sample wines from Austria’s Schloss Gobelsburg, Alsace’s Réné Muré, ten of Burgundy’s top producers, a trio of New Zealanders and some big hitters from California, among others.

It was, in short, a heaven-sent opportunity to work out some ground rules for matching Pinot Noir to a variety of foods, and, after a selfless weekend of gorging myself, I’m in a strong position to make the following observations:

  • New World Pinots are pretty versatile food wines, capable of taking on a range of dishes. The closing banquet, billed as the ‘Traditional Northwest Salmon Bake’, provided ample proof of their range. Felton Road’s Block 5 2006 from Central Otago was equally at home with the smoky alder-roasted Chinook salmon (see above) as it was with the cherry wood-smoked pork loin served with a peach chutney, as was Cristom’s structured Pinot Noir Reserve 2003. Another great match for the salmon was Adelsheim’s gentle, elegant Goldschmidt Pinot 2007, a wine that also coped well with a range of salads, including a fregola sarda with roasted peppers, olives and sweet onions.
  • Old World Pinots, with their more restrained fruit, tend to favour more savoury, earthy dishes. I’d be tempted to pair a wine like Schloss Gobelsburg’s Alte Haide 2006 with veal saltimbocca (veal with sage and prosciutto) or a pheasant casserole.
  • Vegetarians don’t have to live without Pinot. A dinner at Portland’s Park Kitchen restaurant revealed that aged, slightly vegetal Pinot, such as Domaine Serene’s Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 1997, is a resoundingly successful match for a kind of baked pudding made with earthy porcini mushrooms.
  • Younger Pinots, with their lively fruit, seem to have a great affinity for beetroot – there is something about the combination of sweetness and earthiness in the vegetable that resonates perfectly with Pinot. A great example of this was the pairing of Sokol Blosser’s Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2007 with a salad of golden beets with hazelnuts, grilled ricotta, frise lettuce, blueberries and orange. Having said that, older wines such as Jadot’s Nuits-St-Georges Les Porrets Premier Cru 1996 also seemed to work well with the dish, picking up on the earthy notes and the nuttiness.
  • Juicy New World Pinots can also take on that tricky ingredient, tomatoes – an Oregon Pinot Noir with a casserole of rabbit stewed in a tomato sauce atop a mound of creamy polenta would be my idea of bliss on a plate.
  • Supple, fruity Pinots can handle gentle spicing. What you’re looking for are those wines where the tannins are fairly soft and round and where there’s little discernible oak as both oak and tannin fight against chilli, resulting in a wine that appears stripped of its fruit. Both Lemelson Vineyard’s Thea’s Selection, Willamette Valley 2006 and Marlborough’s Foxes Island 2002 coped admirably with the mild chilli of an ancho chilli romesco sauce that came with with grilled bavette steak. The Lemelson, in particular, seemed to respond well to the nutty flavours in the sauce, while the New Zealand wine dealt easily with the meaty steak and the tomato sauce.
  • Pinot and lamb can be a great combo. A Dundee Hills Pinot from Bergstrom Vineyard had bright acidity that helped to cut through the fatty richness of a stuffed saddle of lamb, while a Clos Marion Fixin 2006 from Fougeray de Beauclair was a great match for the complex flavours of lamb with a cherry-olive jus.
  • There aren’t many better pairings than Pinot Noir and duck, which is why it surprised me that we weren’t served duck once over the course of the weekend. I’ve always found that seared duck breast with a fruity sauce (think bramble or even redcurrant) works wonderfully with New World Pinots – the last time I tried it, I partnered the duck with a Pinot from Giant Steps, a Yarra Valley producer. Réné Muré’s Clos St Landelin, on the other hand, would provide the perfect foil for the rich, savoury flavours of a cassoulet made with duck confit. And I’ve always thought that my desert island meal might well be Peking duck with all the trimmings and a bottle of Pinot. Which Pinot? Frankly, Pinot from just about anywhere with Peking duck is a marriage made in heaven.

Natasha Hughes is a freelance food and drink writer whose work appears in Decanter, Imbibe, Square Meal, Traveller and Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine, as well as the wine website She is currently studying for the Master of Wine

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Comments: 4 (Add)

Fred from Down Under on July 16 2020 at 13:41


Your completely off-topic spray was an unfortunate example of why even needs moderators on its comments

8 years later (2020) your belligerent bigotry has come full circle as the (formerly) United States reels under the challenges of corona virus, its racist history and Donald the Deranged

The world is not laughing with Christian nut jobs ... it's laughing AT them


David Porter on May 8 2013 at 03:39

Whoa!! Miriam you really need to read the above lovely food matchings and take the time to relax and savour the incredible joy of tasting one of god's greatest miracles -- Pinot Noir. Travel the world with this glorious grape from Oregon to Napa to New Zealand to Australia and on to France via Italy. Just as there are many grape varieties so there are many types of people. We are ALL god's children. Rejoice. Many thanks Fiona loved the food advice.

Jihan on November 24 2012 at 18:52

Ascent of Money was an excellent prgoarm and I found that Niall Ferguson was an engaging and very understandable host for the documentary. I look forward to see the expanded documentary later this year. I live near Detroit and I have driven through some of the neighborhoods that he described. It is unfortunate that Detroit and Memphis was singled out with the subprime problem when it is a problem that exists in many areas of the country. More people than just black people were pushed into buying homes that they could not afford Florida, Arizona and California are examples. Now everyone is paying for the unscrupulous nature of some mortgage brokers and real estate agents.

Miriam on November 24 2012 at 16:22

I am getting soaehwmt sick and tired of allowing about 1%, if that, of our population to wag the tail of the other 99% of us. I applaud those who invite the queers to shut up, get back into your closet and out of our faces. By getting into my face by Coming Out! Stupid terminology! you solidify and inspire my further ire, resentment, rage and opposition to your unhealthy, Unholy, evil and completely disgusting sexual practices. There is NOTHING GAY about a Queer! Why should this infinitessimally small group of sexual deviates be allowed to change the Moral Standards that this country was built upon to some sub-standard which is abhorrent to the great majority of American Citizens in general, Christians in particular, all parents of small children who these people often kidnap, terrorize, violate sexually and sometimes even mutilate and murder their helpless child victims!!! And, dont give me this crap about Not being of that ilk. because YOU ARE OF THAT ILK and you protect them, stand up for them and give them cover. Am I prejudiced against you? ABSOLUTELY AND PROUD OF IT!!!! Therefore, if you wish to get along with me, you will keep your mouth shut about your Sexual Preference as I have no interest in it and do not wish to know of it!!! I DONT ASK, AND YOU DONT TELL IS GREAT POLICY FOR PREVENTING VIOLENCE BETWEEN HOMOS AND STRAIGHTS!!!

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