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 www.wine-pages.com. She is currently studying for the Master of Wine
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