I figured out early on that pinot noir was the greatest food wine on the planet. Its versatility is unmatched as it is a natural partner for foods from the sea (salmon, ahi), the air (quail), the water (duck), and the earth (venison). Pinot noir is made for dining, and when you have the perfect match, the experience can bring you to your knees. Seductive, elegant, and earthy, pinot noir elicits conversation, and unites friends and food into a glorious dining experience.
My friend, Claude Koeberle, France’s youngest 3-star Michelin chef who now resides in Newport Beach and produces Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under the Soliste label, told me recently, “There is no limit to what food you can match to pinot noir. It is a magnet for all types of foods from the elegant to the rustic. It is a wine made for the table experience.”
Pinot noir is food friendly because it possesses a grand combination of bright acidity, silky tannins, and a lighter body than other reds. Some have called it a red wine masquerading as a white wine since its aromatics and flavors are that of a red wine, but it is stylistically more akin to a white. Even the juice of the pinot noir grape is white, the color of the finished pinot noir wine coming from the pigments in the grape skins.
Actually any wine with “pinot” in the name is food friendly. Pinot gris (pinot grigio), pinot blanc, and pinot noir blanc all hold interest for the gourmand since these wines pair well with a wide range of appetizers, salads, charcuterie, cheeses, white-sauced pastas, and seafood.
Pinot noir blanc should not be confused with pinot blanc, which shares the same DNA as pinot noir, but is a genetic mutation of a white grape. Pinot noir blanc is a white wine produced by pressing the pinot noir grapes after harvesting, before any significant skin-to-juice contact occurs. The resulting dry wine can be lean and crisp or full-bodied and highly flavorful. In either case, it displays white wine flavors: pinot noir without the noir. It’s currently a popular offering from Oregon’s Willamette Valley wineries such as Anne Amie (Prismé), Domaine Serene (Coeur Blanc), Erath (Le Jour Magique), Ghost Hill Cellars, Lenné Estate, and Trisaetum (Nuit Blanche). Since the wines are in small production, they must be purchased directly from the wineries.
Pinot gris, Oregon’s signature white wine, is a mutation of pinot noir with a DNA profile identical to pinot noir. The leaves, clusters, and vines of pinot gris and pinot noir are so much alike that the only thing to distinguish them is the coloration difference. Many consider pinot gris the most food friendly white wine after riesling, matching with traditional foods such as pork, white meats generally, lamb, sausage, Copper River salmon, other rich fish and shellfish, as well as ethnic and spicy cuisine. Like pinot noir, it is a universal food wine.
This time of year, every food and wine writer pens lengthy articles on selecting the best wines for the Thanksgiving meal. My solution is simple and always works: set the table with a glass for pinot gris and a glass for pinot noir.