No Two Pinots Are Alike

Two undiscriminating wine consumers learn an important lesson.

My neighbor Carmella Carella is fond of saying she’s never met a
pinot she does not like, though she may have to revisit that claim
after a recent pinot tasting in a South Berkeley garret, where wine
seldom graces the cabinets or the refrigerator. We learned several
things about pinot that evening. First, never tell your heterosexual
male friends that you’re planning a “pinot tasting.” (It can have a
different connotation than you may have intended.) Second, pinot comes
in different colors. And there’s not a whole in common between a pinot
grigio and a pinot noir. Also, it comes from many different parts of
the world, and it’s generally not cheap — compared to other
varietals, it’s tough to find a bottle that sells for less than $10.
It’s occasionally redolent of Band-Aids or bank counters, but it can
taste surprisingly sweet. And, of course, the quality varies.

We launched the experiment at Berkeley Bowl’s wine section, where I
selected anything cheap that had the word “pinot” in the title. Thus we
wound up with two grigios, two pinotages, and one noir, all presumably
spawned from the same genetic pedigree. Prices ranged from $7.50 to
$10.25, which barely tips the scale for a budget wine buyer. Overall,
the grigios had a lighter, tangier, bubblier flavor, while the noirs
— not surprisingly — were inky and husky, in a
not-always-unpleasant way. The 2008 Paggio Pinot Grigio
was akin to a pungent lemon juice, while the 2007 Il
Pino Pinot Delle Venezie ($9.95)
tasted a bit like the liquid
inside of sourgrass — or water at the surface of a marsh. Carella
(not her real name) would beg to differ as she found the Il Pino quite

As for the red and noir vintages, we had a more adventurous and
overall cheaper selection. The 2008 Montpellier Pinot Noir
, straight from a Napa vineyard, tasted a bit like crushed
blackberries. Like Carella’s personal favorite, the Ernst & Co
Pinotage 2007 ($7.50)
from South Africa, it had a subtle, warm
flavor and made a suitable dessert wine. Unfortunately, the tasting
closed on a sour note with another South African import, the 2008
Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage Stellenbosch ($9.95)
. The worst in the
bunch, this wine dredged up childhood memories of things we used to eat
when our mothers’ backs were turned: used dishtowels, Band-Aids,
plastic utensils, blades of grass. Advertisers say it goes well with
spicy foods, but I’d call it an alternative to soap-in-the-mouth.

For all its shortcomings, pinot is a fairly evocative wine, and it
generally elicits strong reactions. Carella dismissed the Stellenbosch
as unsavory, but took the Ernst home with her. If anything, we learned
that no two pinots are alike — and some are more likeable than


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