Pinot Noir is a popular but misunderstood grape. Wine enthusiasts, restaurateurs, and retailers like us love it. More casual wine drinkers have a sense that they should love it but usually don't. So what's the deal?
For a start, Pinot Noir (or just Pinot for short. But don't say Pinot when you mean Pinot Grigio) is quite a light-bodied wine compared to other wines commonly drunk, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Next to Shiraz, Pinot seems more like water than wine. This is because it is a delicate and thin-skinned grape. When wine drinkers commonly drink shiraz and other full-bodied wines, Pinot's lightness can seem like a flaw when really it's a different style.
Second, the price tag is a bit high compared to other grapes. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me for a red Burgundy (Burgundy is a wine-making region in France where the only red grape produced is Pinot) to cook with only to hear my explanation that red Burgundies start at $20 on the low end, which is a bit expensive for a wine you don't intend to drink. Speaking of which, if there are any cookbook editors out there can you please stop recommending cooking wines that were cheap in the 1970s? Anyway, Pinots under $20 that are good are out there but not in the same quantity is other types of wine.
So what's so great about Pinot, you ask? Its versatility, for one. If you prefer red wines by themselves then Pinot is a good option because the tannin is very low making for a smooth drink. However, they also make great food wines since Cabernet and most other reds are too heavy for everyday fare. But most Pinot enthusiasts will tell you what they love most about it is its complexity of flavor. When you get a great bottle it really is a flavor experience like no other. Red and black cherries, cola, mushrooms, dried herbs, lavender, and ginseng are just some of the descriptors commonly given to better Pinot.
Pinot, like fine Scotch, is an acquired taste that reaps great rewards once you get past the initial impression. Enjoying Pinot is like enjoying black and white films. When you're young you hate them because they don't give the sensory stimulation of color films. But as you mature you realize that some of the best films ever made are black and white. If a $50 Australian Shiraz is The Dark Knight, a $50 Pinot is Casablanca.
If you're more of a Cabernet/Merlot/Shiraz person, I recommend going outside of your comfort zone and the next time you have a special occasion get yourself a nice bottle of Pinot. Keep an open mind and you might find yourself a bona fide Pinot enthusiast.