Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Aaron Winsor

Hello Prince Albert! Of all the grape varietals available, Pinot Noir is possibly one of the trickiest grapes to produce great wine from. As Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape, it can easily be damaged by the sun (heat blisters) and it freezes easily as well. This creates a conundrum for wine makers: should they focus on more accessible grapes to grow, create a well-produced Pinot Noir which is costly and time consuming or make a Pinot that costs less but doesn’t deliver the “wow factor”?

Only a wine producer can answer those questions but as consumers it seems that people are often more comfortable with wines they know they will like versus a risky purchase which could potentially be a waste of money.  

The feedback that I’ve received from hundreds of customers is that unless they love the varietal, they tend to skip Pinot Noir for other varietals like Malbec, Cab Sauv, Merlot, etc. Part of the reasoning behind this is that they can often find a less expensive option which satisfies that wine itch or, they are looking for a wine that delivers a lot of flavor and intensity.

The good news is that even in Saskatchewan, we can find some great Pinot Noir that doesn’t have to break the bank while at the same time delivering a delicious experience. As seasoned Pinot Noir drinkers know, when you cheap out on this varietal, the results are usually lackluster.

My recommendation when looking for a decent Pinot is to adjust your expectations and understand that with this varietal, you get what you pay for. If you’re not enjoying Pinot at the $20 and under range, look at trying a couple of wines in the $25 to $40 price range.

If your budget only allows for $20 Pinot Noir, expect a simple, fruit-driven wine meant for consumption within a year or two. These wines will often have a sweet-fruit undertone as well which means they may be tasty but they won’t deliver complexity or the ability to age well.

The wines that were chosen to be tasted this week are similar in many ways but the French option has the finesse which puts it on top. Both wines offer sour cherry and red fruit with a hearty, savory finish of spiced meat and mouth-coating chewy tannins. The wine from Alsace, France however brings extra quality with its food-friendly acidity, lighter body, softer tannins and overall, more refined approach.

The Cigar Box wine is a no-brainer for cigar lovers. This wine delivers on its promise with warming notes of spice and pepper along with grippy tannins and that smoky finish. At $25, I was pleasantly surprised by this Pinot and would consider buying it again for the satisfying flavor on the finish.

The Cigar Box wine makes me want a cigar while the Hugel Family Pinot inspires me to pair it with foods like pork schnitzel, smoked ham, beef stew or rouladen (thin beef and bacon wrapped around pickles, mustard and onions cooked in gravy). The acidity is so beautiful and bright I wanted to keep sipping until the last drop.

While liquor prices in Saskatchewan are quite high, both of these wines taste like they were priced right and make for a delightful tasting. If you haven’t tried Pinot Noir in a while, consider these two options. Here are my wine picks of the week!                

Cigar Box Old Vine Pinot Noir 2020: (Leyda Valley, Chile). Dry red, medium ruby color. The nose is fruit-forward and bright with simple scents of raspberry, violets, bubblegum, red cherry, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. The palate is surprisingly dry with sour cherry, field berries, hints of tobacco and strawberry at the forefront followed by leather and hints of oak spice (vanilla). The long finish is meaty and smoky with high, chewy tannins, medium acidity and medium body. Vanilla, black pepper and red fruit mingle with a touch of soft cheese and animal notes. While the mid-palate is not overly complex, the finish is worth savoring. Pair with cigars like the Joya de Nicaragua Black Robusto ($20) or salty snacks like beef jerky. Would get a higher score if the price was lower. Good! $25, 13.5% ABV

Hugel Family Pinot Noir 2017: (AOC Alsace, France). Dry red, medium garnet color with a core of faded ruby. The nose opens with juicy berries, cherry candy, raspberry drops, pepper/clove spice and traces of salty rock. From the first sip, high acidity explodes on the palate followed by a mouthwatering rush of sour cherry, stewed raspberry and an almost effervescent mineral rock flavor/sensation. Medium-minus body and medium-plus tannins make this a Pinot that is elegantly light with a decent weight of structure. The long finish rolls in quickly after the mineral-rock buzz fades and flavors of savory cooked mushrooms (in soya) and smoked/cured ham with cloves fills the palate. This natural wine is designed to be drank with all types of food; From gastro-pub inspired foods like Scotch eggs to Pastrami sandwiches with pickles and hot mustard. Can age another couple of years, taste again in 2024. Very good! $44, 12.5% ABVCheers and thanks for reading!