Coke Roth

It’s all about Pinot.

She has been called a mysterious temptress, a taunting mistress that engages and compels, and she is even known by her fan club as fickle. She is delicious whether in red or pink, and when she bubbles; offering up intrigue with every new look. She is rarely muscular, instead having smooth lines that fill up the a night on the forest, like a mountain in springtime, like a walk in the rain It’s easy for a manly sort of man like me to get gushy over a grape that I love to socialize and dine with my old love, Pinot Noir.

Let’s start with’s all about me. My love for Pinot had a rocky start. My first encounter with Pinot was at a family dinner with a hard-as-nails Chateau Ste Michelle Pinot Noir from the late 1960’s. Later, after I was out of high school.ercollege (don’tcha love a statute of limitations?), I tested the waters again in the early-1970s, this time with great Pinot Noir from France and California. Voila! We were palsy-walsies.

My standard for Pinot was established in the mid-1970’s with Oregon Pinot made by my old chums in the Willamette Valley (Amity, Erath, Ponzi, Sokol Blosser, Eyrie, Elk Cove and friends) and their even older counterparts in Bourgogne (French for Burgundy); Drouhin, Jadot (and amis). The style was most often of paler color, moderate in alcohol, low in oak and high in one category; a dominant red fruit profile (strawberry, pie cherry, raspberry, and red currant). Over the years, the proliferation of a couple hundred of the estimated 1,000 clonal mutants along with different viticultural and vinification regimes, have produced Pinot with richer color and an opulent black fruit profile, like Bing Cherry, black currant and blackberrythe new standard. Now you have darkly and lightly pigmented red and black fruit dominant Pinot. It’s all over the board! I can imagine your expression nowthis old guy likes everythingagain.

Growers know Pinot as a short season frugal bearer; regularly weeks or months earlier and half or less normal tonnage of Northwest Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot Nior fares best for becoming a red wine when grown in long sleeve weather, like most of northern Oregon, cooler microclimates of the Yakima Valley and places with elevation like Chelan. That is not to say it cannot be successfully grown in a Cabernet climate and make good wine, in particular sparkling wine. When used in the traditional cuvee’ blend for bubble, where Pinot is the Duke and Chardonnay is the Duchess, Pinot contributes body, acidity and finesse. So, how did Pinot get stuck with this temptress, fickle handle? First off, paraphrasing fellow columnist and friend, Dan Berger, if two people of similar tastes will disagree on which wine they prefer, Pinot Nior will be it. While Dan’s position would explain the frugal awards in this judging, it also compels you to try the wines that were not, in the subjective minds of the judges, Outstanding. In reviewing my notes, several of my Outstanding’s received a try the wines.what the Hell do we know? It was all about us

In an effort to explain this confounding, temperamental quality, understand that Pinot develops schizophrenia due to mildly differing cultural practices, weather and vinification protocols. Moreover, Pinot suffers from genetic instability; making it prone to capricious variation (“cloning” in winespeak); so the plant you toss in the soil might be wildly different from what was expectedyou never know who you will wake up with.

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Pinot growers suffer from mild masochismspring frost damage due to early bud break, bugs and birds due to thin skin and early ripening, mineral deficiencies, shrivelthe list is long. And those who make it become insomniacs because Pinot is an unpredictable, petulant fermenter, and is prone to biological contamination, like Brettanomyces (the barnyard/band aid thing) and acetification (the vinegar thing). These mental afflictions are epidemic in Oregon; there are over 320 wineries that produce Pinot, each with several versions, vineyard designations and the like.

In this Pinot judging, I was treated to glorious examples of my broadened new standard; whiffing Cassis and Marionberry, further expressing bold, broad Blueberry and fruit tea flavors with integrated fermentation and wood driven notes of cedar, chocolate, vanilla and leather. I am not so naïve to think some Syrah or Grenache might have been added, but not enough to shadow Pinot character. Wow, I sound like a wine writer, huh?!

I didn’t forget my love with old standard for Pinot There she was; delicate, light garnet color, with a massive red fruit nose singing in perfect harmony with sensual, jammy flavors. And, recognizing that you don’t want to stand between me and something to eat, this is the exact kind of wine I love with food.

Did someone say “food”?! Pinot is the shining gold standard. In addition the French Coq au Vin (crockpot chicken in the Roth kitchen), there is no better wine with Salmon, Steelhead or Trout than Pinot Nior.coincidence that the Left Coast has the best Salmon in the galaxy? I think not! Rock Hens, Brats, Venison and Lamb likewise get an “A” with Pinot.

So, once again, the old Futzer recommends you try wines that vary in style with or without an endorsement of some guy like moi or any assembled’s all about you, after all. Find the Pinot style(s) you like, and toss some back with friends and food, always in moderation, frequently.

-- COKE ROTH is an attorney who lives in Richland, Wash. He is an original member of Wine Press Northwest’s tasting panel. Learn more about him at

This story was originally published September 1, 2014 12:00 AM.


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