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  • The Chopping Blog

Pinot? More Like PinYes!

Posted by Justin on Sep 11, 2018


Our staff has some pretty strong opinions on wine, and that's never been more evident than when we begin to change up the wine list. I'm no exception to this of course, and I do plenty of grumbling anytime we remove I wine I like. This year we're losing my favorite Pinot Noir to make room for a new one from the North Coast of California. At the same time, we've picked up a Pinot Blanc from Alsace, which has quickly become a staff favorite among the white wines. 


Up until now, I've felt pretty confident in my ability to talk about most of the wines on our list, but with the introduction of new wines made from different wine grapes, I knew it was time to crack open the books and do some reading. I was already somewhat familiar with Alsace and I've tried Pinot Blanc from that region before, in fact the the Crémant d'Alsace we used to carry, Camille Braun, was a blend primarily composed of Pinot Blanc. That seemed like as good a starting place as any for my reading and what I discovered was fascinating: Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are the same grape... kind of. 

Desirable grapes are asexually reproduced through the process of vegetative propagation in order to create genetically similar clones (ie. Pinot Noir is reproduced from Pinot Noir to create Pinot Noir). This enables winemakers to produce wines with a greater degree of consistency. We can track the degree of genetic variability through DNA profiling. Much like in forensic science, DNA profiling has resolved many mysteries in the wine world over the past 20 years, such as the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and the relationship between Zinfandel and Primitivo. 

In 2000, a group of Austrian scientists performed a genetic analysis of several cultivars of the “Pinot family” in order to understand their relationships. The experiment failed to discover differentiation between Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and other clones based on the comparison of SSR markers. In other words, these grape vines that were once thought to be unique, but related, were instead discovered to be mutations of the same grape vine. 

Put another way, all these wines were made from the same grape (relatively speaking). 


Consider what makes a wine taste the way it does. The choice of grape is obviously one of the key factors in determining the final product; Riesling doesn't taste like Cabernet Sauvignon. However, if it was just about the grape, Pinot Noir from Burgundy would taste the same as that grape produced in California, Oregon, Italy, Germany, New Zealand, etc. However, when we taste these side by side we note both differences and similarities. The differences can be everything from terroir to choices made by the winemaker, but by noting the similarities we begin to discover what makes makes Pinot Noir taste like Pinot Noir. 


So, the question I keep asking myself is, can you find what makes Pinot taste like Pinot? Can you find that common thread of genetic similarity in the flavor of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, and all the rest? I don't know the answer, but I can't help marveling at how different each of these wines are, knowing they're genetically so similar. It sounds like a great opportunity to do some experimenting of my own with friends. 

This weekend, The Chopping Block has a blind tasting wine class at the Merchandise Mart with Sommelier Christophe Bakunas. By removing your preconceived bias and allowing yourself to dissect and analyze a wine using only your senses, you will learn that you probably know more about wine than you realize. If you can't make it this weekend, don't panic, we have plenty of wine classes on the calendar, including this blind tasting being offered again in October.


Topics: Pinot Gris, pinot noir, pinot grigio, Wine & Spirits

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