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Wine Pairing: Putting Pinot To The Test

Is this family of grapes as food-friendly as everyone says? One cook decides to find out.

Pinot Noir and its relatives have long been regarded as the most food-friendly grape varieties, possibly ever since the Visigoths tromped through Burgundy in the fourth century AD, pairing Pinot Noir with whole roasted goats, boar's heads and such. But is the reputation justified? F&W Test Kitchen supervisor Marcia Kiesel decided to test some members of the Pinot family—Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier, used in Champagne—in a food-pairing experiment, creating dishes that she hoped would match beautifully with the various wines. These eight recipes did so effortlessly, thanks to Marcia Kiesel's talent and the vaunted versatility of the grapes.

Pinot Blanc

GRAPE NOTES
This light-skinned descendent of Pinot Gris (itself an offshoot of Pinot Noir) reaches its apogee in Alsace and northern Italy; a modest amount is produced in the United States, too. Typically a creamy, fairly full-bodied white, it has flavors that suggest pears and sometimes melon, often with a slight musky note. It's a great accompaniment to vegetable- and cheese-based dishes, as well as a simple herb-stuffed roast chicken.

TOP BOTTLES
2004 Terlan Pinot Bianco From Italy's Alto Adige region, this has refreshing mineral flavors and a hint of orange oil.

2003 Hugel Cuvée Les Amours Pinot Blanc A floral, dense Alsace white that's full of spicy pear fruit.

Pinot Noir

GRAPE NOTES
Pinot Noir is grown in many places, but the best comes from Burgundy. In the U.S., the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations are in the top ranks; the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation is one to watch. Seductively aromatic, with moderate tannins and vibrant flavor, Pinot Noir pairs well with everything from salmon to game birds to light meats such as veal.

TOP BOTTLES
2003 Domaine Vincent Girardin Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravières From one of the lesser-known crus of Burgundy, this is dark and powerful.

2002 Clos LaChance Santa Cruz Mountains Full of earthy cherry flavor, from steep hillside vineyards.

Champagne

GRAPE NOTES
Champagne is typically a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, though some houses use mainly Pinot Noir, and a few employ mostly Pinot Meunier. Produced in the Champagne region of France, these wines have a wide range of flavors and styles, but they often taste of apples and toasty fresh-baked bread. Brut Champagnes, which are quite dry, pair especially well with shellfish or Asian food.

TOP BOTTLES
Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV A flavorful, berry-inflected Champagne made from 100 percent Pinot Noir.

Gaston-Chiquet 1er Cru Tradition Carte Verte Brut NV This Pinot Meunier-based Champagne is savory and rich.

Published October 2005
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