It is the best of grapes, it is the worst of grapes. O.K., my apologies to Mr. Dickens, but Pinot Noir is like that.
You can make good, ordinary, and just plain bad Chardonnay at almost every price point north of $10, but Pinot's different—when it's good, it's sublime, but when it's bad, it's just a travesty.
At its home in Burgundy are plenty of lazy producers, unfortunately, who rely on a famous vineyard or village name to sell subpar wine to unsuspecting innocents and even—so I have heard suggested, though I don't for a moment believe it myself—practice the odd bit of surreptitious relabeling.
Another problem is that there's relatively little Burgundy of any type—especially the good stuff—so all the circumstances are in place for a lot of expensive disappointments.
When Everything Clicks
On the other hand, when you have a conscientious winemaker with grapes from the right climats in a good year, the wine can soar to glorious heights, achieving a seemingly impossible combination of powerful, earthy complexity and delicate finesse.
So there are some wonderful wines out there, not all of them astronomically priced Grand Crus either, and I have made it my life's work to seek out these rarities amid the overpriced rubbish. One recent discovery is the latest Wine of the Week, the Monthélie Rouge, Domaine Pierre Morey 2005 ($37).
Monthélie is a small village sandwiched between two more famous neighbors, Meursault and Volnay. This gives the consumer an edge, because without celebrity status, its wines are less exorbitantly priced. So even if the Burgundy-lover is going to be let down, he or she won't have paid such a high price for the privilege.
But the secret, as always in Burgundy, lies in focusing on the producer, not the appellation, and Pierre Morey, along with his winemaker daughter Anne, is among the most conscientious, as this delicious Monthélie well demonstrates.
Fresh and zesty when first opened, it blossomed magnificently after a couple of hours breathing, showing everything one expects from a good Pinot: round, soft, earthy elements enveloping that initial bright fruit in a velvety cloak of mellow fecundity. Thus are the rewards, both financial and oenophilic, of seeking out Burgundies from minor appellations produced by good winemakers.
When to Drink: For the next 10 years
Breathing/Decanting: Two hours breathing is essential
Food Pairing: Pork, roast game; boeuf bourguignon is a classic pairing
Grapes: Pinot Noir