The Cult of Pinot Noir: A Former Member Speaks

pinot noirIn his post “Pinotism is a cult within the wine world. Why?” Andrew Jeffords points to the peculiar and singular status of Pinot Noir:

The voice drops a little; the tone grows more reverential. Everyone knows; everyone understands. There will be wry allusions to a quest, perhaps even the grail. Sacrifice is expected en route; failure (always forgiven: a badge of honour) beckons on every side. Kitted up, your hopes armour-plated?

He’s describing the cult-like exultation exhibited by Pinot Noir’s most dedicated fans. No other grape quite induces the pious reverence one finds among those who have become entranced by Pinot’s considerable charm. And Jeffords runs through several explanations for the varietals’ stature. It’s genetically prodigious begetting several other varietals and over a thousand clones. It’s great with food, stylistically versatile, and most importantly reveals terroir more transparently than any other grape.

This optical clarity is why there is such excitement about the Pinotable places scattered around the wine world. It doesn’t just shack up and hang out, like its offspring Chardonnay: it anatomises place, and at best makes it radiant.

No doubt all off this contributes to Pinot’s stature. But I think the key to its allure is less tangible. As Jeffords says,

Pinotism means the ‘beyond‘ in wine: it’s a wicket gate to a higher world. Those who choose Pinot aren’t merely (like poor Cabernet-fanciers or Merlot-chasers) looking for sensual pleasure; Pinotists are looking for the aerial sublime.

Great wines are great because they embody paradox—power and elegance, delicacy and strength, complexity and simplicity. The best Pinots even when powerful or earthy have an ethereal quality that no other grape consistently displays. As a former member of the cult I know whereof I speak.

So why former? It’s too damn expensive and most affordable Pinot Noir is either undrinkable or at best disappointing. But more importantly, there are just too many good wines out there with interesting differences to warrant the exclusivity of cult-like allegiance.  I can’t forgive Pinot Noir’s  transgressions when alternatives are easily available.

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