Sex in a Glass: Getting up Close and Personal with Pinot Noir

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By Rebecca Meïr- Liebman of Chef & Somm

Pinot Noir is like young love,” opined my private sommelier client in his luxurious house in Muskoka as I pulled the cork on a Romanée-Conti. 

“You do not know what to expect, but it will always make the blood run hot; either melt your heart or break it, sometimes even both.”

Pinot Noir has been described in many ways. Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon went so far as to call it “sex in a glass”.

So what is it about this grape – a variety also known as the heartbreak grape – that inspires so much talk of love and heartbreak?

Well, like young lovers, this grape is fragile, thin-skinned, and sensitive; and like love, Pinot Noir is a classic that will continue to stand the test of time. Partially because of its fickle nature, Pinot Noirs can be some of the most expensive bottles in the world; the average price of a Romanée-Conti is about $13,000.

To be honest, Pinot Noir was not love at first sight for me, but neither was coffee, nor the man I ended up marrying. Some things just need to grow on you. I found the earthy style of Burgundy Pinot Noirs extra challenging, and I’m not alone. It can take some time and several tastings for many people to build a palate for them.

Pinot Noir wine can vary drastically depending on its terroir, the winemaker’s choices and style, the amount of contact with oak; the vintage, even the angle of the sun in the vineyard and harvest time. Because of all of this, Pinots can range from light cherry, acidic and richly earthy, with notes of forest floor – what the French call sous de bois, and barnyard (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy); to fuller, fruitier wines, higher in alcohol (Meiomi Pinot Noir, California), all the way to masculine, with notes of black fruit, and with great aging potential (Pommard, Burgundy). All of this variation make Pinot Noir one of the most food-friendly wines there is; there’s a Pinot for a light spring salad dish to a hearty braised beef, and everything in between.

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I spend my days surrounded by sommeliers and wine enthusiasts, and I am aware that many Pinot Noir fans believe the wine should be consumed on its own, and that food doesn’t improve the wine or the experience.

To that my answer is an analogy borrowed from the movie, Somm: Into the Bottle: Peanut butter is great on its own, as is Jelly, but put them together and you have the acidity of the jelly refreshing the peanut butter’s fattiness, and the richness of the peanut butter is balanced with the sweetness of the fruit.

Sure, they can be enjoyed on their own, but together they create something different, perhaps even better? Think about buttery popcorn and a fizzy cola, or coffee and chocolate cake? You get my point…

In my quest for the ultimate Pinot and food pairing, I asked Chef Eyal Liebman to create a beautiful dish to complement each one of these unique Pinot Noirs.

Lucien Jacob, Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, BurgundyA lighter style Pinot Noir, classic cherry and fresh acidity. A feminine, elegant wine that I really enjoy with lighter dishes. Paired with Chef Liebman’s curried pickerel, with traditional risotto and yellow zucchini, prosciutto, sliced fresh figs and shaved fennel.

Here, it’s the lightness of the wine that allows the delicate fish to take center stage, while the salty tang of the prosciutto brings out the fruity cherry notes in this lovely Pinot. 

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Domaine Queylus, Pinot Noir Reserve 2010, Ontario – Made by Thomas Bachelder, one of the most talented wine makers in Canada, this Pinot Noir boasts decent tannins, notes of dark cherry, spice, cedar and ripe plum. It’s a robust Pinot, a rarity for Canadian Pinots which tend to be on the lighter side.

Paired with one of Chef Liebman’s most creative dishes – merguez sausage with yam purée in quail, wrapped in phyllo – the wine’s bold black fruit notes are a wonderful counter balance to the salty, fattiness of the sausage, and its earthy spiciness a lovely match for the quail and rich yam purée.

Domaine Fernand & Laurent Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens, Burgundy – This is a massive, masculine wine with great structure and concentration. Notes of black fruits and earthiness make this a great wine to enjoy with beef dishes. A masculine wine calls for a masculine dish, and beef tenderloin is just big enough.

Another cut – rib-eye or shank – would be too big and heavy, after all, it’s still Pinot Noir we’re talking about! But, oak-aged for 18 months, this bold Pinot Noir is simply perfect and, pardon the pun, beefy enough to stand up to Chef Liebman’s beef tenderloin with pommes dauphine and sauce Bordelaise. 

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Pandol Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, California – A boutique winery with a small production of only 400 cases a year, their focus is exclusively Pinot Noir. This wine has been aged partially in new oak and the rest of the time in second- and third-year barrels for a total of 10 months, and therefore is neither the lightest nor the biggest Pinot Noir.

It delivers notes of cherries, plum and cranberry with a touch of spice. I’d suggest giving it half an hour to breathe and develop before drinking. Chef Liebman paired it with oven-roasted Cornish hen scented with charred Persian lime and red rice with sauce poivrade. The burned flavour of the limes add sophistication to the cranberry and candy notes in the wine, while the black pepper of the sauce accentuates the soft, round fruitiness of the wine.

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RebecRebecca Lca Meir-Liebman

Sommelier & Consultant

As co-owner of Chef & Somm, the GTA’s only Bespoke Private Dining and Sommelier service, Rebecca has acquired over a decade of experience in some of Canada’s – and the world’s – top dining rooms.

She earned her hospitality, service and sommelier skills at top restaurants – Canoe, Luma, BLÜ Ristorante and Maple Leafs Sport & Entertainment – but Rebecca is always learning, tasting, and cultivating relationships with winemakers, local and abroad.

Her thirst for wine knowledge is a never-ending quest; Rebecca brings an unquenchable curiosity and authority to any dining experience. www.ChefSomm.ca

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Rebecca Meïr-Liebman

As co-owner of Chef & Somm, the GTA’s only Bespoke Private Dining and Sommelier service, Rebecca has acquired over a decade of experience in some of Canada’s – and the world’s – top dining rooms. She earned her hospitality, service and sommelier skills at top restaurants – Canoe, Luma, BLÜ Ristorante and Maple Leafs Sport & Entertainment – but Rebecca is always learning, tasting, and cultivating relationships with winemakers, local and abroad. Her thirst for wine knowledge is a never-ending quest; Rebecca brings an unquenchable curiosity and authority to any dining experience.

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