Why don't we see Pinot Noir much as a blend in still wines?
Lindsay Dawn Schultz, by email, asks: The only red blend I’ve ever come across that contains Pinot Noir is Silk (66% Pinot, 18% Malbec and 16% Petite Sirah) from California’s Ménage à Trois label. Why are Pinot Noir blends so rare, and are there any other red blends you know of that contain Pinot Noir?
Andy Howard MW replies: It is certainly true that red blends are rarely made with Pinot Noir, although it’s clear that Pinot blends well as it is a major component in many top Champagnes. Why is this?
The answer is in part related to Pinot Noir’s unique character – thin skins, pale colour, refinement and elegance, silky tannins, a complex and distinctive nose, notable acidity, ageworthiness and high quality. Winemakers want to make wines that emphasise these qualities, rather than dilute them with other varieties.
Commercially, Pinot Noir is a strong ‘brand’ and most producers prefer to focus on 100% varietal Pinot as this is a better marketing message. Growing conditions provide another reason as the key requirements for successful Pinot viticulture are different to many of the varieties more commonly used in blending – Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo.
You’re right that there are few blends using Pinot Noir – however, a particularly delicious one is Doña Paula’s Blue Edition Velvet Blend – an Argentinian blend of Malbec, Pinot Noir and Bonarda. California also has a history of blending in some Syrah – a wine labelled Pinot Noir can legally be just 75% Pinot Noir (although this generally applies to cheaper wines).
Meanwhile, the French AC of Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains must contain at least one-third Pinot Noir, but here it must be blended with Gamay prior to fermentation.
This question first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Decanter magazine.