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Styling the Pinot Noir Highway

In California and Oregon, there are a multitude of variations on three basic Pinot Noir styles. Personal taste dictates individual preferences. The three main categories of style along the Pinot Noir Highway are:

Mini Coopers: Lighter-bodied, elegant Pinot Noirs with subtle flavors and aromatics. The minority of wines produced. Alcohol is often in the 13.0% to 13.7% range. Lovable, but not taken seriously.

Corvettes: Medium-bodied, balanced Pinot Noirs. Harmonious blending of fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol and roundness. Alcohol usually 14.0% to 14.5%. Perfectly integrated with no one element predominating. Stylish performers.

Hummers: Big-bodied Pinot Noirs made from grapes picked very ripe, resulting in high alcohol. Frequently heavily oaked. These wines struggle for balance with alcohols above 14.6%. Their lush fruit flavors often garner high scores. Expensive and conspicuous.

Jake Lorenzo, writing in Further Surveillance, Underground Stories in the Wine Business, speaks irreverently about the Hummers. “Does it make sense to strive for intensity and extraction by letting fruit get very ripe and then diluting it with water once it gets to the winery? Does all the chemical manipulation necessary to finish high alcohol fermentations make better wine, or are you just treating the symptoms? It would make more sense to work with your grower to get ripe flavors at lower sugars. That reduces the alcohol and problems with stuck fermentation and retarded malolactic. If nothing else, think of the money you could save in taxes if your wines were under 14% alcohol.”

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