by Chef Larry Canepa

As a Chef and Educator, I have the rare and special opportunity to stimulate and observe the awakenings of young palettes with food and wine. Once in a while, there are special moments when all is right and astounding breakthroughs happen. I experienced just such a breakthrough recently over a special wine in our series.

For me wine is a living thing, and I love to contemplate how the sun was shining during the growing season, consider what the life of the people who grew the grapes was like, and imagine how all the elements translate into the wine.

I like how Pinot Noir, especially, evolves because it tastes so very different today than if I opened it on any other day. It is alive, and it continues to change constantly gaining complexity until it peaks; and then, it begins its steady inevitable decline.

Pinot Noir’s flavors can be haunting, brilliant, thrilling, subtle, and ancient. The Romans vinified this grape as early as the first century AD. It is without exception, the most sensual wine, and sharing its virtues is one of the most rewarding events for a wine lover. I remember my first sip of Pinot Noir over 30 years ago, but rediscovering its subtlety with new friends and novice wine lovers was a revelation.

I set out the glasses, prepared the tasting notes, and laid out the chocolate. The complexity of chocolate laced with a bit of orange and cloves paired with Pinot Noir brings new and challenging insights to the students’ palete by creating a subtle, rich, complex finish to an exciting wine awakening (more on food pairings in future articles).

Of all the classic grapes, Pinot Noir is the most difficult to make into wine. Technically, It is a hard grape to grow, and does well only in a few very special, magical pieces of land tucked away in corners of the world. The grape is thin skinned and ripens early. It mutates easily in the vineyard, is highly sensitive to climate changes and variations in soil compositions, and is unstable during winemaking. It’s not the survivor like Chardonnay or Cabernet, which can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot Noir needs constant care and attention, and only the most patient, dedicated, nurturing growers can do it. Only someone who really understands Pinot Noir’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. This enological gamble is what makes Pinot Noir all the more fascinating and irresistible.

The reputation of Pinot Noir is owed to the wines of Burgundy (Bourgogne), France, one of France’s most prestigious wine regions. For most of wine history, this small, thin stretch of hills, called the Côte d’ Or (“Slope of Gold”), is just one of a small handful of regions to achieve consistent success from the Pinot Noir vine. Due to the stringent growing requirements for Pinot Noir, it is produced in much smaller quantities than other popular red wines.

Pinot Noir is a sensual wine which is derived from the remarkably supple, silky textures and erotically earthy aromas they display. But how do you convey these attributes to a young novice? Do they have the reference points? I chose an uncomfortable path: let them find out for themselves! 

An unguided tour of Pinot Noir seems unfair and reckless like experiencing an Indian food for the first time without coaching. So we began with a 2006 Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon. Black cherry aromas were underscored by sweet mandarin orange, clove-laced vanilla among subtle hints of anise and caramel. The wine opened on the palate and evolved into a supple silkiness.

We followed with a French Burgundy from a small region known as Marsannay. The wine’s dark red color indicated a wine with a beautiful structure. The ripe red fruit aromas of cherries and plum were present with smooth, silky tannins and nice longevity in the wooden finish.

Next was surprisingly delightful Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Dark ruby in color, with an aroma of plums, dark fruits and a hint of spice, it offered a subtle complement to the chocolate. The palate was medium to full bodied with ripe fruit tannins and oak combining to give great structure and a silky texture.

I knew my allowing them to experience these wines on their own was a risk, but I felt it was risk worth the reward. I let them appreciate the aromas and tastes of violets, warm baked cherries, cigars, plums, damp earth, mushroom, worn leather, sweat and dry leaves; and I watched as they began to truly appreciate them. We’d pour, we’d swirl and smell, we’d observe the colors; but fighting the teacher instinct, I let them discover for themselves, without commentary.

And so it was worth the risk. The students embraced Pinot Noir with wild, hedonistic abandon, just as one might expect with our first taste of a great wine. All was right in the (wine) world. They felt the joy, clarity and a heightened sense of awareness about the power of wine and food.

Oh yes, and the chocolate.


Try Nautilus Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir at – Click Image

Try New World Pinot Noirs values at – Click Image:


About Larry Canepa

Chef Larry Canepa brings  30 years of Food and Wine experience to today’s adult culinary learners. He has worked in the Food & Wine business as Chef, caterer, sommelier and Food and Wine educator. He has taught culinary and restaurant operation classes at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix and Le Cordon Bleu, Scottsdale. His experiences include management and operation of free-standing restaurants, hotels and resorts. Chef Larry Canepa owned and operated the full service catering business, Dinner at Eight for 10 years in the Valley, specializing in intimate private dining and wine seminars. Larry Canepa has conducted seminars and lectures on coffee, tea, wine, etiquette, cooking and service for students, adults, continuing education classes and charitable organizations.