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Pinot Passion

Birmingham's Pinot Noir sales are second only to Portland, Oregon!

By Jan Walsh

Photography Beau Gustafson

Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed all over the United States after the release of the cult wine movie, Sideways. And according to a report by ACNielsen, the top market for Pinot Noir, in terms of dollar share of table wine category, is Portland, Oregon with 5.9 percent, followed by Birmingham, which claims a 4.9 dollar share. Of course, Portland is Pinot property-growing the grape.

A difficult vine to grow, Pinot Noir's consistent and historic success was first achieved in the wines of Burgundy (Bourgogne), France, a two-mile-wide, thirty-mile-long stretch of hills, called the Côte d'Or (Slope of Gold). A French Pinot Noir wine is Red Burgundy, as France does not label wines by grapes but by regions. Domaine Rene Leclerc, of Gevrey Chambertin, Bourgogne 2002 ($25) is a fragrant wine with lush fruit flavors and a pleasant finish, available at Village Wine Market, Western Mt. Brook, and Wine'd Down.

A native of Tennessee, Oregon winemaker Don Crank recently re-visited the South, including Birmingham and was pleasantly surprised at the city's plentitude of Pinots. "You have Oregon Pinot Noirs in Birmingham that we don't have in Oregon," he laughs. Willamette Valley Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2003 ($22) offers aromas of black cherries, brown sugar, and vanilla with flavors of nutmeg, toast, strawberries, and cherries, a soft mouth feel, and a long, round finish, available at Vintage Wine Shoppe and Western. Other Southerners, with a mutual love for Pinot Noir, Adam Lee and wife Dianna, left families and jobs in Texas to move to Sonoma. And after years of working at small, family owned wineries, they launched Siduri wines in 1994. Siduri produces single vineyard Pinot Noir from 27 different vineyards stretching from Santa Barbara north to Oregon's Willamette Valley. "Siduri Shaw Mountain Pinot Noir 2004 ($35), Oregon perennially, shows hints of rhubarb, lead pencil and coffee bean. As the wine opens up, aromas of candied apples and plums start to show. The velvety texture of this wine creates an intense coating on the mouth and a long lingering finish," Lee describes. Siduri Pinots are available at Piggly Wiggly Crestline and Homewood, Tria Market, Village Wine Market, Vintage Wine Shoppe, and Western.

Also suiting this finicky grape are the cool climates of Sonoma County's Carneros and Russian River Valley. In 1961-after training in Europe-winemaker Walter Schug brought this traditional winemaking style to California. Flagship Pinot, Carneros Pinot Noir 2004($22) is a complex wine with aromas of cherries, berries and a hint of spicy new oak, available at Piggly Wiggly, Tria Market, Vintage Wine Shoppe, and Western, Mountain Brook. Foppiano Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled Russian River Valley 2004 ($23) is a wine of great concentration, intense flavors, and a bright ruby color, available at Piggly Wiggly Crestline and Homewood, Tria Market, Vintage Wine Shoppe and Western, Mountain Brook.

And the long growing season of Sonoma's Santa Maria Valley allows Pinot Noir grapes to develop intense flavors, including the grapes of Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2004 ($25) grown on 25-year-old vines. Aromas of red plum, leather, and with accents of jasmine and earthiness lead to intense flavors with hints of black cherry, plum, brown spice with subtleties of French oak for a long, smoky finish, available at Piggly Wiggly Crestline and Homewood and Tria Market.

These Pinots are going fast. Get them while they last!

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