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Jun 1, 200912:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

When Worlds Collide

How the movie "Sideways" changed pinot noir

It was never the intent of Hollywood, I don’t think, to influence purchasing decisions for a product from which they could make no money, outside of selling tickets and ultimately DVDs.

Now, you know that Hollywood moves us to buy goods all the time. Film studios form an alliance with fast-food operations, toy manufacturers, apparel suppliers, and anything else in which they can promote the product and receive income. Simple.

Hollywood says we’ll put your product up on the screen, you pay us, and then you’ll sell more of whatever.

But, in one of the most effective motion picture publicity gimmicks of all time, the movie “Sideways” has brought the grape varietal pinot noir to the forefront of purchasing by the general public, and ultimately practically over-extended the wine.

So many wine lovers have now discovered pinot noir that old suppliers cannot keep up, and new plantings are just now coming on stream.

Yet, from a certain perspective, all is not well in pinot noir-land. Meeting demand with a supply that is not correct makes for good marketing sense, but does it make for good wine? 

With the demand almost outstripping supply, we are seeing some pinot noir wines on the shelves that bear little resemblance to what the grape is supposed to be.

Remember that wine is, after all, an agricultural product and, as such, only so much can be made with the raw materials that nature allows. If you need more of such products, you have a couple of choices. First you can buy more land and plant more crop. Or you can use the “Hamburger Helper” approach to extend the available supply; in effect, a human’s ability to create more loaves and fishes for the wanting masses.

In the first case of purchasing more land, there is nothing to say that what is harvested from that land will be correct. The land may not receive enough sun, or there may not be enough moisture, or the soils may be too acidic, or something like that. And the resulting crop will not be exactly what folks want. Yet, it will be available and the wine profiles will be close enough to what is expected; heck, let’s just let it go and get more juice.

In the second scenario, creating more wine from the same amount of grapes, simply leave the grapes out in the vineyard a bit longer assuring that the longer hang-time will develop higher levels of sugars, then send the crop into the winery where extended contact between the skins and the must creates a deep, dark wine, with more alcohol, but with no elegance or subtleties. Rather than a lovely velvet caress, you get a punch in the nose. 

In favor of this approach, the flavor profile desired by many American wine consumers, which is the deeper, darker, more tannic a wine is, then it must be better.  When you apply that approach to pinot noir, you move away from what the grape loves to deliver.

What you now have is a pinot noir that goes well with a big steak. Not a quality associated with true pinot noir, but if you like this direction, then go with it. Drink what you like.

The power of Hollywood has not only created a demand for which there was not an immediate supply because planting vines takes time before they will make decent wine, but “Sideways” has also changed the taste profile of a grape that’s been around for centuries.  That’s a lot to accomplish from just one movie that had no commercial tie-ins.

Luckily, there are still plenty of pinot noir producers who are dedicated to creating wine from this grape that are true expressions of the grape. And that is what wine is, an expression of an agricultural product.

Taste pinot noir grapes on the vine and then taste them in the wine from the bottle. Are they together in tastes and smells? Okay, now you have the wine in the correct fashion.

If a pinot noir taste like a cabernet sauvignon, then you don’t have a good representation. And if you like that, good. Enjoy.

For me, I’m in another camp. Make pinot noir taste like pinot noir. When I’m ready for something different, I’ll buy it too. 

A Few Pinot Noirs for Those Who Like Pinot Noir
(without breaking the bank account)

2007 J. Lynne Pinot Noir, Russian River, California

2005 (2006 may also be on shelves now) Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, Russian River, California

2007 Parker Station Pinot Noir, California

2008 Crane Lake Pinot Noir, Napa, California

2006 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California
2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

2006 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand


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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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