The Problem with Pinot Noir

I think I was in my early twenties before I could properly enjoy a joke at my mother’s expense without bristling, or even worse, threatening violence to the teller. On working in a pub on the outskirts of Hull as a callow eighteen year, the landlord (now my father-in-law), warned me not to talk politics or religion with the customers as what might start as good-natured, gentle verbal sparring could, with sufficient lubrication, result in an all out brawl. Outside of those already mentioned, the topics that really raise people’s ire are in my experience actually rather limited but on entering the wine trade back in 2002, it became quickly apparent that there was one other subject that you disparaged at your peril.

Pinot Noir enjoys an almost fabled status amongst those in the trade. Everyone has a story to tell about how some doddery old uncle or jedi-like wine mentor opened a cobweb-encrusted bottle of Burgundy to reveal a wine the like of which they had never tasted before. Whilst I refuse to brand any of these tales as outright lies, the consistency of this story from one person to another leads me to believe that this is the ultimate vinous version of the urban myth. Either that or I was dealt a bad hand in the uncle department.

Now before I’m outed for being nothing more than an unromantic curmudgeon, I need to tell you that wine has made me cry. There have been a number of occasions (I would estimate the frequency to be once every couple of years) where a wine’s effect on me has been so profound as to make my eyes hot and my throat tight with emotion. Such experiences, as with the gold prospector hoping for one last nugget-laden strike, are fundamental to why I’m wedded to this line of work. The allure of finding a wine where the perfume beguiles and the tannins catch on the palate just enough before slipping silkily away, cause my mouth to salivate and my body to judder in expectation. But, as of yet, Pinot has never elicited this response in me.

Winemakers talk about Pinot as being a pernickety little bugger. Both delicate and capricious it poses a challenge that, as in many industries still dominated by men, many want to conquer. The problem is that my experience of tasting Pinot suggests that this is a challenge that the vast majority are simply not capable of meeting. Pinot remains in most cases a wine of two dimensions, all fruit and alcohol (or if you prefer the Hull vernacular, all fur coat and no knickers). Now some of you will say that I am barking up the wrong tree, that what I’m referring to is the Pinot that comes from ground less sacred than that of Pinot’s home; Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. But they’re wrong, I’m not.

One of the most over-used words to describe fine red Burgundy is ‘ethereal’. One only has to flick through any online thesaurus to see that synonyms such as frail, fragile or waiflike are in many cases just as appropriate as would be the more pejorative ‘thin’ or even ‘scrawny’. If I’m paying more than a hundred quid for a bottle of wine it needs to be showing me much more than cat walk-like model dimensions.

So does this mean that my wine fridge (no cellar for me in my 4th floor apartment) is bereft of Pinot Noir? Of course not, I like Pinot, very much in fact, but do I love it?… It would seem not. In a world where social media has led to ever increasing levels of excited expression for the morbidly mundane, (see the following example: ‘I saw a cat today!!!! Who knew!?!? ☺’), perhaps I am simply mis-reading people’s affection for the variety, perhaps they only really like it very much too?

Whatever the reality I will continue to call out those who deify Pinot and who write in a language that in previous times was reserved for the veneration of Saints. And yet I can’t be in the wine trade and not have a variety that I love, a variety that really makes my heart sing, a variety that is capable of both magic and majesty in the same glass at the same time and that variety, as any person of real taste knows, is Syrah!! ☺.

 

黑皮諾的問題

我大概要到二十歲出頭左右,才能夠大方地對於嘲笑我媽的笑話,一笑置之而不至於感到憤怒,或甚至威脅以暴力相向。回想正值十八歲血氣方剛的我,在赫爾(Hull)近郊一家酒館打工;酒館老闆(如今已是我岳父)警告我,與客人聊天時,最好別涉及政治或宗教,以避免讓原本只是無心的言語玩笑,演變成嚴重的爭吵。就我的經驗中,除了以上幾個禁忌,似乎沒有什麼其它話題會挑起人們的憤怒之情。直到我於2002年開始銷售葡萄酒後,才發現原來還有一件事,如果輕忽了,得自負後果。

在葡萄酒世界中,黑皮諾(Pinot Noir)享有近乎傳奇的地位,而且似乎每個人都有一個關於黑皮諾的故事可以分享:他們都曾經因為喝到一款瓶身滿覆蜘蛛網的布根地酒,而經歷了前所未有的體驗,無論這瓶酒是來自年事已高的叔叔收藏,或是透過比絕地武士還厲害的酒商而品嚐到。雖然我不太願意大辣辣地說,這些聽來全是謊話,但同樣的故事屢屢從一人傳到另一人口中,不禁令我深信,如果葡萄酒世界裡也有都市神話,大概就是這個了吧!再不然就是,我是身邊所認識的人中,唯一一個沒有厲害叔叔的可憐人。

雖然我在上文中儼然已承認了自己是個一點也不浪漫的討厭鬼,但我還想說,葡萄酒確實曾令我感動到潸然淚下。在我的人生中,曾經有幾次因葡萄酒帶給我的震撼之大,令我眼眶濕熱、喉頭緊鎖(我估算大概每幾年會有一次這樣的經驗)。而如同淘金者盼望能撈到最後一次金礦一般,這樣的經驗,成為我從事這一行最重要的原因。光是想到能品嚐一款香氣令人著迷,口中單寧恰如其分、質地如絲綢一般細緻的酒款,就足以令我分泌唾液,身體因興奮而微微顫動了起來。不幸的是,截至目前為止,還沒有任何一款黑皮諾讓我有過類似反應。

釀酒人談起皮諾,如同這是個麻煩的小鬼一般,只因這品種既可口又善變,讓許多釀酒師燃起挑戰、並征服它的慾望;在許多由男人主導的產業裡,大概都有類似情節。不過,依我品嚐過的皮諾來看,大概沒幾位釀酒師成功駕馭得了這品種。對我而言,黑皮諾常僅有兩個面向可言:一是果味,一則是酒精(如果用赫爾,即我打工的地區的語言來比喻的話,則全是毛皮大衣而沒有內褲)。讀到這裡,有些人可能覺得我腦袋不清楚了,或以為我說的黑皮諾全來自於其神聖家鄉──布根地金丘(Cote d’Or)──以外的產區。但我要告訴你,我沒有搞錯。

綜觀所有最常被濫用來形容頂級布根地紅酒的詞彙中,當屬「空靈」(ethereal)一詞居冠。只消上網隨便搜尋任一個字典,就可以發現,在許多情況中,空靈其實也等同於「虛弱」(frail)、「脆弱」(fragile),或「身材瘦小的」(waiflike)等詞;事實上,這些也與帶有貶義的「淺薄的」(thin),甚至「骨瘦如柴的」(scrawny)等形容詞同義。這麼說好了,如果我要花上一百英鎊(約新台幣NT$ 3,840)買一瓶酒,它最好不要只像伸展台上的模特兒一樣「空靈」而單一面向。

但這是否代表我的葡萄酒冰箱(我住在公寓四樓,沒有酒窖)裡,一瓶黑皮諾也沒有?當然不,我非常喜歡這品種,不過這份喜歡是否有到鍾愛它的程度?嗯…… 看來是不至於。

拜社交媒體之賜,如今所有平凡、乏味之事,都可以病態地無限上綱(需要例子嗎?『誰想得到阿!?!?☺我今天看到了一隻貓耶!!!』)。也許純粹是我誤判了人們對於黑皮諾的熱情,也許他們和我一樣,只是非常喜歡這品種?

不管事實為何,我打算繼續戳破那些將黑皮諾奉為神明、或是用過去以敘述聖人的語言來形容黑皮諾的人所說的話。當然,身為葡萄酒業界的一員,我不可能沒有一個鍾愛的品種。這品種深得我心,釀得好時,在同一杯中既能展現魔法,又能傳遞莊嚴的氣質;而任何真正有品味的人都知道,我說的不是別的,正是希哈(Syrah)!!☺(編譯/艾蜜・emily)