Pinot noir is one of the wine world's most ancient grapes. Some evidence suggests it was being cultivated in Burgundy as early as the fourth century, though written records under its modern name would not appear for another thousand years.
Its long history and tendency to mutate help explain why pinot noir appears in the genetic family tree of so many fine-wine grapes, not just of others from Burgundy such as chardonnay and pinot Gris, but of an extraordinary range that spans from cabernet sauvignon to Syrah and beyond.
Considered by many to be the world's most noble wine variety, pinot noir is also the most delicate of the famous red grapes; its clusters may look just as dark as cabernet sauvignon on the vine, but their thinner skins are more fragile and yield paler, milder wines that are the very definition of finesse.
Pinot noir also is a rarity among dark grapes in that it prefers cooler climates. If pinot noir gets too ripe, its wines lose their magic, so its finest wines tend to be lighter and more acidic than other reds, such as this delicate beauty from Burgundy. Even when it is made at a modest level of ambition, though, pinot noir's remarkable affinity for food and its oddly funky scent have turned a generation of wine drinkers on to the joys of drinking lighter, brighter red wines.
Give this one a try with a simple roast — whether a chicken or pork shoulder — to let its flavors of tart cranberries and earthy wild mushrooms shine.
Joseph Drouhin "Laforet" Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France. $16.49 (regularly $19.99; sale price through Sunday). PLCB Item #4546.