Benjamin Lewin is nothing if not prolific - having rather quickly penned "What Price Bordeaux?," "Wine Myths and Reality," and now this volume devoted exclusively to pinot noir around the world. I find this to be the best of the three - but perhaps that is because I am also most interested in pinot noir, particularly as it is grown and vinified in Burgundy. In this book, Lewin explores the influence of terroir, viticultural practice and vinification methods on pinot from Burgundy and elsewhere in France, Germany, Oregon and California, Australia and New Zealand. Along with discussion of the effect of soils, climate and clonal selection, Lewin contrasts the fruit driven, New World pinot noir style with more austere, structured Burgundian wines. The book includes tasting notes that are particularly interesting - I believe this is the first time I have seen reasonably extensive notes of recent vertical tastings of pinot noir from the likes of Adelsheim, Domaine Drouhin, Calera, Williams Selyem and other U.S. pinots, for example. If you still have quite a bit of domestic pinot noir from the 80s and 90s lying in your cellar as I do, you may find these notes of considerable interest and you will be pleased to hear that, at least as far as Lewin is concerned, many still have plenty of life left in them. Lewin's bottom line is this: while red Burgundy may be the benchmark for pinot noir, even "traditional" Burgundy has undergone stylistic changes over time, most recently becoming more fruit driven than in the past. There may be a number of viable approaches to making great wine from this grape grown in different climates and on soils other than Burgundian limestone. So long as the wines possess an innate balance and the ability to develop complexity and interest in bottle over time, there is merit in pinot noir ranging from the rather austere, delicate reds from Sancerre to the robust, ripe reds from the Russian River Valley.
As in his earlier books, Lewin likes to play provocateur, and this book may hit some of your hot buttons on issues like extraction, elevated alcohol levels, chaptalization and so on. Some may find the book's considerable emphasis on the wines of DRC and Leroy as the highest and best expression of Burgundian pinot noir a bit off-putting - these wines represent an extreme of style, scarcity and price that can hardly be deemed representative of red Burgundy wine as a whole. However, all in all, if you are someone interested in pinot noir, you will find a lot of information, a lot here that will generate more thought and discussion. This is not a book for beginners - but for those who are already knee deep in pinot noir, it will be an interesting and informative read.