Sri Lanka

Putting the “Noir” in Black

Pinot Noir – meaning “pine black” in French – is a type of grape closely associated with the Burgundy region of France. It also has the claim to fame of being a very ancient grape, only a couple of strains removed from Vitis sylvestris. (I.e. Pinot is to it what dogs are to wolves.) As everyone knows, it is typically used in the production of a very burly red wine. It’s tough to grow but great to drink.

I, personally, don’t care for the stuff, opting instead for its equally burly (but less tannic) Italian cousin, Sangiovese. However, there is one thing that grabs my attention, and it’s anything that has been flavored with Pinot. I have no clue why this is, it just grabs my fancy. Case in point: I once tried a stout ale that’d been aged in a Pinot Noir barrel. The drink took on all the characteristics one loved in red wine…without any of the negatives. That and there was the flavor of the main ingredient.

So, you can imagine my glee when I found out – from the owner, no less – that Smith Teamaker was playing around with a Pinot Noir barrel-aged black tea. The kind folks at Adalsheim Vineyard in Oregon’s Pinot-rich Dundee/Newberg area gifted my favorite tea op with a just-used barrel for just such an experiment. To date, I had tried three of Smith’s alcohol-scented tea experiments. All were one shade of wonderful or another – my fave being their whiskey Ceylon – and I hoped this one was worthy of the pantheon.

Aside from the touted wine barrel, the leaves used were from the Dimbulla and Uva regions of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Some Nuwara Eliya was also sprinkled in for good measure, but their presence was minor. I’m guessing Smith was aiming for a darker black tea with a floral character that could go toe-to-toe with the winy residuals.

The leaves were long-cut, twisty, dirt-brown to soot-black with an occasional golden piece that made its way into the fray. The aroma was all grape. I can’t think off the top of my head what Pinot Noir smells like –  other than berry-flavored battery acid – but the batch certainly had the grape thing down pat.

There were no set brewing instructions for this, given that it was an experimental batch at best, but I figured a typical black tea approach was in order. I used 1 tsp of leaves in 8oz. of boiled water, steeped for four minutes. Usually, I would only go three, but I wanted to get all the bang out of the barreled beauty.

The liquor brewed gold-ringed amber with a nose that betrayed no subtlety. It was a bold, somewhat sour, very grapy wine front with an after-whiff of flowers. That same impression showed through in the taste with a front that was dominated with winy notes – like a tongue touched by crimson – and was immediately followed up by the mid-malt and floral impression of the Ceylon base. As far as delivery mechanisms went, the use of a Ceylon as opposed to an Assam or a Keemun might’ve been the right one. No kidding aside, this was a wine fancier’s “hair of the dog” without any of the headache or inebriation.

Without exaggeration, this was their best alcohol-scented “teaxperiment” to date. While I enjoyed the whiskey and gin tryouts that preceded it, this was the one with the strongest liquor impression. This is the perfect morning cup for a Pinot-drenched palate. Now, maybe if I beg enough, I could get them to do a Sangiovese barrel-aged Keemun Hao Ya. Guan Yin willing…it’ll happen.

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Thursday, November 17th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

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