The 2010 grape harvest is officially underway. In some cases two to three weeks late. According to the Press Democrat, Hunter Vineyards near Glen Ellen was on schedule to start picking Pinot Noir yesterday, and Mumm in Napa reported starting to pick in the cool, pre-dawn hours this morning.
But not all of the grapes being harvested across the state in the next few months will wind up in wine, as I was reminded at the Hollywood Farmers' Market on Sunday. Piled between peaches and pluots were delicate clusters of Pinot Noir grapes. (There were also the deceptively named "Champagne" grapes, which are actually Corinth grapes, the source for currants and not grapes used for production of Champagne or any other sparkling wine for that matter.) Each violet-black Pinot Noir berry, the size of a large English pea, held in it all of the subtle flavors that make wines, be they still or sparkling, made from Pinot Noir among the world's favorites. All they needed was a little fermentation to tease out the individual notes.
Or did they?
There weren't enough grapes at the farmers's market to experiment with a little home winemaking. But just because they were wine grapes didn't mean the only thing they were good for was wine. I popped a few berries in my mouth and was wowed by the sweet lavender notes that lingered like trails of perfume. There were faint nuances of cherry, cranberry and blueberry too, and the grapes were slightly tannic but not overpowering, with refreshing acidity. Then I started thinking: I've made ice cream out of sweet corn and sorbet out of epazote (the Mexican herb usually reserved for black and pinto beans) and grapefruit, so why not Pinot Noir grapes?
And what do you do with Pinot Noir Sorbeto? It would make a lovely intermezzo between a rich pasta course, like tagliatelle with sweet corn pesto, and rosemary chicken, or as a light and refreshing dessert. Or how about as an aperitif at your next dinner party? Try a small scoop in a flute topped with your favorite blanc de noir (mine is the Fleury "Carte Rouge" Brut Champange) and experience Pinot Noir in all its iterations .
Pinot Noir-Lavender Sorbeto
yields one pint
12 ounces de-stemmed Pinot Noir grapes (approx 1 1/4 pounds on the vine)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp citric acid
3-4 springs lavender leaves, crushed
In a large container crush the Pinot Noir grapes with your hands. Let grapes sit n the skins for 30 minutes to extract some color (too long and you'll start extracting tannins from the skins and pips, which doesn't make for tasty sorbet).
While the grapes are soaking, mix the sugar, water and citric acid in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Throw in the lavender sprigs. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Then transfer to a glass container to cool.
When the simple syrup is cooled, drain off the grape juice, then press the grapes into a sieve to get every last drop of liquid out and combine with the lavender simple syrup. Chill overnight and freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.