There was a lot of love for Pinot Noir on Twitter last week with the hashtag #PinotSmackdown earning a lot of awareness for the grape in the Twitter World and creating a bit of buzz around the Majestic stores. Ruari from Majestic Livingston takes a look at what makes Pinot Noir great…
In the 2004 motion picture Sideways, the protagonist Miles Raymond (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) derided a certain grape variety associated with the right bank of Bordeaux as something simplistic and boring. I happen to disagree, but while he stomped merrily on Merlot, he lavished another with praise: Pinot Noir. On that point, at least, he and I are agreed.
Pinot Noir makes its traditional home in Burgundy, where when treated well it produces wines of great complexity, elegance, and finesse. Treated indifferently, it produces simple wines of raspberry and red cherry character with occasionally mouth-puckering acidity. Knowing what you’re doing, and doing it in the right climate, is essential to getting this glorious noble grape to perform at its best. It’s picky about where it can grow, needing cool climates to produce quality wine. Once you taste good Red Burgundy, you can understand why many winemakers want to try their hand at Pinot Noir, however, there is a danger that if you don’t have the right conditions, it’s very easy for Pinot Noir to go from silky seductress to baked jammy tart.
Therein lies the rub. In hot climates, Pinot Noir creates high-alcohol, baked wines that taste not unlike mixed berry jam, only with a significant heat at the back of your mouth. In moderate to cool climates, however, it produces wines of great delicacy and elegance. The best are pale in colour; while extended skin contact can extract more colour and ripe deep flavour in youth, Pinot Noir actually ages more like a white wine. Those bitter tannins that make a Cabernet Sauvignon so age worthy are death to Pinot Noir, which ages on acidity. Not that more heavily extracted Pinots aren’t exceptionally good wines, in fact, in youth their unctuous flavours make them more approachable and fullsome than the lighter, higher acid styles, which although fresh and bright when young, can be a little on the racy side.
Fortunately, Pinot Noir has a few places it can now call its ‘home-away-from-home’. Carneros and Sonoma in California, Walker Bay in South Africa, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in Australia, and some true star performers, Martinborough and Central Otago in New Zealand. Of these, Mornington Peninsula, Central Otago and Martinborough are producing wines which will be giving Burgundian winemakers and negociants pause. It’s an exciting time for Pinot lovers, where once Burgundy was the only place for serious Pinot Noir, New World winemakers are starting to show that they have the terroir, and skill, to make magic in a glass.
Our Pick of the Pinots
Arguably one of the most exciting bottles in the shop. Full of complex, bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cherry with spice and damson and supple tannins, the acidity is there and this wine should develop into a remarkable elegant, complex wine of great finesse. Buy it now and hide it in a cool dark place for a few years. You won’t regret it.
I was fortunate enough to taste this wine at a recent head-office course, and it is a magnificent example of good quality Burgundy. Pale ruby garnet in colour with a complex nose of damson, red fruits, violets, figs, cloves and porcini mushroom, with a soft and delicate palate revealing a structure that suggests this has plenty of time to go.
2007 was hailed as an incredible vintage; cool weather and an ‘Indian summer’ gave great fruit intensity and vibrant acidity. Saintsbury’s Carneros Pinot Noir is an example of the more extracted, rich, ripe Pinots with weighted texture and spicy red-fruit as well as tobacco and coffee characteristics. This is drinking very well now and is a great partner to duck or game dishes.
Bright ruby in colour, with plenty of raspberry and plum with vanilla spice and some toasted notes. This little number has the fruit to enjoy now, but will reward a few years cellaring.
This Pinot Noir from excellent producer Quartz Reef is perfumed and aromatic, with really velvet spice notes layered over an array of red fruit, plum, violet and damson notes, with a vibrant character that belies its richness. This is a bit of a seductress, and is gorgeous right now, but easily has the structure to go another five or six years if you’re of a mind to let it.
There’s a smoky note to this Pinot which I think will intensify with age, and it has plenty of plum, redcurrant and strawberry notes as well. Quite deep and warming from 12 months spent in French oak, this is great tasting now and should develop nicely if kept.
As ever, if you’d like to know more, pop in and see Ruari and the team in Livingston and go on over to the tasting counter and have a chat.
If you can’t find any of these wines on our website, check with your local store for availability.