Ever had a disappointing Pinot Noir and wondered what all the fuss was about? Was it like alcoholic strawberry jam perhaps? Or thin and a bit “off”? Yet some people go into ecstasies about the variety…The thing is Pinot Noir is prone to every problem under the sun: rot can eat its way through the
tightly-packed clusters of little thin-skinned grapes, while a spell of warm weather can make the grapes over-ripen in the blink of an eye, resulting in a flabby, high-alcohol wine. And, even if the grapes are perfect, a million things can go wrong during the winemaking.
In short, this is a temperamental grape which makes life difficult for grape-growers and winemakers alike, so you might wonder why wineries persist at all with Pinot Noir when there are much more straightforward grapes out there. The answer lies in those elusive Pinot Noirs that seduce the senses. At its best, this is a variety that really wows.
It’s not an easy grape to pin down. Pinot Noir is said to be good at expressing terroir, so the taste varies a lot depending on where it comes from. Also it’s an old variety and genetically unstable, so the grapes don’t always turn out how you expect. Add to that the fact that there are 50 permitted clones in France alone – each designed to produce a different result – and you can see why there is so much variation between one Pinot Noir and another.
So what can you expect from a Pinot Noir wine? Usually it is easy to drink, pleasantly fruity and food-friendly, though sometimes it is quite simple and others very complex. Because it is thin-skinned, it has lower levels of tannins and less colour than other red wines – try comparing a glass of Pinot Noir with another of Syrah and you’ll see the difference straight away.
Aromas and flavours can include red fruit like strawberries – which can be fresh and refreshing or a bit jammy and, when the wine has aged, it can develop aromas of meat, mushrooms, leather and damp leaves. If the winemaker has used a lot of wood, then it may have aromas and flavours of spices, like cinnamon or vanilla.
The most famous Pinot Noirs – and the most expensive wines in the world – are from Burgundy in France. However, some New World countries, especially New Zealand and the United States, are producing world-class Pinot Noirs.
What’s been your experience with Pinot Noir? Do you love it or hate it? Do you have a favourite?
Here in Chile our tasting panel decided to try two highly rated Chilean Pinot Noirs against two from Burgundy and one entry-level wine from California. Sadly we were unable to source any New Zealand Pinot Noir anywhere in Chile.
This was by far the most expensive wine in our tasting. It was pale ruby in colour with garnet hues. The nose was hard to define, but opened up eventually and I would recommend opening this wine well in advance of tasting it. After much discussion we identified red fruit, like strawberries, meaty notes and a floral touch. This was a dry, light-bodied wine with medium acidity, very pleasant and food-friendly.
Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Mendocino County, California, USA, 2011
This was the cheapest wine in our tasting and the only mass-produced example. Pale garnet in colour. The nose was predominated by cooked red fruit aromas (quince jam and tinned strawberries). A medium, easy-drinking wine.
Domaine Regis Bouvier, Les Longeroies Vieilles Vignes, Marsannay, Burgundy 2011
Ruby-coloured wine with garnet hues. The nose was subtle with red fruit, floral notes and a herbal touch. In the mouth, it was dry, with fine-grained, slightly green tannins, medium acidity and red fruit, such as cranberries.
Tobiano, Kingston Family Vineyards, Casablanca Valley, Chile, 2010
This wine revealed lots of upfront ripe red fruit (cherry, blackcurrant cordial) and some spice (cinnamon) on the nose. It had refreshing high acidity, medium tannins and lashings for fruit and spice again in the mouth. Long finish. A lovely, fruity, moreish red.
Tabalí Talinay, Limarí Valley, Chile, 2013
We selected this wine as Talinay came joint best Pinot Noir (together with Ventisquero’s Tara) in the 2016 version of the annual Chilean tasting panel Descorchados. It was medium garnet in colour. The nose was complex but much less subtle than the Burgundian wines, with both red fruit and minerals very apparent. In the mouth, this was a dry wine which scored medium (+) for acidity, tannins, alcohol, body and finish. This is a more austere wine than the joyous Kingston Tobiano, with tense minerality and red fruit again apparent in the mouth.