Often branded a fickle grape. The difficult one. The mercurial or mysterious one. The seductive wine. Pinot Noir has beguiled people for generations. With over 1,000 registered clones it’s one of the most diverse families of grapes and has given us a range of wines we love and enjoy around the world.
The ultimate Pinot Noir lovers wine is usually a Grand Cru Burgundy from Cote d’Or, literally translated as the Golden Coast. The spiritual and ancestral home of the grape has been perfecting its cultivation and winemaking style for centuries, even millennia. Unfortunately, for those of us entering the wine world in 2000s and getting to know Pinot these days is not an easy proposition. Especially, as some of the wines are simply not affordable for an average consumer and the majority are special occasion wines at best, even the cheapest examples. The price has simply skyrocketed with tiny production, being in vogue with deep pocket investors and new minted millionaires alike. Arguably the best Pinot Noir on the planet, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, is released at about AUD6,000 but the current vintage is available for purchase in the secondary market for upwards of a cool AUD26,000, if you can even find a bottle.
Luckily for us, there’s a couple of other regions that are making amazing Pinot Noir while usually stylistically different. And that’s not a bad thing. I don’t want a reproduction Burgundy from Australia or America. I want the best example of what Pinot Noir can do in the region it is grown and produced. Some of my favourite regions around the world are: Alsace, Arh, Baden, Tasmania, Geelong, Canberra region, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Central Otago, Martinborough, Marlborough, Aconcagua, Casablanca, Oregon, Carneros, Monterrey and Washington, in no particular order. Within those it’s the individual producers and styles that I look for, but also by feeling. If I want something light and fun, with maybe some playful character I might look for a natural producer from Adelaide Hills or if I want something super rich I will look for a Central Otago bottling, and for a more savoury and ethereal wine I might try and hunt down a bottle from Oregon. At the end of the day, the variety currently on offer is staggering and simply fabulous for a wine drinker.
Flavours are more dependent on style, with lighter wines tending to be fragrant and crisp dominated by cherry, strawberry and fresh fruity aromas. Medium bodied styles will see more vibrant raspberry, plum, violets to beetroot and rhubarb notes. The fuller bodied styles will tend to dark cherries and stewed plums, with earthy spice notes. The defining feature of Pinot Noir is its fresh, stimulating acidity and silky tannins. The best Pinot Noirs are perfumed and complex, while being delicate and fresh with amazing length of flavour and the tannins that caress the tongue. With age, the wines only get better retaining freshness and vibrancy, retaining their notable core of fruit sweetness, gaining complexity and becoming even more seductive.
The Pinot grape has been responsible for a number of wines we love: Chardonnay, Aligote, Auxerrois, Gamay Noir (5 of 21 naturally occurring crossings of Pinot Noir x Gouais Blanc, what is historically considered a boring French variety, over time), Pinot Gris (a bronze skin mutation), Pinot Blanc (a green skin mutation), Pinot Meunier (a black grape mutation with a little white hairs on leaves), Pinot Teinturier (flesh colour mutation) and the somewhat controversial Pinotage of South Africa (Pinot Noir x Cinsault). (Ref: Wine Grapes by Jose Vouillamoz, Jancis Robinson.)