Published on July 22, 2018

Tim Worth – July 2018

This hot, hot summer, I recommend escaping into the shade and indulging in a glass or two of the most alluring of all red wines – Pinot Noir. But only if you know what you’re getting into! Of all the grape varieties used to make wine, Pinot Noir is by far the most annoying. Its temperamental nature frustrates winegrowers and wine drinkers alike but the quest for Pinot perfection goes on. Why? Because when it all comes together there’s really nothing else like it.

Pinot Noir is the most feminine of all red wine grapes and at its best possesses an unparalleled seductiveness. These wines are all about silky textures and subtle complexities and are guaranteed to warm a sensualist’s heart. Unfortunately, the path to perfect Pinot is strewn with disappointment and for every sublime example there are many more let–downs. To understand why, you only need speak to any grower of the grape. They’ll tell you, often in expletive–laden terms, what a nightmare it is to grow. Its thin skin makes it highly prone to disease, it needs ‘just so’ weather conditions to ripen successfully and will only deign to grow in certain soils. Truly, the grape is a femme fatale – irresistibly attractive but difficult, dangerous and frequently disastrous. If you’re looking for a wine that’s truly ‘romantic’ look no further than Pinot Noir but be warned – good Pinot doesn’t come cheap and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.

Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, is the area that has, thus far, come closest to taming Pinot Noir. Here, in its spiritual home, the grape thrives in the coolish climate and delivers of its best. When young, the wines are characterised by deliciously sweet and vibrant fruit flavours such as squashed raspberries, sun-warmed strawberries and cherry fruit. The wines have a natural mouth–watering acidity which makes them fine accompaniments to rich fish dishes or chicken. As the wines age things get really interesting and they take on aromas far removed from mere fruit, such as game, truffles and rotten vegetables. At this stage the wines are often described as ‘farmyardy’ and are ideal partners to feathered game or runny smelly cheeses such as the Burgundian classics, Vacherin and Epoisses. Therefore, the best time to drink wines made from Pinot Noir is really a question of personal taste as even the best examples are approachable when young. And just think of all the Pinot drinking you’ll need to do to discover your personal preference. ‘Research’ doesn’t get better than this!

Historically, the fussy Pinot Noir hasn’t travelled well from France and while there are exciting areas in which it is being cultivated these are still in their infancy. These include cool climates areas such as Patagonia in Argentina and Oregon in the USA. However, the area where most Pinot lovers hopes are invested is Otago, on the Southern Island of New Zealand, which is beginning to produce genuinely world–class wines in one of the planet’s most beautiful and extreme outposts.

Speaking of world–class wines, it would be remiss of me not to mention the huge part that Pinot Noir plays in the Champagne region. Here, it can be blended with fellow grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to produce the classic Champagne cuvee or it can be found taking the starring role in ‘Blanc de Noirs’ Champagne. Whilst ‘Blanc de Noirs’ seems, at first sight, an impossibility – black grapes making white wine – it’s achievable because all grape juice is white and, with great delicacy and finesse, pure white juice can be extracted from the blackest of grapes. But why bother with such a fiddly task when Blanc de Blancs Champagne is so delicious? Well, devotion is the deal when it comes to Pinot Noir.