Wine: Around the world in eighty pinot noirs
PUBLISHED: 14:01 07 February 2016
Liz Sagues explores some of the best fruits of this ‘capricious and extremely variable vine’ from around the globe.
Much of the last month has been a happy time for London-based lovers of one of the world’s icon wine styles, as the 2014 burgundies were previewed to consumers, trade and press. The vintage is a great one, the white wines deservedly acclaimed and the reds classically, seductively lovely.
But while red burgundy is the quintessential expression of the pinot noir grape, Burgundy is far from the only place where this “capricious and extremely variable vine” (Jancis Robinson’s words, not mine) produces delicious results. Let’s toss a pebble into that pool of wine and see how far the rings expand.
There’s a concentration close to the burgundian centre, from Sancerre and further points along the river Loire, Alsace and smaller players Jura and Savoie. Loads is planted in Champagne, too, but most goes into blanc de noirs fizz.
Pinot noir does best when temperatures don’t soar sky high, so southern France is generally dodgy ground – one exception is hilly Limoux. The Germans are serious lovers of the grape, and all through eastern Europe there’s pinot a-plenty. It’s probably Switzerland’s most-planted vine, and there are places in northern Italy and even in Spain where the results are excellent.
Beyond Europe, there’s lots happening. Except at some of the highest price levels California often produces too-jammy wines for my taste, but there are temptations from cooler parts of the States - Oregon, Washington State, New York’s Finger Lakes, Virginia – and Canada. Parts of Australia and South Africa have some pinot stars, and Chile is doing increasingly good things at appealing prices.
And, of course, there’s New Zealand, with much (often well-grounded) hype over what is actually a very little-planted grape, compared to the great plains of sauvignon blanc. It was a Kiwi initiative which prompted this column: Nikolai St George, then head winemaker at Matua, ran a comparative blind tasting in London of his company’s wines against a world line-up. My favourites? A smart burgundy and a burgundy-style Tasmanian.
So here’s a quick “pinot from elsewhere” tour, bottles that represent good value, whatever their price level. They’re all fragrant, expressive, lighter-style wines that match a lot of different foods; elegance, complexity and style generally increase as cost rises.
Wines where pinot noir’s the star
From just north of the classic burgundy vineyards: Simonnet-Febvre Irancy 2012 (Marks & Spencer, £14). Sancerre: biodynamic grower Alphonse Mellot’s La Moussière 2012 (millesima.co.uk, £22.50); Vincent Pinard 2013 (also Millesima, £18.33); André Dézat 2013-4 (tanners-wines.co.uk, slurp.co.uk £14.40-£15). Other Loire pinots: Denis Jamain Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2013 (laywheeler.com, £10.26); La Grille 2013 (Majestic, £7 - mix six bottles).
Limoux: Jacques Dépagneux 2011 (thewinesociety.com, £5.75). Germany: Villa Wolf 2014 (Oddbins, £12). Spain: Torres Mas Borràs 2010 (farehamwinecellar.co.uk, £21).
Chile: Errazuriz Estate Series 2014 (Majestic, £7 mix-six) and Aconcagua Costa 2014 (stonevine.co.uk, £15). In New Zealand, you’re spoiled for choice but Villa Maria Cellar Selection (widely available, £15) is a sound start.
Finally, thinking ahead to February 14, let me propose two intriguing (non-pinot) alternatives to conventional romantic sparkling wines: Santa Digna Estelado Rosé (farehamwinecellar.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk, £12), from Torres Chile, a very appealing Fairtrade pink proving
that quality wine can be made from the humble país grape; Bouvet Rubis (Majestic, £10 mix-six) robustly red, a touch of sweetness balancing the gentle Loire cabernet franc tannins.