Around the world in 80 bottles of pinot noir
- Credit: Matt Donovan
One wine grape is inextricably linked to place: pinot noir to Burgundy. Maybe California or New Zealand might come to mind as alternative locations, though way behind classical France. But let's go on a tour of other countries where very fine wines can be made from this tricky-to-grow but so rewarding grape.
First stop is cool, sea-breezy Tasmania – it was samples of six splendid pinots for a Zoom tasting that inspired this article. Much of the western half of the island is inhospitable to vines ("too bloody cold", said one winemaker succinctly), so they are concentrated in small parts of the north and east, mostly close to the coast. Plantings began on a serious scale only in the 1980s, but have soared in the last 30 years.
Where conditions are kind, the combination of varied, often extremely ancient soils and a long growing season – plus viticultural skill – results in wines of great purity and elegance, pinot noir and fizz especially. Sadly for consumers, they comprise only one per cent of Australia's output.
Wine Tasmania's tasting samples came from three of the seven recognised vineyard regions, but regionality isn't relevant yet for the island's wines, the presenting winemakers agreed. More, they reflect individual estates and the people running them – all in a very flattering way. Balanced, aromatic, pure-fruited, pretty, serious, long, even yum were adjectives that appeared often in my notes. What else can you ask from pinot noir?
They're not mainstream wines, nor bargain basement – almost all top £20 – but they are well worth seeking out. Stockists offering at least two include vinvm.co.uk, nywines.co.uk (both these stock my favourite, Dalrymple), thevinorium.co.uk, highburyvintners.co.uk, majestic.co.uk, winedirect.co.uk, or try your favourite independent merchant.
A choppy journey across the Bass Strait from Tasmania brings pinot lovers to one of main-island Australia's coolest regions, Mornington Peninsula, home of more light and lovely expressions of the grape – one example is recommended elsewhere on this page.
Fly home to England, where pinot noir rivals chardonnay as the most planted grape in our burgeoning vineyards. Most is intended for sparkling wines, but graceful still examples are increasing thanks to recent warm vintages. Again, expect prettiness more than power.
But similarly stylish pinot from the south of France? Yes, from the cool hills of Limoux, in the Pyrenean foothills south of Carcassonne. I’ve enjoyed past examples, and a happy new discovery, with the purest red fruit, is Hors Pistes (£15, Jeroboams), from innovative duo Aubert et Mathieu who are developing a modern, eco-friendly range from the best terroirs of Languedoc-Roussillon. Not so place-limited a grape, after all.