Varie-tales Pinot Noir: It's just right
Nothing worth having comes easy. Apparently, Theodore Roosevelt was teetotal, though he did enjoy an occasional light wine, and judging by his love of hard work for good things, we think it’s safe to assume that the occasional light wine was probably pinot noir. To set the record straight, it’s not easy to make great pinot noir. But when you find a bottle that gets everything right, it can be really, really good.
What’s the story in all its glory?
Pinot Noir is one of the older Noble grape varieties. It’s been around since Roman times, and for the people who knew how to use it, it’s been making great wine since then. It’s not the most common grape (although, it’s the 10th most planted grape in the world) but that’s because it can be a bit fussy.
Pinot Noir ripens early. Early ripening means early wine, right? No, you hopeful fool, it doesn’t. What it means is that it can grow successfully in cooler climates, but if you plant it somewhere hot, it ripens faster than it can develop anything interesting in terms of personality, and it comes out a bit of a jammy dud. So, climate is key, as is soil, aspect and a load of other things. But even in Burgundy, where you've got a cooler climate and some of the best pinot noirs are made, not every vineyard can make excellent pinot. There’s so much to it. When you find something that’s from the right place, and the winemaker is as dedicated to delicious wine as you are, there will be a very special wine waiting for you to pop the cork.
Usually found in two forms, pinot noir is predominately a still, red wine but can also play a large role in the production of traditional method sparkling wine (e.g. Champagne). As a still red, it’s almost never really blended, is light in body and is all about incredible (and sometimes complex) flavours. Pinot has the ability in its youth to show bright, fruit characters but also can go on to show earthy, herbal and almost savoury characters as it ages. You won’t find loads of tannins, so it’s a brilliant sipping wine and because of its flirtatious personality, it goes with a lot of different foods (and that can even include Oreos).
In bubble form, it can be a solid partner to chardonnay and pinot meunier, or a standout champion on its own (Google: Bollinger PN VZ15 – très interesting).
What should you be looking out for?
Like real estate, pinot noir is all about location, location, location. So, you need to know a couple of things when looking for a good bottle.
We know you’re not a geographer. You’re here for drinking wine, not finding it on a map. But it’s good to have an idea of cooler climates if you’re on a p-noir hunt. Burgundy, Germany, California, New Zealand and parts of Australia have just the right amount of the good stuff to tempt this humble grape into getting its sexy on. Knowing these pinot noir hot (err... cool) spots will help you find the gem in the red section of the shop.
Now for the money. You shouldn’t pay a fortune for a good bottle of wine, but because Pinot Noir can be a challenging grape and getting the most from it takes a little extra something from a great winemaker, the really good stuff can cost a little more than a standard syrah or cabernet. It’s worth knowing that really expensive pinot noir is usually expensive because the truly exceptional wines are produced in such small quantities (supply vs. demand). When you’re driving through Burgundy on the Route des Grands Crus, you can have a domaine on one side of the road producing €10 bottles of pinot noir and on the other side you’ve got domaines producing €1,000 bottles of Pinot Noir. The money can be nuts.
The question remains, “is it worth spending just a tiny bit extra on your day-to-day pinot?” The answer is categorically: yes. Pinot Noir is unique, and the hard work is done for you, so all you must do is enjoy the rewards of the bottle. Thankfully you don’t need to drop anywhere near £1,000 to find something delicious – so pinot noir can still be an everyday treat.
What’s it good with?
We could write something shorter by asking what it isn’t good with. Pinot Noir is what wine with food is all about. It’s great with pork, lamb, beef and chicken. It’s the best thing to happen to duck since pancakes and cucumber. If you’re of the vegan persuasion, it’s brilliant with root vegetables like sweet potato, as well as mushroom risottos and green salads. If you’re heading to someone’s house for dinner (eventually, maybe in June, fingers crossed) and you’re not sure what they’re serving, take pinot noir. You’ll look like a sommelier, and even if the food is rubbish, the wine is great all by itself.
What are the best examples?
We have some absolutely dreamy favourites at Vintner