Wines of the week: Nine perfect pinots from anywhere but Burgundy
Terry Kirby rounds up a selection of pinot noirs that represent the grape’s fullest expression outside the corner of the world that made it famous
“It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention. And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavours, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”
Such is the homage to pinot noir from Miles, the wine buff, in the 2004 comedy film Sideways, credited at the time with a massive boost to sales of pinot (and a decline in merlot; although that was to misunderstand the context of a critical quote, but that’s another column…)
It is, of course, the grape of Burgundy, one of those tucked away little corners that was almost wholly responsible for its worldwide reputation, based on some of the greatest wines ever made and established long before Sideways. But, there are other little corners – always in cooler climate zones – where pinot noir also thrives and makes wines which embody the same style and class and those subtle and thrilling flavours. And these are also wines suitable for spring and warmer weather drinking.
Sideways was set in California, so that’s our first stop, where Pacific breezes cool the coastal vineyards and where some of the best bespoke pinots can, like burgundy, command extraordinary prices. At a slightly more realistic level, the Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (£15.99 majestic.co.uk) is a good introduction to the style, where smoky, earth notes underpin bright, cherry-fruit flavours. Lovely with any duck or lighter roast meats.
But not all US pinot comes from California. Oregon, north of California, also on the Pacific coast, where serious winemaking only began in the 1960s, produces remarkably good pinot. Not a lot reaches these shores at sensible prices, but if you hunt around you might find remaining stocks of the lightly blueberry and raspberry inflected Underwood Pinot Noir 2016 (M&S £9.33; normally £14.00), an excellent discount which has unfortunately led to it selling out online. It needs a little light chilling and would be perfect with fish dishes like tuna or mackerel or anything involving mushrooms.
Alternatively, try the Wine Society’s bright, perfumed Lemelson Thea’s Selection Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015 (£21.00 thewinesociety.com); the Willamette Valley in Oregon being another one of those tucked away little corners.
Staying in the Americas, Chile is now also producing excellent pinot, such as the Kalfu Kuda 2017 (£12.99 frontierfinewines.co.uk; drinkfinder.co.uk) from the Leyda Valley, which has fragrant, soft red-fruit flavours, some spice and a fresh, crisp finish. Again, ideal with meaty fish, but also white meats, such as grilled pork or chicken or even a rare duck breast and also best served cool.
Over in New Zealand, the Marlborough region on the north coast of South Island not only produces some of the world’s most prized sauvignon blanc, they also achieve one of pinot noir’s, as Miles would say, fullest expressions outside Burgundy. Try the Greywacke Pinot Noir 2014 (£32.99 tauruswines.co.uk; £34.90 thenewzealandcellar.co.uk; £36.00 majestic.co.uk), a wonderful dinner party or special occasion treat, with perfumed, complex flavours of baked fruits and lighter, sweet spices like cloves and cinnamon. A wine to savour with fine foods.
The cool climate region of the Adelaide Hills in Australia also produces pinot noir wines which demonstrate the grape’s versatility, defying that reputation for site-specific difficulty. The Bird in the Hand Sparkling Pinot Noir 2017 (£11.99, until April 9; normally £15.99 waitrose.com; £15.50 tanners-wines.co.uk), which I recommended last year, is a reminder of why it’s a crucial element to champagne: a precise, very dry, finely tuned, elegant, lightly blushed sparkler that simply sings and dances on the palate and is ideal as a celebration wine or aperitif. And the same outfit has now also created the Bird on the Hand Rose 2016 (£10.95 slurp.co.uk; £14.25 frontierfinewines.co.uk), a crisp, refreshing watermelon and strawberry flavoured rose for summer, but order now...
Back in pinot’s home in Europe, Germany has long been overshadowed by Burgundy but produces excellent, light, spicy, refreshing reds such as the Spatburgunder Trocken 2015 Weingut Carl Koch (£16.00 robersonwine.com) from a boutique winery near the town of Oppenheim which might be overshadowed by more robust regional cuisine, but would be a lovely match for a veal escalope with fried potatoes.
And so to France, but not to Burgundy or Champagne, but the south and Languedoc, where pinot noir can thrive in corners such as the Limoux or in this exceptionally good wine from the Les Vignobles Foncelieu co-operative Le Versant Pinot Noir 2017 (£8.99 thedrinksbasket.com; £9.99 henningswine.co.uk). It’s juicy and full of bright, cherry-red flavours, with some underlying earthy notes; a great everyday wine for a bowl of pasta or some simply grilled chicken. Perfect pinot at a perfect price.