Pinot Noir: From Burgundy – and beyond

| February 12, 2012 | 0 Comments

Pinot Noir can provide one of the greatest experiences a wine drinker can have. Young wines entice with aromatics and flavours of cherry, plums and violets. As Pinot matures, the wines grow more savoury and aspects of mushroom, earth and game evolve. On the palate, the texture is extraordinary. This is a red wine which doesn’t rely upon alcoholic power and weight to succeed and its elegance and haunting beauty are beyond many grape varietals.

Pieter Van den Weghe

Pieter Van den Weghe

But, there is a rub. Quite a few, in fact.
Pinot Noir is fickle and maddeningly inconsistent. When compared to other red varietals, the disparity between the highs and lows in quality is staggering. Even in Burgundy, Pinot Noir’s home and zenith, there are no guarantees. Part of this is due to Pinot Noir’s lack of genetic stability and its resulting tendency to mutate. In Burgundy, where the grape is thought to have been grown since at least the 4th Century, there are more than 1,000 types of Pinot Noir. While all of these clones exhibit similar qualities, they differ in many respects. Some do not produce quality fruit and many prefer different soils and climates. In the vineyards, for reasons of convenience and economy, many growers in Burgundy and elsewhere have given into the temptation of planting clones which require less maintenance and provide larger yields. Unfortunately, the resulting wines have not contributed to Pinot Noir’s positive reputation.
Pinot Noir also costs more to produce and sell. Yields of fruit must be kept low for good-quality wine. The vines are highly susceptible to mildew, rot and disease. They tend to die young and many plants stop producing wine-worthy fruit after three decades. All of these factors contribute to higher prices. While it may be easy to find a $12 bottle of reasonably good and identifiable Cabernet Sauvignon, $12 will not cut it for the same level of quality in a Pinot.
Lastly, Pinot Noir is also not a good traveler. Though it has been planted far and wide throughout Europe and beyond, it wasn’t happy about it. For a long time, only a few tolerable expressions of Pinot were produced outside of Burgundy. Then, something changed. Growers started to select clones more appropriate for their environments. They experimented in the vineyard and the winery. Over time, certain regions such as California, Oregon and New Zealand began to succeed with this temperamental grape and established their own reputations for crafting perfect Pinot Noir. The resulting wines are delicious, and, while some critics state they may never be Burgundy at its very best, neither is much of Burgundy.
This trend of compelling Pinots from new places is continuing. More and more regions, typically with cooler and more marginal climates, are contributing a new facet to Pinot Noir. What follows are three such distinctive Pinots.
First, we have a fun one from Italy’s northern province of Alto Adige. It’s a 2010 Pinot Nero produced by Colterenzio. This wine is light to medium-bodied and has loads of joyful cherry flavour. The structure’s elegant and fresh and there’s a note of an earthy minerality on the finish. With excellent food pairing capabilities, this Pinot is great value at $22. Purchase and home delivery in Ontario of this charming wine is available through the Stem Wine Group (www.stemwinegroup.com).
For a far more Burgundian expression of Pinot Noir, we go to wine produced by one of my favourite Canadian wineries, Five Rows. The winery is located in Niagara’s St. David’s Bench VQA sub-appellation and is operated by the Lowrey family, who have farmed the area for five generations. The current generations, Howard and Wilma Lowrey and their son, Wes, produce some of Canada’s most compelling wines. Despite the challenging vintage providing many nervous moments and demanding much vineyard work, their 2008 Pinot Noir is a delicious combination of bright cherry and black raspberry aromas and favours with notes of floral, vanilla bean and spice. Only 106 cases were made, and, while this wine will not appear in the LCBO system, it is available from the winery (www.fiverows.com) for $50 a bottle.
Next is a Pinot Noir from an unexpected place. It’s the Laura Catena’s 2009 “Luca” Pinot Noir from Argentina. While there are very good Pinots emerging from Patagonia in Argentina’s south, this wine comes from Mendoza’s Uco Valley. The grapes are sourced from a dessert vineyard which is at an altitude of more than 1,400 metres. The location provides lots of sunshine and very cool nights. Enticing aromas of cherry, spice and smoke lead to a silky and complex palate. This beautiful Pinot is available from Vintages for $28 (CSPC#175570).
Even when the producers and regions are familiar, selecting a bottle of Pinot Noir is often similar to playing Russian roulette. However, the three suggested wines can point you in the right direction.

 

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Category: Delights

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Pieter Van den Weghe is general manager and wine director at Beckta dining & wine.

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