What to drink…
This month, Master of Wine Richard Hemming examines the Pinot Noir grape variety
Searching for great Pinot Noir can sometimes feel like hunting the Snark – an ultimately futile exercise. The trouble is that the variety is very tricky to grow. It has a thin skin making it prone to disease, yields are usually very low, and it requires a long cool season to ripen properly.
Thankfully, the Burgundy region of France is ideally suited to provide the right conditions – although the quality of vintages can vary dramatically. At its best, red burgundy can be truly sublime, but is usually in high demand and short supply. That results in some eye-wateringly high prices, with the top examples reaching hundreds if not thousands of pounds per bottle.
There are some outposts of Pinot Noir elsewhere in the country, however. In Sancerre, they make a little red and rosé from the variety, though it is rarely great value for money. Alsace produces some very light examples that can achieve greatness, while the Champagne region grows loads of Pinot Noir as part of the blend for its famous fizz.
Stylistically, Pinot Noir has several distinguishing features. It tends to be translucent ruby or garnet in colour, with light body, bright acidity and very soft tannin – it’s pretty much the polar opposite of something like Cabernet Sauvignon. In terms of flavour, expect red fruits such as cherry, cranberry, strawberry, often accompanied by green herby notes and sometimes a hint of truffle oil.
Cave St-Verny, Pinot Noir 2014 IGP Puyde-Dôme (£9.95 leaandsandeman.co.uk, southdownscellars.co.uk) This Pinot Noir is one of the best-kept secrets in the whole world of wine. It displays all the characteristics that make the variety so popular – pale ruby colour, ripe strawberry fruit with a complementary herbal scent, fresh acidity and soft tannin – with a degree of purity and concentration that is rarely found for below £10 per bottle. A must-try!
Domaine de Cabrials Pinot Noir 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc (£10 ewwines.co.uk) The warm Languedoc region is not the most obvious origin for quality Pinot Noir, which generally prefers cooler climates. This example from Domaine de Cabrials certainly has a bit more body than most classic French Pinot Noirs, but it retains the textbook red fruit, light tannin and crisp finish of the variety.
Maison Roche de Bellene, Vieilles Vignes Pinot Noir 2014 Bourgogne (£16.99 laithwaites.co.uk, £17.50 oddbins.com) Classic red burgundy doesn’t come cheap – but it is totally worth the premium for a good one. Maison Roche de Bellene is a very reliable name in the region, and their bourgogne rouge comes from vines that are at least 50 years old. The theory goes that older vines produce more concentrated and complex wines – and its enchanting raspberry fruit with hints of menthol and herbs certainly delivers.