Picking the perfect Pinot Noir

  • Apr. 14, 2016 12:00 p.m.

Often as light as a rosé, Pinot Noir’s spiritual home is in France’s Burgundy. Sadly, good Burgundy doesn’t come cheap.

But that doesn’t mean that exploring the many alternative subtleties of Pinot Noir has to be overlooked, under-appreciated or just plain misunderstood.

There doesn’t seem to be a wine grape that does not flourish somewhere in California.  Preferring cooler growing conditions, Pinot Noir is arguably at its best in the Carneros and Rissian River Valley regions.  More affordable California Pinot Noir are grown in Monterey County and Sonoma County and harvested in the cool of the evening and early morning.

Straightforward and simply fruit forward and approachable in style, Mirassou Pinot Noir (366880) $12.00 has sweet and juicy fresh fruit flavors of pomegranates, cherries and currants with aromas of strawberries, pomegranates and cherries and light vanilla, caramel oak notes.

Cono Sur Organic Pinot Noir (77644) $13.70 from Chile is very much a “textbook” New World Pinot Noir – with that elusive scent of fresh cut beets over dark cherry and jammy strawberry flavours and that “tree bark” liquorice twist of fresh leathery tobacco leaf. Great sipped solo, this is also marvellous – like so many Pinot Noirs – with barbequed salmon, chicken and pork.

With its potentially and comparatively delicate layers of aroma and flavour from violets through berries and green vegetables and herbs into spices, leather, roasted meats and a mushroom and truffle kind of medley often described as “forest floor” – Pinot Noir is much more about subtlety than sheer power.

Grown in Languedoc, in the French southwest, Domaine Laroche Vin de Pays d’Oc Pinot Noir de la Chevalière (205534) $16.65 has the elegance we expect in French red wines.  Although it does not have the pedigree of more expensive Burgundy, this light dry red opens up with sweet notes of strawberry, dried cherries and dusty cranberry.

Exposed as “The Heartbreak Grape” in Marq de Villiers’ 1994 study, Pinot Noir has long been considered difficult to grow successfully and just as challenging to turn into fine wine. Recent developments in “New World” vineyards seem to be upsetting that notion with tasty wines from Chile, California, Australia, South Africa, Oregon and British Columbia.

Our own B.C. winemakers are working with ripe fruit in a variety of different microclimates. The slight differences in ‘terroir’ are amplified by decisions winemakers make both in the vineyard – which strains or clones they choose to plant – and in the winery – with choices about natural ‘hot’ or controlled ‘cool’ fermentation and a wide selection of techniques and choices in oak aging.

From British Columbia’s up and coming Similkameen Valley, Eau Vivre Pinot Noir 2013 (774455) $20.45 won inclusion in the 2015 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for a second year in a row. It dazzles with its concentrated aromas and flavours. Light in colour – as “The Heartbreak Grape” can be – it is ‘silky’ on the tongue and surprisingly richly flavoured with elegantly soft strawberry and black cherry flavours and a kiss of vanilla in the finish.

Perfect cool climate environments for Pinot exist in Australia in just a few regions, notably in Victoria’s Yarra Valley with its cool, crisp slopes and average humidity, and the Mornington Peninsula with its maritime cooling nights. But perhaps the region that is continues to cause the most excitement is Australia’s far southern island of Tasmania.

Heemskerk is Treasury Wines’ Tasmanian brand producing seriously smart Tasmanian wines. From Australia’s dependably coolest growing region. Heemskerk’s Abel’s Tempest Pinot Noir (65540 $29.80 has a medley of bright, sassy cherry berry fruit, a sprinkling of plums and prunes, and spicy hazelnut aromas that follow though onto the tongue over earthy mushroom and truffles.

With 100 different appellations, myriad individual vineyards and more than 3,000 individual producers. Burgundy has five sub-regions: Chablis in the Yonne department; the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune in the Côte d’Or; and the Chalonnais and Mâconnais in the Saone-et-Loire. Pommard is a renowned source of red wines from the Côte-d’Or.

Crafted from selected grapes from 35 year-old vines, Seguin Manuel Pommard Vieilles Vignes (514414) $77.90 needs an hour in a decanter to open up. Spicy aromas of strawberry fruit tease the nose and a woodsy dark dried black cherry and strawberry set of flavours finish with a soft and lingering prickle of peppery tannins.

 

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