Most red wines are judged by their sheer power and intensity.
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.
As is often the case, some of our most affordable wines come to us from California. An entry-level example of this teasingly tasty light red wine Barefoot Pinot Noir $8.70 offers up subtle, smooth cherry and wild raspberry flavours with a sprinkling of spice. This is a summer style of Pinot Noir for everyday enjoyment. Give it an hour in the ‘fridge then splash it in a glass!
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.
Australia has its own varied ways with this minx of a wine grape. Barely floral, more jammy baked strawberries, there is still a light leathery chocolate hint of fresh tobacco leaf mingling with the fruit in Lindemans Bin 99 Pinot Noir $12.99. On the lighter side – and a great starting point for white wine lovers getting curious about reds – this is a terribly easy red wine to like.
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.
Cono Sur Organic Pinot Noir $13.65 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 with barbequed salmon, chicken and pork.
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 $21 has recently won inclusion in the 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.
Arguably the most intriguing example from British Columbia that this WineWise guy has come across in the last year, Synchromesh Pinot Noir $27 is grown in the northern Okanagan Valley in East Kelowna’s Palo Solera Vineyards. There’s a natural simplicity to this luscious and seriously supple red – ripe berry fruit, fresh sliced beet aromas and flavours and subtle sage and earthy thyme complexities in the long aftertaste.
Heemskerk is Treasury Wines’ Tasmanian brand producing seriously smart, seriously Tasmanian wines. From Australia’s dependably coolest growing region. Heemskerk’s Abel’s Tempest Pinot Noir $34.50 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. Lush ‘fat’ and distractingly rich fruit overlays the earthy mushroom and truffle elegance of French oak barrel aging.
Magnificently mirroring much more exclusive and expensive French wines from Burgundy, Marimar Estate ‘La Masia’ Don Miguel Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $45.99 takes California’s efforts with this teasingly difficult wine grape to new heights. Concentrated layers of cherries, berries, raisins and dried prunes hover over an earthy undercurrent of mushrooms and truffles before sliding into subtle echoes of molasses, dark chocolate and coffee. Simply stunning!
With salmon showing up in groceries everywhere, there’s no better time to find your own favourite Pinot Noir.
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