Pinot Noir is one of my favourite grape varieties. It’s capable of elegance and beauty, and often delivers this. But it’s a fussy variety that can easily be messed up, and a lifetimes pursuit of great Pinot will inevitably incur some disappointing lows along with the highs.
Here I tried eight examples, taking in just a few of the countries and regions that are doing well with this variety.
Bourgogne is its home, and the best examples are hard to beat, but you will end up kissing a few frogs to find the princesses. New Zealand is delivering at attractive price points, and this is an important grape variety for the Kiwis. California’s cooler spots are producing great wines, albeit at high price points. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a hot spot for Pinot. Germany’s Spätburgunders can be fantastic, and it’s a variety that is also doing well in England (baby steps, but lots of promise). I’ve yet to be won over by Alsace Pinot. Australia makes some beauties (Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, Yarra Valley, Geelong, Gippsland). And let’s not forget about Canada and New York State.
The Crossings Pinot Noir 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is from the Awatere, which has quite a talent for Pinot Noir when the right sites are chosen. It’s fruity and aromatic with red cherries and cranberries, and there’s a lovely silkiness to the mid-weight palate, which has a bit of tannin crunch and nice green hints around the fringes of the bright red fruits. Shows and ease and delicacy: it’s a very pure, softly textured expression of Pinot with lovely focus. 90/100
Akitu A1 Pinot Noir 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is the black label version, which is from older vines, mainly Abel clone, and is matured in 25% new oak. It has a brooding, sweetly fruited nose with wild strawberries, cherries and some subtle undergrowth notes, as well as a bit of pepper spice. Nice sweet complexity here. The palate is smooth and textured with nice fine spicy notes and a bit of structure, as well as hints of tar and gravel, all sitting under some lovely cherry fruit. Has nice volume and smoothness, but also some structure. A really expressive wine with approachability but also more than a hint of seriousness. 94/100 (£42 Specialist Cellars)
Akitu A2 Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
14% alcohol. White label, from younger vines. Very floral with a mint and herb edge to the sweet black cherry fruit nose, with some hints of pine and spice. The palate has a vital freshness, with some herby notes under juicy black cherry and berry fruits, with some pepper spice, a touch of gravel, and some orange peel and coriander on the finish. This is focused and detailed, with nice weight and balance, and a bright finish. It’s just so drinkable. 92/100 (£25 Specialist Cellars)
Black Book ‘Nightjar’ Clayhill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 Essex, England
11.5% alcohol. Some whole bunch in the fermentation, which takes place in open-top fermenters, and then ageing in barrel for 7 months. It has a finely aromatic nose with a hint of cedar spice behind sweet raspberry fruit. The palate is fresh, fine and spicy with some green undercurrents to the supple cherry and raspberry fruit, with a touch of strawberry on the finish. Delicate and quite refined with a grainy structure. Impressive stuff. 91/100
Six Brothers Pinot Noir 2018 Tasmania, Australia
14% alcohol. Sweetly aromatic with ginger spice and cedar on the nose as well as bright berry fruits. The palate is sweet and juicy with cherries, plums, cedar and spice as well as some herby notes. Has an immediate, spicy appeal, with oak playing a significant role. 87/100
Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
13% alcohol. From vineyards at 350 m, this site has 1210 growing degree days (it’s quite cool) and the wine is aged in French oak (30% new). This was quite a warm season with 1400 GDDs and the result is a very spicy wine, with notes of ginger, mint and medicine, as well as supple cherry and strawberry fruit. It’s distinctly savoury and a bit angular, and offers structure, acidity, some phenolic savouriness, and not much texture or pleasure. 87/100 (£35 Harvey Nichols)
Paul Cluver Estate Pinot Noir 2018 Elgin, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Taut nose of spice, cinnamon, cedar and red cherry fruit, with some plummy notes and a bit of pepper and tar. The palate is bright and has a distinctly savoury edge, with some green herbal hints and some orange peel notes, as well redcurrant and red cherry fruit, as well as some taut woody hints on the finish. With the sweet red fruits countered by the savoury, cedary notes, it’s a wine that straddles the old/new world divide. Currently a little compressed, give this three or four years to open out. 93/100
Domaine Chanson Santenay-Beauregard Premier Cru 2014 Bourgogne, France
12% alcohol. This is a silky, supple Pinot Noir with sleek black cherry fruit showing hints of mint and pepper, as well as a fine-grained, mildly structured palate with crunchy cherry fruit, some sappy, peppery notes, and nice grip on the finish. There’s a freshness and savouriness here, adding a foil to the sleek cherry fruit. I really like the green, peppery stemmy notes that add detail here to the fruit. And a bit of bottle aged has helped this wine achieve massive drinkability. 93/100
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