Claire @ fromthegrapevine
Pinot Noir from around the world
August 18th is International Pinot Noir Day. To celebrate, we took 20 Pinot Noir tasters to take a wine trip around the globe to see the similarities and differences that country, climate and wine making techniques can have on the same grape.
Pinot Noir is a grape that is fickle and difficult to grow, preferring cooler climates. Most famously grown in Burgundy in France, many other countries have attempted to put their own stamp on this thin skinned grape. We pitted Burgundy against Germany, New Zealand, Chile, California and Romania.
This is what happened;
Wine 1 - Villa Maria, New Zealand. Numerous supermarkets, £12 (Currently on offer for £8 at Morrisons)
From the cool climate of New Zealand, Marlborough's vineyards are at least sunny and bright, leading to a Pinot Noir that bursts with raspberry flavour. Pinot Noir is New Zealand's most widely planted red grape, and over half of it comes from Marlborough.
Villa Maria are a big player in New Zealand, regarded as one of the country's leading winemakers with nearly 60 years' experience. They hand harvest the grapes and mature them for ten months.
Despite the maturation, the wine is still extremely light bodied, the most watery looking of the six bottles.
The tasters were indifferent, and most didn't think its price tag was worth it.
Wine 2 - Incanta, Romania, Majestic Wine, £5.99
This wine is from the winery Cramele Recas, which was founded by Bristol born Philip Cox. He moved to Romania 30 years ago with his Romanian wife and started a boutique winery.
This business has now grown into the third largest wine producer in Romania where he churns out 65 different wines including Incanta Pinot Noir. There was some criticism of the label, with a taster pointing out it made the wine look cheap.
However, this wine was a real hit with the tasters, bursting with flavours of redcurrants, raspberry and jam. They raved about the wine even before the price tag was revealed.
Romania is off the beaten track in terms of wine production and this example would cost at least twice the price if Romania wasn’t still under the wine radar. Enjoy it before others discover it!!
Wine 3 - Boyas, Chile, Majestic Wine £11.99 (£9.99 on a mix six)
We ventured to Chile for our next wine - Boyas. This hails from the Leyda Valley, which is an upcoming zone for Pinot Noir. The valley is sandwiched between a range of hills and the Pacific Ocean, which gives a cooling effect over the vineyards. The grapes benefit from the warmth of a sun trap, which gives them fruity qualities, whilst the nights are cool. In addition, the Humbolt Current comes up from the Antarctic and sweeps cool air over the vines, which further cools the grapes.
Chile's wine industry grew in the 1980s and soon split into cheap quaffable wine and and expensive quality wine. Pinot Noir is not generally a Chilean speciality - their signature grape is Carmenere.
The tasters were not keen on this example of Pinot Noir; it has an intense bouquet and flavours of strawberry and cherry with floral notes. The body was fuller than the previous two wines, but tasters complained that its taste was of "old books", "eggy sulphur" and "just weird". (Note: There was not a fault with the wine!)
Wine 4 - Albert Bichot, Burgundy France, Marks and Spencer, £14.50
Burgundy in France is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir and from the Cote de Beaune comes this mid-priced example from Albert Bichot, who won winemaker of the year in 2017. His grapes are grown at a higher altitude, meaning slower ripening and more fruitiness.
The tasters described this as "yummy", "smooth and sophisticated" and a few mentioned that they weren't too sure on first sip, but it grew on them.
The wine has been aged in oak for 10 months to add structure and texture, and the tasters enjoyed this wine, but felt it should have been that enjoyable for its price. Further North in the Cote de Nuits, Pinot Noir can command much higher prices for its Pinot Noir, which is more age-able and prestigious, but the Cote de Beaune wines are generally softer and more lush than their Northerly counterparts.
Wine 5 - Edna Valley - California, Majestic Wine, £15.99 (£9.99 on a mix six)
Edna Valley lies between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and is just five miles form the Californian coast. The climate here would ordinarily be too hot to grow grapes, let along Pinot Noir. However, its valley lies east and west, meaning the cool pacific winds and early morning fogs get sucked inland over the vines to cool the grapes down and lengthen the ripening process.
The grapes are harvested in the cool hours of early morning and then the wine is aged in French oak barrels for 6-8 months. The tasters loved this wine and were not surprised it was the priciest of the night. Many would be tempted to buy it again for a special occasion. They described this as "lovely", "best of the night" and it brought back memories for one couple who had honeymooned in California, and this wine was very typical of the bottles they had consumed back then.
Wine 6 - Spåtburgunder, Baden, Germany - Wine Society - £14.50
Between the Black Forest and the Rhine lies the German winemaking area of Baden. Known as "German Tuscany", this undulating land is famous for food - especially game, berries and mushrooms. It is home to the warmest vineyards in Germany, which by German standards results in wines that are bolder and higher in alcohol.
This Spåtburgunder (German name for Pinot Noir) is made by Martin Wassmer who hails from a family of winemakers for many generations. He only uses natural yeasts in the wine to encourage slow fermentation, and then keeps the wines ageing for up to 18 months in ex-Burgundy barriques (small barrels).
Once again, the tasters were impressed.
The favourite of the night was Incanta, with its price tag adding to the appeal. The Californian Edna Valley wine was also enjoyed ahead of the Burgundy, with the German Spåtburgunder impressing many tasters. The Chilean Boyas and the Villa Maria from New Zealand were disappointments overall.