The true pinot noir is one of the unmitigated joys of the experienced taster… it has a distinct penetrating taste… a definite silky texture… among the dearest wines known, possessing a smoothness which by comparison makes some of the other great red wines of the world rough… wines of great breed and distinction, great power.
Dr. M. Amerine and A J Winkler
The much admired and venerable pinot noir is wholly responsible for the truly great red wines of Burgundy, specifically of Côte d’Or, a strip of land barely 70 km long and approximately 800 meters wide.
The best vineyards have a southeastern exposure and the very best are located on 300 – 400 meters above sea level of this generally cool-climate region.
Pinot noir yields, if grown on the “right terroir” (rich in minerals, soils mixed with chalk and pebbles and which drain well) are sensual, transparent, whereas cabernet sauvignon the venerable grape of Bordeaux appeals to the “head”.
There are very few grape varieties capable of reflecting “terroir” and pinot noir is one of them Outside Côte d’Or it may yield fine wines, if the soil and climate are suitable, but never great or extraordinary libations as in Burgundy.
Pinot noir has thin skin, tends to mutate easily, is prone to a variety of diseases, is low in tannins, and never responds well to over cropping.
Entire books have been written on pinot noir and both Montpellier and Dijon research stations have devoted considerable effort to creating clones with desirable characteristics, but best red Burgundy wines come from vineyards planted to selection massal, that means, roughly, as nature intended. Some of the clones on such vineyards are disease resistant; others yield fine fruit even in poor growing seasons, yet others may have high yields with good quality. Overall the balance is left to mother nature.
Recently, a team of French and Italian scientists have mapped the genome of pinot noir and determined that it has 30,000 genes, more than the human genome of 20, – 25,000. Genes create flavour and in the case of pinot noir 100 different genes seem to be dedicated to producing tannins and terpenes while other grapes have 50 or less.
Flavour depends much on terroir, but pinot noir possesses all on its own a huge range of aromas and flavours. Burgundy connoisseurs have known for centuries about the seductive and extraordinary flavours of this temperamental grape, and spared no effort to obtain the most famous bottles from single vineyard (grand cru) and communes with worldwide reputations for quality.
Pinot noir is the first, and so far, the only grape variety whose DNA and genome have been fully studied for over two years.
Growers, winemakers and connoisseurs regard pinot noir as the most difficult and fickle of all red wine grapes. When fully ripe, it yields flirtatious, voluptuous, hedonistic, beguiling, silky, seductive, “juicy” and sumptuous wines. It can be delicate, mysterious, indescribable and utterly delicious. Some of the most profound wine experiences transpire over a glass of well-made pinot noir.
This cool climate grape is vulnerable to frosts, and its thin skin is prone to rot in damp weather.
When overripe it tastes neutral, even insipid. It likes well drained, lime stone rich soils and is extremely sensitive even to the strain of yeast used for fermentation.
When pinot is from a successful vintage and made by an experienced and caring winemaker it is unequalled.
Ontario, British Columbia, Oregon, California, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, and Spain have all vineyards planted to pinot noir. In Oregon, Ontario, southern Argentina, New Zealand, and Tasmania in Australia yields extraordinary wines, which are sought in many countries.
In Ontario Clos Jordanne produces extraordinary pinot noirs, as does Konzelmann.
Oregon, New Zealand’s Otago, Marlborough, in Australia Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Victoria are well known for their fine pinot noirs.
The Champagne region in France has made fortunes using pinot noir in conjunction with chardonnay. Prince Edward County, approximately 150 km east of Toronto produces some outstanding pinot noir wines in very small quantities and can be acquired only from the winery.
Romans were the first to recognize how great pinot noir tastes and as early as first century A.D planted pinot noir as archeologists have been able to establish.
Bernard de Clairvoix, a Cistercian monk was the first to plant pinot noir in Germany, and which yield fine wines.
Pinot noir goes well with planked salmon, grilled or BBQ salmon, paella, roast pork tenderloin, roasted root vegetables, calf’s liver, soft cream cheeses, thin-crust pizzas, or veal scaloppini.
Pinot noir wines of successful vintages smell of forest mushrooms, barnyards and strawberries. They are succulent, elegant, multilayered in the mouth delicious after taste.
When buying red Burgundies one must take into consideration the vintage. The same applies to Oregon, Tasmania, and Ontario.
Here are some pinot noir wines that I find very compelling.
Chambolle-Musigny, 2002, Taupenot-Merme $ 53.95
Savigny Les Beaune, 2002, Chateau de Meursault $ 29.95
Mas Barras Pinot Noir, 2004, M. Torres, Chile 29.95
Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir, 2004, Otago, New Zealand $ 37.95