First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 16th November, 2019
Pinot Noir ticks a lot of boxes, which may explain its rise in popularity. The very best wines have a soft silkiness combined with a gentle power that together deliver a hedonistic hit that few other wines can match.
It is an instantly likeable, gluggable wine; it is the most versatile of food wines, a great partner for tuna, salmon and a host of white and red meats, as well as feathered game. If you are starting to think about Christmas, it goes very nicely with goose, duck and turkey, too. Going with so many foods, it is a great choice in restaurants, if some of your party are eating fish and others meat.
While the very best wines will keep and develop, just about every Pinot Noir can be drunk with great pleasure almost as soon as it is bottled. Light to medium-bodied, and free of any drying tannins, many wines have a seductive sweetness, despite being quite dry.
So why has it taken us so long to fall for Pinot? Until recently buying Pinot Noir, either from its home territory in Burgundy or anywhere else, was a hit-and-miss affair. But over the last decade, growers and winemakers around the world seem to have finally mastered this fussy grape. Burgundy is far more consistent, and now Germany, Oregon, California, Australia, Chile and South Africa all produce very high-quality Pinot Noir, as do Alsace and parts of the Languedoc, in France. In addition, Romania and Chile both produce some very appealing wines at incredibly low prices.
Inexpensive Pinot Noir is generally fresh and juicy. The greatest wines match my description above but are frequently eye-wateringly expensive. In between those two extremes styles vary hugely depending on where the grapes are grown. Wine anoraks love the way that two Pinots, made from grapes grown metres apart, will show subtle but marked differences. It is all down to slight changes in soil, exposure, height or mesoclimate, or a combination of all three.
Burgundy still produces the world’s finest Pinot Noir. For €20-€30 you will find plenty of very stylish Bourgogne Rouge and for around €50 some complex, sensual wines that will bring you out in goosebumps. The Beaune I mention below is one of a number of excellent wines made by Róisín Curley, a Mayo woman , in her boutique winery in Burgundy. I cannot pretend that the €9 Pinot I also refer to will reach the same heights, but it is a very attractive glass of wine. I have not included New Zealand, which produces some great Pinot Noir, as I covered it earlier this year in these pages.
Wildflower Pinot Noir 2018, Romania
A light, easy Pinot Noir, with juicy blackberry and red-cherry fruits. A great party wine, or to serve with salmon, tuna or pre-dinner nibbles.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Felicité Pinot Noir 2017, Newton Johnson, Cape South Coast, South Africa
A captivating, pure Pinot Noir with soft, rounded, ripe dark-cherry fruits, a touch of spice and gentle tannins. It displays a lovely ripeness without ever seeming in the least bit clumsy. Try it with roast game birds, duck or a mushroom risotto.
Sancerre Maulin Bèle 2017, Domaine André Vatan
A seductive, light Pinot Noir with soft, sweet, nicely concentrated red-cherry fruits and a herbal touch. Drink it with roast pork, or duck.
From Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie
Beaune 2017, Róisín Curley
A floral Pinot Noir, with fresh, clean blackberry and dark-cherry fruits with good supporting acidity and a lovely long, savoury finish. Goes well with roast duck or chicken.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1 and Sandycove, Co Dublin, as well as at Avoca at Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com; Drinkstore, Dublin 7, drinkstore.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Co Dublin, ely64.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie