Winelander: Pinot Noir

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Pinot Noir is an ancient grape that was first planted as far ago as 1375 when the variety was named “pinoz” and it is widely grown around the planet although its traditional home is Burgundy in France. For over 600 years the monks in their monasteries worked their magic in growing great Pinot Noirs and it not only makes outstanding red wine is also a major component in the composition of Champagne.

Having said all that Pinot Noir is also a challenge for even the greatest of winemakers and depending on where it is grown throws off several interesting characters ranging from strawberries and cherries to farmyard earthy smells, mushroom aromas and truffle aromas. When tasting Pinot Noir it must be remembered it is not a big wine but can be a light and bright wine with tons of complexity. Its history in Australia began with the first fleet in 1788 when almost certainly James Busby planted the vines in The Hunter Valley in the early 1800s. Whilst plantings failed in South Australia it was successful in Victoria especially Geelong and The Yarra Valley.

However, in the 1880s the vines were wiped out by the phylloxera mite which also devastated the vines of France and it wasn’t until the 1970s that Pinot Noir made a comeback mainly through Doctor Bailey Carrodus at his vineyard Yarra Yering and land reverted from dairy farming back to grape production.

An old Burgundian is saying that reads “Get the bouquet right and the palate will look after itself” which is something I have always maintained that if it smells good it will taste good. Although it is primarily a cool climate grape many vineyards have a go at making the wine and it was once exclaimed that if 40 vineyards made Pinot Noir you would have 40 completely different wines, however apart from The Hunter Valley and Victoria Tasmania is making some excellent examples of the wine. Also across the ditch, New Zealand excels at making Pinot Noir along with their distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.

Burgundy from France remains by far the most eloquent and convincing demonstration of the importance of terroir meaning that climate, soil and growing conditions all come together to produce great wines. The great Burgundies have great aromas of spices, savoury notes, and forest scents.

Around Australia, the wine has become very popular as it an outstanding food wine and apart from Geelong, Gippsland, The Macedon Ranges, The Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and Tasmania, there are regions such as The Adelaide Hills and Great Southern region of Western Australia producing great wines. Australian Pinots tend to be light in colour and have perfumed aromas and flavours of cherry, raspberry and plum balanced by smooth tannins and the wine also goes into many of our sparkling wines usually blended with Chardonnay.

In New Zealand, there is unlimited potential for producing outstanding Pinot Noir with several regions including Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson, Waipara, Canterbury and Central Otago producing wines that vary from the moderate to very powerful wines.

In the United States look for wines from Oregon, Sonoma and the southcentral coast. Sonoma is home to The Russian River where the wines are completely different due to the cold ocean fogs and tend to be bigger but not compromising on elegance.

Pinot Noir matches food of many styles but its best pairing is with Duck and doesn’t discriminate whether cherry-red or savoury duck is a winner. Pinot Noir can also be matched to more spicy food such as lightly spiced Thai dishes and lighter styles of Pinot Noir go well with pasta or salmon’ The bigger styles go well with beef dishes such as a bolognaise and don’t forget it matches cheese well such as a creamy blue or a sharp goat’s cheese.

In a tasting carried out by The Decanter wine magazine most of the wines of choice were from Victoria and the selection included Farrside by Gary Farr, Paringa Estate, Yabby Lake, Stonier, Giaconda Estate, Hoddles Creek, Crittenden Estate, Giant Steps, Yering Station, Brokenwood and DeBortoli. If you haven’t yet tried an Australian Pinot I am sure that if you get one of the above you will join the evergrowing Pinot Noir fan club.

Philip Arlidge