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Pinot Noir

bunch of pinot noir grapes

Pinot Noir is quite possibly the world's most misunderstood grape variety but one which nevertheless inspires an almost religious devotion amongst connoisseurs, especially those with deep pockets who have a penchant for great red Burgundy. It is capable of producing the silkiest of wines which exude an ethereal array of perfumes together with layers of tantalising flavours when cultivated in certain prized terroirs and subsequently made into wine by vignerons and wine-makers with the knowledge, skill and the passion demanded by this most capricious of black grapes. Without the happy coalescence of all these factors Pinot Noir is also capable of producing either thin, light wines in conditions that are too cool or thicker, jammy wines where the average temperatures are too hot. Its thin skin, the reason for its lighter-coloured wines, is easily affected by rot where conditions are too damp or humid and good drainage is essential for the grape to thrive. Yields must also be kept comparatively low. Pinot Noir is therefore a very demanding grape which requires great precision both in the vineyard and in the winery to reveal its true qualities and reach anywhere near its full potential. At their best these are wines with a rare elegance and finesse.

The greatest Pinot Noir wines are produced in Burgundy's Côte d'Or, the slope of gold, and more specifically in the northern part known as the Côte de Nuits which lies north and south of the wine town of Nuits St. Georges. Names such as Romanée-Conti, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Clos Vougeot denote some of the most famous wines in the world. In the very best years red Burgundy made here with grapes from the best vineyard plots by rigorously quality-conscious producers set the standard to which other growers and wine-makers across the world aspire. Great red wine made from Pinot Noir can evoke the flavours and scents of red fruits, (primarily cherry, raspberry and strawberry) together with floral notes typical of violets and a savoury gaminess. It is sometimes referred to as having a slightly "farmyard" quality, "sous-bois" or undergrowth, with notes of truffle, ceps (porcini), tobacco, leather and wood-smoke. Its silky texture and mouth-feel is both luscious and very light on its feet giving a wine which is remarkably complex and intellectually satisfying as well as being quite delicious. Pinot Noir is also a major component of the Champagne Blend where its clear juice adds depth and body to the finished wine.

History of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the oldest grape varieties in existence and is said to have delighted the Romans when they discovered the Gauls drinking wine made from Pinot Noir vines growing wild. By the year 600 AD the vineyards of Burgundy were under the control of the Church with the monasteries being responsible for both the tending of the vineyards and the wine-making. The wine was used not only as a sacrament during Holy Communion but also became entrenched as part of the monks' daily diet. As a result of the Church's hegemony viticulture and viniculture became synonymous with the French way of life and this is reflected in the proliferation of old walled, monastic vineyards (called "clos") that are still in evidence throughout Burgundy and beyond even today. The Church's long period of dominance was ended by the French Revolution of 1789 when the vineyards were seized and returned, as far as was possible, to surviving relatives of the original owners. This resulted in the vineyards being split into smaller units, a process that was exacerbated still further by the Napoleonic inheritance laws which abolished the rule of primogeniture and which consequently produced even more owners

Not only has the Pinot Noir a long and successful history in France, it also has the habit of mutating which has introduced more Pinot variants, namely Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio in Italy). Furthermore the Pinot Noir grape is also one of the ancestors of the Chardonnay grape, having been crossed naturally with an ancient variety known as Gouais Blanc to create what is now probably the world's most well-known white wine grape. This last fact gives a clue as to the reason that Burgundy produces not only the world's benchmark Pinot Noir wines but also its Chardonnays. In more recent times it was successfully crossed with the southern French Cinsault grape variety to produce South Africa's Pinotage.

Pinot Noir Wines

The cooler, drier summers of Burgundy have proved to be ideal for producing high quality red wines over a period of many centuries but very good examples are made elsewhere. In France itself light reds and rosé wines are produced in the Upper Loire around Sancerre as well as in the more northerly parts of Burgundy itself such as the Côtes d'Auxerre. Germany produces some exceptional examples under the name Spätburgunder which tend to be light wines resplendent with captivating perfumes. Further afield some very good wines are made in the cooler parts of California such as Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and Santa Barbara but the best American red Pinot Noir wines are produced in Oregon's Willamette Valley where the geology and exposure are exploited to the full by the cool climate to yield wines with great complexity and perfume. Perhaps the most exciting country for this variety at the moment is New Zealand which boasts three regions with very good Pinot Noir wines, Martinborough on the North Island, Waipara and Central Otago on the South Island. Central Otago is a small region with the closest vineyards to Antarctica, which is quickly establishing a reputation for world-class Pinot Noir. It is this region which is expected to stake a claim to rival Burgundy in the years to come. Unfortunately due to the extremely limited production here prices may end up rivalling those of Burgundy too. Other wine-growing regions are also picking up the gauntlet with good examples hailing from Canada (Okanogan Valley), Switzerland, Chile, Italy (Pinot Nero) and Australia

  1. Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Pinot Noir, Stellenbosch, 2014

    Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Pinot Noir, Stellenbosch, 2014

    The nose is complex and is typical of a Pinot Noir with earthy, forest floor scents, mushrooms and a mineral edge.

    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country South Africa

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  2. Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Chardonnay, 2014

    Vriesenhof, Paradyskloof Chardonnay, 2014

    An elegant Chardonnay with fresh aromas of lemon and lime and a touch of minerality.

    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country South Africa


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