Everyone has heard of Pinot Noir.
We might be exaggerating here, but not by much. The varietal is without doubt one of the most famous of all- helped in no small part by its appearance in the movie Sideways. And, no doubt, its sultry character.
If there ever was a fine wine that could be described as seductive, emanating a kind of liquid sex appeal- Pinot would be it.
Imagine brightness tinged with earthy sensuality- smouldering, burning slowly as it consumes the senses bit by bit. Rich, complex and enigmatic as the deepest fathoms of the sea. Timeless elegance mixed with an intoxicating, almost animal wildness. Familiar, but enigmatic. An affair of passion. A marriage of contradictions.
We might not have fallen in love with Pinot Noir, but we have certainly been seduced by it.
And now, Pinot Palooza, Australia’s largest Pinot Noir festival, will be coming to Singapore to show us what seduction really is.
A noble grape
Pinot Noir is one of the world’s premier wine grapes. It originated in the beautiful hills of Burgundy, France, and it was there that it found its claim to fame. All Burgundy reds are Pinot Noirs; and includes some of the most expensive wines in the world. Romanée-Conti bottles cost thousands of dollars each, even rivalling or exceeding that of its Bordeaux brethren from Château Lafite Rothschild or Château Haut-Brion.
Part of it is because of the scarcity of Burgundy wines; the area is tiny and produces very few cases of wine each year. Burgundy has 29,500 hectares dedicated to vines; California alone has almost 200 thousand hectares.
Together with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir forms a group called the Noble Grapes. Five of the six Noble Grapes originated in France. Indeed, the name is French, and translates as black pine, a reference to its tendency to grow in dense conical clusters.
While there is nothing particularly aristocratic about these Noble grapes, they are the raw materials for the majority of wines in the world today. It would be rare indeed to find someone whose first wine was not one of the six.
Pinot Noir is used in both red and white wines- including champagne. When made into a red wine, it tends towards a ruby-red colour rather than the inky purple of a Shiraz or Cabernet. The body (but not the flavour) is almost always light to medium in weight, so one would rarely describe the mouthfeel as luxurious. It does tend to have a very smooth texture-drinking it is akin to pouring liquid velvet down the throat.
Taste and aroma wise, a good Pinot Noir is complex and layered. It often exhibits red fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and cranberries. It also often has plums, mint, dark cherry and rhubarb for good measure. Its most interesting characteristic, however, is its tendency to have earthy aromas and flavours; damp forest floor, leather, mushrooms and dark chocolate. It is not too tannic- and doesn’t usually keep that well past five to eight years.
These are all of course, general characteristics, not commandments.
A different time, a different place
Pinot Noir has been cultivated for thousands of years- a lineage that harks back to the Roman Empire. Yet, like the bourgeoisie of yore, it is hardly the most prolific- it is only the tenth most grown grape in the world. The reasons for this are inherent to the genetics of the blue blooded grape. Even today, this ancient varietal remains a source of immense frustration for viticulturists.
Notoriously finicky, the vine does not adapt well to variances in climate, only growing in very particular conditions. It was not grown throughout the Roman Empire- most of them were found in the regions of Gaul we know today as Burgundy, because of its slopes, limestone soil and cool weather.
The varietal also has a frustrating habit to mutate, which once in a while gives rise to a new sub-varietal; Pinotage, Pinot Grigio and- surprise, surprise, Chardonnay- are among the most notable of its myriad offspring.
As a natural product, the character of Pinot Noir will vary with the terroir and region of its cultivation; even in a small area like Burgundy, wines can range all the way from the meanest Village Wine to Grand Crus. One can find a surprising amount of variation in the wine. We look at the general characteristics of each wine region:
- Burgundy: The standard to which all Pinot Noirs are measured. They are usually acidic light, full of red berries and herbaceous. The earthy character is strong and one can expect to be reminded of taking a trek through the forest when drinking a wine from Burgundy.
- Italy and Germany: In Italy, Pinot Noir is known as Pinot Nero and has flavours are similar to the French, but a hair more earthy and spicy. In Ahr, which borders France, Germany produces Pinot Noir with stronger raspberry and sweet cherry aromas.
- United States: Californian Pinot Noirs are less delicate than the French; powerful, robust and fruity. They emphasise the black cherries, blackberries and plums, with a healthy dollop of earth and leather to match. We even get a bit of a savoury “duck sauce” spice and umami flavour from time to time. In Oregon, one can find a Pinot Noir that’s a midpoint between the European and the Californian, with more red fruit and a lighter texture and flavour.
- Chile: one can find Pinot Noir that’s close to what you can get in Oregon- but gives up the fruit for floral aromas such as rose and violets (Roses are red, violets are blue, Chilean Pinot Noirs have both, you should drink them too).
- Australia: sweeter and full of blackberries and black cherries. Australian Pinot Noirs to be very structured and acid-driven, with some bright red fruit notes. The backbone of dried leaves and earth are still there.
- New Zealand: while the vineyards are only decades old, Pinot Noirs from Otago and Marlborough have really risen in the last few years. Similar to California, the wines are rich, powerful and fruity, showcasing the cherries, blackberries and plums. They also tend to have stronger spice, but less earth aromas.
Obviously, there are only broad generalisations. Each producer will have wines of unique character and may not fit neatly into stereotypes! And that leads us to…
With such interesting variations in the characters of the world’s sexiest wine, one can see the attraction of trying them all.
Fortunately, Pinot Palooza, Australia’s largest Pinot Noir festival, will be making its Singapore debut on 25th November at the Esplanade. At the festival, over 40 wineries from Australia, New Zealand, United States and Italy will be showcasing their best Pinot Noir (sadly the Burgundies will be absent).
While festival goers can enjoy some music and food, the real attraction should be the opportunity to drink as much Pinot Noir as one possibly can. When else are you going to get to figure out which region you like best?
We’ve picked up some highlights that you should check out:
NV Jansz Rosé, Pipers River, Tasmania
- 2015 Moondarra Samba Side Pinot Noir, Gippsland, Victoria
- 2014 Schubert Pinot Noir, Wairarapa Marlborough, New Zealand
- 2014 Nautilus Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
All this comes at a cheap price. 50 dollars to drink as much as you can? That’s almost criminal. You even get a Plumm RedB Glass (valued at $35), on top of the tastings.
What’s there to hesitate for? Go forth and drink!
The first edition in Singapore will be held on Saturday, 25 November 2017, 1pm to 6pm at The Annexe Studio, The Esplanade. Tickets for Pinot Palooza in Singapore are priced at $50 (early bird) and $60 (general admission) and will be available for purchase at www.pinotpalooza.sg.