Are you sitting at home wondering why the world of wine is currently going nuts over pinot noir? Certainly the stars have aligned for this fashionable red grape that was born in Burgundy about two thousand years ago.
Red wine styles are changing, and thank goodness. In the 1990s and early 2000s red wines started getting bigger, largely due to influential American wine critic Robert Parker Jr. He just loved rich, highly extracted, monster reds with porty, super-ripe flavours and lots of colour, tannin and oak. Using his 100-point scoring system he showered high scores on big red wines. Wine producers responded, picking fruit much riper and consequently alcohol levels in reds headed north, sometimes nudging 15% or even 16%. Ouch!
But size isn’t everything. This Charge of the Light Brigade style of red wine was hard to match with food, except perhaps oxtail with a port sauce! And, somewhat surprisingly, the wines often disappointed in the cellar.
Now the trend is towards fresher red wines with brighter fruit and lower alcohol, so grapes are being harvested earlier. Winemakers are also aiming to make more fragrant styles of red wine by using whole bunches or whole berries in their ferments. And there is a trend away from small new oak barrels in favour of seasoned, larger barrels which favour more subtle oak flavours and less mouth- puckering tannin. Such wines tend to better express the vineyard in which the grapes were grown and also work much better at the dinner table.
Enter pinot noir. This cool climate grape naturally makes a light-to-medium bodied red wine, without the big tannins that make wines from some red varieties hard to approach in their youth. Rather than power, good pinot has charm and a haunting perfume that keeps drawing the taster back again and again.
Being low in tannin, pinot noir is accessible early in its life and its fruity flavours akin to cherries and strawberries are immediately appealing. Far from attacking the palate, pinot caresses it, the flavours finding their way to all corners of the palate. Nevertheless, well-made pinots often drink beautifully at 6-8 years of age developing more complex, gamey, undergrowth characters.
Intriguingly, pinot noir tends to express itself differently from one wine area to another giving rise to the view that pinot tastes of where in comes from.
We even see this within our small vineyard. Have a taste of our two 2021 vintage pinot noirs drawn from fruit from our Blocks 1 and 3 – just metres apart – and marvel at the difference.