Wine notes July 2006 Pinot Noir

When I started this column I cautioned against over-emotive language. Well, now for a grape that’s inspired more exuberant metaphors than you’d find in the complete works of James Joyce. Wine writers laud it to the skies. In Burgundy, where it first gained fame, vignerons also lavish choice epithets on pinot noir. Among other things, they call it “the black bitch”.
Thin-skinned, sulky, liable to catch any epidemic that’s going, endlessly picky about sun, scenery and soil, you have to wonder “Why do they persevere?” When you pay e25 and get a mediocre bottle you wonder twice.
The answer, of course, is that when pinot noir is on form there’s simply nothing to touch it. Seductive aromas, complex flavours, silky texture; it’s also the perfect accompaniment to feathered game and soft smelly cheese, of both of which I’m inordinately fond.
I used to lay down burgundy to tease out those hazelnut and truffle nuances, as was the fashion when I was finding my feet in wine. Older I get, the more I adore primary fruit, particularly the exuberant cherry flavours that good pinot yields. I’m happy, now, to quaff the night I buy.
Sending someone out to buy a bottle of e15 pinot noir is wine’s equivalent of rugby’s ‘hospital pass’. After a few bruisings I scored with “Les Maisons Dieu” 2001 (Fallon & Byrne, e14.95), from a reliable producer, Moissenet-Bonnard. I wouldn’t mind betting that some of you who followed my dictat ended up thinking “Bloody hell, I could get a nicer Shiraz (or Cabernet or Merlot) for the same money.”
But that’s pinot; never cheap, seldom a bargain. Things are better than they used to be. Market forces have made Burgundians less complacent and it’s now hard to find a real bummer. Nevertheless, given the investment level, it’s wisest to squirrel out the names of the smart lads and stick with them. Or go New World. New Zealand (Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Craggy Ranges etc), Tasmania, South Africa, Oregon and California (Marimar Torres) are also making reliable, occasionally fantastic pinots.
Recently I encountered a Chilean stunner. It costs e40-odd a throw so I won’t be drinking it that often. Perhaps this is the best way to think of pinot noir – as a treat, a wine lover’s alternative to taking in a match, a play or a concert. Two hours of passionless Eagles or 6 glasses of coruscating 2003 Casa Marin “Lo Abarca Hills” (Wines Direct, Mullingar)? No contest.

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