Whether enjoying a meal at an upmarket establishment or as a way for budding culinary stars to showcase their talents through television phenomena’s such as Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules, one of the fashionable trends of the moment appears to be serving dishes “three ways.” Indeed the concept recently inspired a Saturday dinner at home with friends encompassing a shared table style meal and Pinot Noir “served three ways”. So what exactly did this entail? Along with the platters of roasted vegetables, scrumptious salads and pan roasted duck displayed on the table, space was also made for the all important addition of three bottles of exceptional Pinot Noir from three different wine growing regions, which guests could enjoy, compare and contrast at their leisure. After enjoying that initial first mouthful, I remember how seldom disappointed I am when enjoying a great glass of this fine red varietal.
The Pinot Noir grape has had immense success in cooler winegrowing regions around the world. Despite differing climates, soil types, viticulture and winemaking techniques ultimately producing a multiplicity of wine styles, a common thread of Pinot Noir characters always hold true: comparatively lighter colour in light due to the grapes thin skins, firm acidity, soft silky tannins and juicy fruit forward aromas and flavours. Although winemakers would describe the grape as fickle and tricky in the vineyard, in the cellar the grape holds the key to producing some extraordinary wines – everything from soft, elegant wines bustling with red berry fruit, to more complex, powerful, structural wines with black fruit characters – fuelling this love-hate relationship with the grape.
When it comes to a tasting “three ways”, there could be no other place to start than with Burgundy – Pinot Noir’s spiritual home and penultimate region producing some of the most sought after wines in the world from this varietal. Burgundy can be a challenging area for consumers to navigate with approximately 100 appellations tied to the quality level of an individual plot of land further divided into four geographical suffix descending in size: the all encompassing Bourgogne (Burgundy) region, districts, villages and finally individual vineyards. For Pinot Noir adorers, however, we can in part simplify the process by focusing upon two key districts and the smaller areas within: the Côte de Beaune with its lighter, flesher style, and the Côte de Nuits which produces some of Burgundy’s longest living, most concentrated, powerful red wines from Pinot Noir, although like most things in life there are exceptions. For example, the villages of Pommard and Corton in the Côte de Beaune tend to produce more powerful, robust, intense, long lived wines with firmer, grippy tannins more like its neighbour, the Côte de Nuits. The common theme with Burgundy’s quality Pinot Noir wines is firm acidity, purity of fruit (in good vintages), and a noticeable chalkiness to the tannins linked to the regions limestone soils. What tells the best from the best apart? Put simply, tannin structure, complexity, integration and length.
Moving away from the old world, it’s a chance to taste New World winemakers take on the grape.
New Zealand is a noteworthy producer of quality, Burgundian style Pinot Noir produced from three classic sub regions: Marlborough, Central Otago and Martinborough. Of late, New Zealanders tastes at least have swung towards the all fashionable Central Otago region. Driving inland from Queenstown situated on its picturesque setting of Lake Wakatipu the terrain changes dramatically to a mountainous, rocky landscape, and its here vineyards are nestled amongst the Southern Alps high in the mountains. The region is not only home to some of the world’s most jaw dropping scenery but is also the producer of some intense, elegant Pinot Noir in part due to the regions dramatic day and night temperature swings: warm days with plentiful sunshine, and chilly nights. Indeed even in the peak of summer, it’s not an unlikely occurrence that when you awaken and peek out the window a decent smattering of snow has dusted the mountain tops overnight fittingly requiring the Icebreaker merino wool jacket when fetching the local paper and coffee that morning.
The vast California coastline from Sonoma to Napa to Santa Barbara is also home to some exceptional, yet markedly different Pinot Noir styles. One particular up and coming region is the SonomaCounty etched on the Californian coastline. The drive from our exquisite hotel, Hotel Healdsburg situated in the quaint French-esk town of Healdsburg (hub of the upper Russian River Valley viticultural area known for its quality Pinot Noir) to the very well regarded boutique producer, William Selyem specialising in Pinot Noir production takes us out to the “true” Sonoma coast leaving the backdrop of Mayacamas Mountain Range dividing the eastern border of Sonoma County from Napa in our rear vision mirror. Compared to Napa, Sonoma has a certain rusticity – it’s not glamorous nor flashy and producers are very humble about their remarkable quality wines and their big aspirations particularly when it comes to Pinot Noir. Standing in the vineyards that morning immediately you can feel “Sonoma Coast air conditioning” as described by William Selyem’s team when discussing the effect of the morning and evening fogs that roll in from the Ocean moderating temperatures in the vineyard. As their team notes however, the warm, sunny Californian coast still requires the winemakers to employ protective winemaking techniques to sustain the fruits freshness and crispness such as picking grapes at night. Inevitably in warmer vintage years generally Pinot Noir wines will tend to be a little rounder, juicier and fruit forward compared to their Burgundian counterparts.
Three wines, three ways – a fun, interactive, packed full of discussion way to get to know Pinot Noir.
Louis Latour Volnay Premier Cru En Chevret 2009
Pinot Noir grapes sourced from the premier cru vineyards (sites recognised as making superior wine) in the village of Volnay located in southern part of Côte de Beaune. The wine is deep ruby red in colour bustling with aromas of red fruit (strawberries and red cherry) and a whiff of spice. Multi layered on the palate with a great intensity and concentration of juicy red berry fruit and oak flavours, firm acidity, chewy tannins and a long spicy finish. Complex, well integrated, age worthy wine for those patient enough to wait for 5+ years.
Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011
Very elegant wine, and typically Central Otago in style, with intense aromatics of dark red fruit and spice on the nose, and fresh acidity, silky velvety tannins and concentrated pure fruit flavours of plum, blackcurrant, dark cherry coupled with pronounced oak and spice notes. Firm length and savoury, spicy finish.
William Selyem Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010
Sourced from Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard nestled in the heart of the RussianRiverValley, the wine is rich and showcasing extraordinary complexity. Marked by a very cool year and great swings in temperature, the wine has complex aromas and flavours of ripe red fruit (cherry, raspberries, strawberries), hints of dark cherry and plum coupled with earthy, mushroom notes, firm tannins, and a decent dose of acidity creating a long, mouth-watering finish. A perfect addition to the wine cellar.