Category Archives: Pinot Noir

2 Sides of Alsace

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Alsace is a region that looks two ways.  When you visit, the architecture, the food, the local dialect and many of the place names all suggest you are in Germany, which lies just a few miles to the east across the River Rhine.  This view is supported by two of the most widely planted grape varieties there being Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  But despite times under German rule in the past, today Alsace is firmly in France – although many of the locals would probably say that they’re from Alsace first and France second. 

The climate, too, is not quite what you’d expect: lying around 48˚N (similar to Champagne and more northerly than Chablis), and with Riesling and Gewurztraminer thriving, you’d be thinking it would be decidedly cool.  Yet, thanks to the shelter of the Vosges Mountains to the west, Alsace is often one of the sunniest and driest regions in the whole of France, allowing more warmth-loving varieties such as Muscat, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to ripen, if planted in the right spots.

And Domaine Paul Blanck has certainly found those, with vineyards ideally situated around the village of Kientzheim, just north of Colmar. 

Alsace P NoirHis Pinot Noir (Waitrose, £14.99) is especially recommended.  It’s a grape variety that can be very fussy – thin and tart if under-ripe, jammy if over-ripe – but Blanck has got it just right: quite restrained on the nose but with lovely ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours on the palate leading into a long fresh finish.  The only sign that this comes from a relatively cool site is the modest (12.5%) alcohol, but, for me, that, too is a plus giving the wine elegance and style and making it really food-friendly: duck or turkey certainly, but the lowish tannin would also point to pairing it with some robust fish dish, say a tuna steak.

Although Pinot Noir is most famously grown in Burgundy, it’s also found (as Spätburgunder) in parts of Germany and this example from Alsace is, for me, closer to that country’s style.  One more sign, perhaps, of this region looking two ways.

 

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A Rosé for Summer

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The last few days here in Bristol have seen a complete change in our weather: beautifully warm, sunny and, above all, dry; a real pleasure after a long, wet, dreary (and occasionally snowy) winter and early part of the spring.  No surprise then that our thoughts immediately turn to barbecues, picnics and that perfect summer drink: a glass of chilled rosé.  So, it was a very happy coincidence that earlier this week, on the first really sunny day, was the launch party of the latest vintage of Dunleavy Pinot Noir rosé, one of our most local wines, made from grapes grown at Wrington, just a few minutes’ drive south of Bristol. 

Of course, I had to go along and taste! 

Dunleavy rose 2017The wine has a lovely rich colour with attractive aromas and flavours of crushed strawberries.  Just a touch off-dry but very clean and refreshing and with a good dry, fruity finish.  Ideal for drinking chilled on its own in the garden (assuming this weather lasts!) but equally worth pairing with a seared fresh tuna steak or simply some cold cuts.

Ingrid Bates, owner and winemaker at Dunleavy, hosted the launch party of her 5th vintage at Bellita Wine Bar, now established in Cotham Hill in the space once occupied by Flinty Red.  An appropriate choice of venue as Bellita pride themselves in a winelist comprising all female winemakers – and why not, as they ask?

The wine was clearly going down well at the launch and also, later in the evening, at local restaurant, Bulrush, where I noticed it being served to some enthusiastic diners at the next table.

English wine has improved enormously in the last 30 years, mainly with some very successful sparkling examples, but Dunleavy’s delicious still Pinot Noir rosé shows a different direction in which local growers can clearly also thrive.  It is available direct from the vineyard (www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk) or from local wine merchant Grape and Grind.

 

The Fussy Pinot

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Pinot Noir is, undoubtedly, one of the fussiest and most difficult of all the major wine grapes to grow.  Plant it somewhere too cold and it simply won’t ripen, too warm and you get coarse, jammy flavours and the ‘sweet spot’ between these two can be perilously small.  It thrives, of course, in its French homeland, Burgundy, and there are some delightful examples elsewhere, including in Germany, Chile, New Zealand and the cooler parts of the USA (especially Washington State and Oregon but, despite the film ‘Sideways’, less frequently in California in my experience). 

Obviously, you can forget much of Australia – it’s just too hot, although there a few areas where the cold Antarctic winds and tidal currents make the climate far cooler (and so Pinot Noir friendly) than you might expect from the latitude.  Among these are the Great Southern region of Western Australia and Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.   On the other hand, surprisingly, there is one part of Australia where it’s so cool that growers need to seek out sheltered spots with good exposure to the sun to ripen their Pinot Noir at all.  That is the island state of Tasmania, about 100 miles south of the mainland which is, in fact, on the same latitude as New Zealand’s Marlborough region.

Tasmanian P NoirAnd it’s from Tasmania that Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir (Wine Society, £14.95) comes.  I tasted it recently: a typical Burgundian ‘farmyardy’ nose greets you but this is followed on the palate by lovely raspberry and cranberry flavours, a hint of cinnamon and a really long, crisp finish.  Given the price of good Pinots from elsewhere, I thought this was excellent value for money and an ideal match for our pan fried duck breasts with a honey and thyme sauce.

But, before I make you too hungry, I’ll end with a wine trivia question for you: what is the most westerly Designated wine region (Appellation Contrôlée or local equivalent) in mainland Europe?  I’ve just enjoyed a wine from there and I’ll tell you about it next time.

Pinot Noir from …..Germany?

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I always find it hard to convince wine lovers to try German Rieslings – so many people still think of them as being nasty, sweet and all tasting like cheap Liebfraumilch.  The truth may be the complete reverse but, sadly, the reputation remains.  And, if German whites are a hard sell, how about their reds?  In fact, did you even know that Germany made red wine?  Give yourself a big pat on the back if you said yes and a bonus mark if you’ve ever tasted one!

We visited Assmanshausen on the Rhine last year, one of the few villages in Germany dedicated almost exclusively to red wines.  They are made from a grape called Spätburgunder locally (we probably know it better as the Burgundy variety, Pinot Noir) and we loved what we tasted so much that I’ve been looking out for them ever since.

Given what I said in the first paragraph, they’re not going to be on every UK wine merchant’s shelf but, again, the Wine Society has come up trumps with a delicious example from Martin Wassmer (£12.95).

Wassmer P NoirHe has vineyards in the Baden region in the south of Germany where the climate is milder than much of the country and seems to suit the tricky-to-ripen Pinot Noir grape perfectly.   The example we tasted had the typical earthy, farmyardy nose that mark out so many good Pinots.  It was quite light bodied and relatively low in tannin but with lovely savoury flavours and an intense plummy fruitiness.  Really drinkable and moreish, this would partner duck, turkey or chicken beautifully or even lightly chilled on its own.

And once you’ve tried a German red, have a re-think about their whites, too: a good quality dry Riesling (look for the word ‘Trocken’ on the label) is a real delight and about as far from the dreaded Liebfraumilch as it is possible to imagine.

 

 

A Romanian Winner

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“Will you run a wine tasting for me?”  That’s a request I hear (fortunately!) quite frequently.  After discussing a few practical aspects – numbers, dates, venue – I usually ask whether the client has a particular theme in mind.  Different grape varieties, a ‘battle’ between Old World and New World wines or an individual country or region are popular choices and all make for good tastings.  But, occasionally, someone will send me in a very different direction.

“Can we have a tasting of Eastern European wines” was a recent request – a first, as far as I can recall.  And, of course, I said yes; it depends how you define ‘Eastern Europe’ -Germany, Austria and Hungary all make lovely wines – although I did recommend including South-Eastern Europe as well (Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the former Yugoslav republics) as this would make a better and more varied evening.

So, do these countries produce anything worth drinking?  Absolutely, yes!  And, because they’re unfashionable, the wines they make are often remarkable value.  You can even find them at High Street outlets – 3 of the bottles I selected were from Majestic and the other 3 from Waitrose.

Eastern Europe tastingAmong the favourites on the night were Puklavec’s tangy, fresh Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio from Slovenia (Waitrose, £7.99) and Aemilia’s chunky, dark-fruited Macedonian Shiraz/Vranac blend (also Waitrose, £7.49) – both brilliant value.  But the clear winner was from Romania: Incanta’s Pinot Noir (Majestic, £6.99, if you buy it as part of a mixed 6 bottle case).  Quite pale in colour (a fact, not a criticism) and reasonably light-bodied (only 12% alcohol) but full of lovely red fruit flavours – strawberries and redcurrants – and a clean, savoury, if slightly short, finish.  This is an easy drinking yet satisfying wine that would work well on its own on a summer evening in the garden, slightly chilled, perhaps, or to accompany a seared tuna steak or baked chicken breast; nothing too heavy or robust to overwhelm it, though.

If the thought of a tasting like this (not necessarily the same theme) appeals and you’re close to Bristol, please leave me a message in the Comment box and I’ll get back to you.

Pinot Noir: the Trickiest Grape

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Pinot Noir is the trickiest grape. It can make great wines or disappointingly ordinary ones. The problem is that it’s very choosy about where it grows: it generally prefers a coolish climate to show off its subtle elegance. But, too cool and it won’t ripen properly resulting in raw, green flavours. On the other hand, too warm and you get thick, jammy fruit. And don’t ask the vines to produce too many bunches or the wine will be dilute and thin. So growing – and buying – Pinot Noir wines can be a nightmare.
The grape is a native of Burgundy, but the growers there only get it right some of the time; the USA turns out some fine examples, as does New Zealand. But good bottles from any of these places are generally quite pricey (£15+) and I usually avoid cheaper – sometimes even mid-priced – examples as they rarely show much Pinot character. So I must have been in a good mood (or not thinking!) as I picked up a bottle from a Tesco shelf recently. Wairau Pinot NWairau Cove Pinot Noir (£9) is described as from New Zealand’s South Island – an interesting description as I’m more used to seeing a more precise origin such as Marlborough or Nelson or Central Otago. ‘South Island’ sounds as though it might be a blend of fruit from more than one region, although the Wairau River flows through Marlborough. A clue or just a convenient Kiwi-sounding name?
Whichever, the wine itself was a pleasant surprise: a typical earthy, ‘farmyard’ nose (some describe it more explicitly!), quite light-bodied in the mouth but plenty of fruit – stewed plums and some slightly dried fruit flavours – and a reasonable finish, too. So how do Tesco do it for the price? It appears from the label that the wine may have been shipped from New Zealand in tanker and bottled here in the UK. Not what we might expect in a £9 wine, but, in this case, it’s given us a very drinkable Pinot Noir at a fair price. Nothing tricky about that!