Category Archives: Pinot Noir

Bringing Back Memories

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I’d like to begin my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2017 by wishing you a Very Happy New Year – a new year in which I hope you will continue to enjoy your wine and (hopefully) continue to read about it in this blog!

I’m often explaining to people about the process of tasting wine – how you use your eyes, your nose and your mouth and take time to really get to know all that the wine has to offer.  But, sometimes, there’s even more involved: you open a wine and your imagination begins to work overtime as the smells and the tastes trigger something in your brain.  

That happened to both my wife and I recently.  The very first sniff of a glass of Roaring Meg Pinot Noir (Majestic, £17.99) transported us back to the view below, taken from the terrace of Mount Difficulty, the New Zealand estate where this wine comes from.central-otago-mt-difficulty-view-from-terrace

It’s almost 3 years ago now since our time in New Zealand.  For part of our stay, we based ourselves in Queenstown on the South Island to explore the Central Otago wine region.  Our wonderful guide, Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail took us around some of the best estates including a very special food and wine matching lunch at the Wild Earth winery that remains a highlight of the visit for us.  Happily, one that we can mentally re-visit regularly as Waitrose often stock the estate’s crisp, vibrant Riesling (£14.99).

But, back to the Roaring Meg, one of the last stops on our trip.  Named, according to the bottle, after a local stream – although we heard another story, perhaps less suitable for a wine label!  The wine itself is everything good Pinot Noir should be: intense and focussed with lovely savoury red and black berry flavours – a perfect foil for light red meats, poultry in sauces or cheeses.

If only New Zealand was a little closer, we’d visit regularly but, as it is, we have to make do with our imagination and open a bottle or two to bring back liquid memories.

The Best Pinot Noir

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A couple of days ago, the latest edition of ‘Decanter’ dropped onto my door mat.  Only this time, the ‘thud’ was rather louder than usual as the magazine was accompanied by a bulky supplement announcing the results of the annual Decanter World Wine Awards.  Although I had plenty of other things to do, I couldn’t resist a quick flick through the list of the top prizes – the wines that had won Platinum Medals (the new combined name for the old Regional and International Trophies).

One entry caught my eye: the winner of the ‘Best Pinot Noir in Chile’ category – Cono Sur’s ‘20 Barrels’.  By chance, we’d got a bottle sitting on our wine rack, bought a few weeks previously in a Waitrose special offer – £14.99 instead of £19.99.  We were going to be eating some pan-fried duck breast with a spiced raspberry sauce that evening, so it was a great chance to open it and put it to the test.  20 Barrels P Noir

I can see why it won; it really is a delicious wine – lots of red and black fruit flavours, plenty of Pinot character, well-balanced and with a good, long finish.

But how does it compare with other Pinots?  Decanter have their view, but just a day earlier, I’d included some bottles from New Zealand in a tasting I was running for a local group.  If the 20 Barrels was worthy of Platinum in its category, then so, surely, was Martinborough Vineyards’ Te Tera (Majestic, £16.99).  Yet, on checking the New Zealand results, that wine was down among the Silver Medalists in its group – not even Gold!  Still a creditable result, but a long way short of Platinum.  So, why the difference?

Different judges, judging by different standards, perhaps?  Or is it that the New Zealand Pinot category as a whole is stronger than Chile and therefore harder to win?  It’s difficult to say, but the lesson is clear: awards or points awarded by judges, even professionals, should only ever be used as a guide.  In the end, just trust your own taste buds.

 

More Thoughts from Germany

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Mosel SpatleseAs I said in my last Bristol Wine Blog, we’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, we sampled some of the local product which, in general, was made from Riesling. Not surprising given that almost 80% of the Rheingau and well over half of the Mosel vineyards are planted with that single variety.

Riesling has long had a poor reputation in the UK but that comes, in the main, from the bargain-basement German bottles which customers associate with Riesling but are usually some inferior variety such as Muller-Thurgau. So, set any preconceived views on one side; there are some real treasures to be discovered.

Riesling is a grape with naturally high acidity, a trait accentuated by being grown in relatively cool climates. To appreciate it at its best, the key is to find a wine where the acidity is balanced with just enough sweetness – I’m not talking about a dessert wine but one that just off-dry. The word to look for on the label is ‘Spätlese’. Made from grapes picked a little later than the usual harvest and therefore with a higher sugar content, these typically are allowed to reach between 8% and 10% alcohol before the fermentation is stopped. This leaves a few grams per litre of sugar to give that balance I mentioned earlier. Sadly, many of the wines we tasted are not available in the UK but Majestic have a good example: Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium’s Mosel Trittenheim Apotheke Spätlese (£9.99).

But, we didn’t just taste Riesling. We stayed in the village of Assmannshausen on the Rhine which is one of the few there specialising in red wines. They even hold a ‘Red Festival’ each year to celebrate, ending with a display of fireworks all in red. The grape they grow is known there as Spätburgunder, to the rest of us, it’s Pinot Noir. Not cheap and even more difficult to find in the UK than good Riesling, but if you see a bottle from there, it’s well worth trying.

Bristol’s Local Vineyard

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Grapes picked, wine made and bottled. For a vineyard owner, all that remains of a year’s journey is to hear what customers think of the latest vintage. So, a release party is always an exciting and nervous time, particularly when it’s just your 3rd commercial vintage and you’ve won International Wine Challenge awards for your first two.

But Ingrid Bates from Bristol’s local vineyard, Dunleavy, need not have worried. Her delightful, crisp but delicate Pinot Noir Rosé is, if anything, better than ever. Lovely pale strawberry colour, nose of crushed red fruits and a juicy, fresh palate – this is the perfect wine to serve lightly chilled on a warm summer evening in the garden.

DunleavyIngrid planted her vineyard in the Wrington Vale, just a stone’s throw from Bristol, in 2008 and made her first wine (just 100 bottles!) 4 years later. 2013 saw the wine’s commercial release and I’ve keenly followed its progress ever since. The 2015 has a smart new label featuring a design by a local artist and, more significantly, a screw cap replaces the previous cork closure – a sensible decision for a wine made to be drunk young and fresh.

At present, this rosé is the only wine Dunleavy produces although Ingrid has plans for a sparkling at some time in the future; one step at a time! The wine is available direct from the vineyard (email hello@dunleavyvineyards.co.uk) or (along with a tempting selection of other English wines) from local independent wine merchant Grape and Grind in Gloucester Road where the launch party was held. I’m sure it will also continue to be on the lists at a number of restaurants in and around the city.

Regular Bristol Wine Blog readers will know that I’m a great supporter of English wines and this Dunleavy Rosé just confirms that view. English Wine Week runs from 28th May to 5th June; make sure you have a bottle of something local handy to celebrate!

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!