11. GRAPE VARIETIES Number one: Pinot Noir Part Two
Last month's article talked in general terms about how wonderful the Pinot Noir grape is, but what does it taste like? It is one of the charms of this grape variety that it is very difficult to pin down â€“ if you're a control freak, Pinot Noir is not for you, it is too unpredictable. Stick to claret and avoid red burgundy. The grapes for claret, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (and others) will produce wines where you can be reliably sure of what you're getting. This is the fashion these days â€“ part of "value for money" is reckoned to be the avoidance of disappointment. With Pinot Noir you will probably meet some disappointments, but the high points (see last month's article) make any number of disappointments worth it.
Before you taste it is always worth smelling wines, and the smell of good Pinot Noir is a major component of the pleasure of drinking it - the smell is so wonderful that I could live in it. Michael Broadbent in the first edition of his Great Vintage Wine Book has a go at describing it: "The Pinot aroma and flavour is hard to describe. Mint has a mint-like smell, garlic is garlic, Pinot is Pinot â€“ more root-like in character as opposed to the fruit-bush crispness of Cabernet Sauvignon. A lecturer once likened the Pinot aroma to boiled beetroot, and I know what he meant." Anthony Hanson, in the first edition of his book Burgundy, famously wrote: "Great Burgundy smells of shit." I know what he meant.
The taste: The Oxford Companion to Wine makes an attempt at description, as follows, "the only characteristics that the Pinot Noirs of the world could be said to share would be a certain sweet fruitiness, and, in general, lower levels of tannins and pigments than the other 'great' French red varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah." Serena Sutcliffe, in the second edition of her Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide to the Wines of Burgundy, in the section on TASTING BURGUNDY, writes: "To unlock the flavours and smells of fine burgundy is to attain a hedonist's nirvana. Trying poor burgundy is a deadening experience .....Â All the following flavours have been ascribed to burgundy, more especially to the bouquet of fine bottles â€“ they are not fanciful, just an attempt to pinpoint those heady, sensual aromas which assail the lucky drinker of good burgundy:
Cherries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Redcurrants, CassisÂ ...Â Figs, Prunes, Plums, Greengages ... Loganberries, Black berriesÂ .... Vanilla, Cinnamon ..... Liquorice, Laurel, Truffles, Chocolate, Tar .... Roses, Violets .... Wet fur, Wet leaves, Farmyards, Leather, Cocoa ..... Hung game ....."
Pinot Noir is now produced around the world, with good examples in particular coming from New Zealand, USA, Chile, though the home of Pinot Noir is still Burgundy.
Go out and try some â€“ see what the fuss is all about!