Left behind: Pinot-ish ramblings from the wrong side of the world

As I write this (literally), there is a Maori warrior challenging the guest speakers and VIPs at the New Zealand Pinot Noir conference in Wellington. I’d say that I would give my right arm to be there, but my right arm is my glass holding arm, so that would be self-defeating. I would nonetheless give perhaps a less useful limb or digit to be joining the merry, ever-tweeting throng.

I do love Pinot after all, although as I’ve said before, it can be a strange and heartbreaking variety. Someone yesterday on twitter asked “if Pinot Noir was a man, who would it be?” I have to confess, I didn’t think about it for very long, but went with the following sweeping generalisations:

1) if talking new world Pinot, then Johnny Depp: gorgeous, fun, flirty, intelligent and with hidden depths.

2) if red Burgundy, Jude Law: stunning, irresistible, but also capable of letting you down and breaking your heart

Of course, shortly afterwards, a few people chipped in with the fact that Pinot Noir is more of a girl, if we’re honest. Fickle, temperamental, a little bit unreliable, but utterly beguiling nonetheless. The girl with the curl, perhaps: “when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”.

I went to NZ straight after a short trip to Burgundy to taste the 2011 vintage, and returned from NZ to retaste the 2011s in London a few weeks ago, so I’ve had a fair few Pinot Noirs in the past few months. Where, with many grape varieties, it is becoming ever-harder to draw a firm old-world/new-world divide, I think the difference is still relatively clear in Pinot (although no doubt I’ll be proved wrong at the next blind tasting I attend); there is something about the quality of the ripe fruit in examples from New Zealand, Australia (even cool climate) and the USA that set them apart.

Now, I have been fortunate enough to taste some pretty insanely good red burgundies in my time; mostly immature at barrel tastings, but a handful (but a good one) of mature examples. There is very little to compare with the ethereal pleasure of a perfectly mature burgundy, the ever-changing, rippling, sweet-savoury, earthy-floral aromatics, the layered complexity of the palate and the lingering, endless poetic length. Yet, there is something almost melancholic about burgundy; drinking it feels almost elegaic. Favourite Burgundian producers (reads more like a wish-list than anything particularly achievable sadly): Rousseau, Roumier, Dujac, DRC, Mugnier, de Vogue, Georges Noellat, Duroché, Chandon de Briailles, Cathiard.

SeresinThe exuberance of new world examples, in general, contrasts with this, feeling more vernal than autumnal. In some of the best examples I’ve tasted (have tasted more from NZ and California), there has been a mouthcoating richness to the fruit, a mouthful of hedgerow berries, that is incredibly appealing and – let’s not beat about the (hedgerow) bush – yummy. Purists might say that perhaps there’s a touch more new oak used at times, perhaps the alcohol is a little higher, perhaps some as yet don’t age as well as they might in the future, but there are incredible Pinots being made the world over. Recent joyous new world discoveries (or confirmations) include, Talley, Littorai, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Ocean Eight, Peter Michael, Grasshopper Rock, Misha’s Vineyard, Seresin, Fromm… and so many others.

I think the fickle and surprise nature of Pinot Noir can be ably illustrated through my Christmas drinking. On the day itself, I had a bottle of 2001 Romanée St Vivant from Nicolas Potel; yes, he’s a negociant, but he makes good wines, so I had high expectations. It was one of the most disappointing things I’ve tasted for a while. Sure, I didn’t pay full whack for it, but if I had… It was just a bit flat, a bit uninteresting; it lacked primary fruit, but also lacked delicious complexity. It was “alright”, which has got to be one of the worst ways to describe a wine. In contrast, on Boxing Day, I opened a bottle of 2004 Pinot Noir from Staete Landt, which I’d been given during my trip. If any of my clients owned this wine, I would have recommended that they drink it a few years ago, but I would potentially have been quite wrong, as this was a deliciously fragrant, complex, concentrated, everything-you-want-Pinot-to-be sort of wine. The sort of wine where you get to the last drop in the decanter and sigh…

Anyway, I must now do something more constructive with my time..

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Today’s stuck-in-head-song – 1957, Milo Greene (check out their amazing and surreal mini-concept-album-movie-type-thing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV8tZKrSrcA)

Today’s dinner – roast beef, yorkshire puds, roasties etc..

Today’s drinks – 2009 Luigi Bosca Gala 1

Today’s footwear – slippers

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