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Pinot noir: a thin-skinned grape that’s worth getting to know

Many burgundy vineyards have the word “clos” in their name, referring to the walls that encloses them to protect the delicious grapes from being stolen and eaten (Photograph supplied)

When we say that someone is thin skinned, we usually mean that they are sensitive and do not handle adversity well. Pinot noir grapes are literally thin skinned and especially susceptible to frost, infections, and disease.

A hot climate that can cause them to ripen too fast to develop complex flavours and be susceptible to rot. Add to this the fact that close to a thousand clones exist of this vine, although only a few dozen are used for winemaking. The selection of the correct clones for a particular “terroir” is critical.

There is a band that circles the globe between 45 and 47 degrees of latitude north of the equator and it passes right through the Burgundy region of France, the birthplace of pinot noir.

It continues its journey through Oregon in the United States and then switches to 45 to 47 degrees south of the equator and cuts though the Central Otago region of New Zealand.

2018 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Premier Cru Rouge is an exceptional wine. Beautiful, deep-red ruby colour, with the bright sheen of great burgundies. Primary notes of red fruit dominate, such as Morello cherry (“griotte”, or wild cherry), raspberry and blackberry. There are hints of complexity with smoky flavours evolving towards liquorice. As the wine is maturing, aromas of pepper, tobacco, hummus, and undergrowth start to appear. The body is firm without being rough, well meshed without being heavy.

Many burgundy vineyards have the word “clos” in their name, and this refers to the walls that enclose them to protect the delicious grapes from being stolen and eaten. The word “mouche” in modern French means “fly” (the insect). Centuries ago, it meant “honey bee”, and there used to be hives on this precious plot of land.

James Suckling awards this wine 95/100 and writes: “perfumed and spicy wine with ripe strawberries, smoke and chocolate. Full, very savoury and intense. Long aftertaste with lots of perfume. Fine, creamy texture. Really spicy at the finish. Drink after 2022 and onwards”. $120 (Stock #8194).

Pommard is a village that is surrounded by vineyards and our 2018 Joseph Drouhin Pommard is produced from grapes that are purchased by the Drouhin family from growers that adhere to their standards of quality. It is said that the ancient Gauls cultivated pinot noir grapes here over two thousand years ago. This is a fine burgundy, worthy of its reputation. An intense, bright, red colour; a powerful nose, with notes of black cherry and spice, evolving towards aromas of young leather. On the palate, the tannins give a certain impression of firmness, somewhat softened by a harmonious texture. Persistent flavours dwell in the aftertaste. $66 (Stock #8180).

Elk Cove Vineyards is one of Oregon's oldest and most respected wine producers. Founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, their focus has always been to produce handcrafted, estate-grown wines that can rival the best in the world. Estate vineyards now cover over 250 acres on five separate sites in the Northern Willamette Valley. James Suckling has this to say about 2019 Elk Cove Estate Pinot Noir that he rates 92 points. “A wine with plenty of dried-strawberry and berry aromas and flavours. Medium to full body, firm and velvety tannins, yet this is always refined and polished. A beauty.” $41 (Stock #8395).

If you are going to move out of that 45 to 47 latitude north, or south, area and grow pinot noir you must find a climate that is cooled by ocean currents, or head to the heights – or do both. A good example is 2020 J. Lohr Falcon’s Perch Monterey Pinot Noir that hails from California’s Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands that are cooled by altitude and the cold ocean current that flows down the coast from British Columbia.

The Lohr family comments that the introduction of Dijon and Pommard clones over the last twenty years has dramatically increased quality. The name of this wine comes from a bird that made its home in a lone pine tree among the vines. It’s hunting of vertebrate pests helped preserve the ecosystem’s natural balance. The Wine Enthusiast rates this wine 90/100 and says, “this affordably priced Pinot Noir succeeds on many fronts, starting with fresh aromas of cherry and pepper on the nose. Editors’ choice”. $28.50 (Stock #7999).

I remember well as we drove through the coastal hills of Chile and could literally experience the climate change over just a few hundred feet – microclimates to the max. 2018 Ritual Organic Pinot Noir is born in an estate that is situated in the extreme eastern end of Chile’s Casablanca Valley, set against the dramatic sweeping beauty of the coastal range, and heavily influenced by the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean and Humboldt Current – ideal growing conditions for cool climate wines.

Following organic practices, the winemaking team uses compost to feed the soils to promote a balanced and self-regulated ecosystem, cover cropping and seeding for revitalising the soils and sheep to help mow the grass and act as natural fertilisers. The vineyards are surrounded by 6000 acres of native forest, creating a balanced, biodiverse landscape for healthy vines to thrive alongside natural wildlife corridors and native vegetation.

Let’s wrap this up by going to a highly respected wine critic from a country that can get rather chilly, to say the least. Canada’s Natalie Maclean writes: “Ritual 2018 Pinot Noir is fragrant with fresh raspberry, sous bois, green herbs, and sweet baking spice flavours balanced with brilliant acidity on the palate. The organically-grown pinot noir grapes for this wine were sourced from Chile’s Casablanca Valley. Tannins are rich and supple. A very elegant PN ready to drink now or hold for a year or two. Pour with grilled chicken dishes. Pinot noir food pairings: lamb chops, roast leg of lamb, roast duck. 93/100”. $27.90 (Stock #6190).

In keeping with the whole chilly programme today, I strongly suggest that you serve your pinot noir at about 60F as this will show it at its best. Twenty minutes in the fridge should do the trick. And please use those big balloon shaped glasses to give this classic wine a chance to fully reveal its beauty on August 18, International Pinot Noir Day.

• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published August 12, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated August 12, 2022 at 7:34 am)

Pinot noir: a thin-skinned grape that’s worth getting to know

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