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Winemakers’ holy grail

The cellars of Joseph Drouhin in France (Photograph supplied)

On August 18 we celebrate Black Pinecone Day, or if I translate into French, which may be more appropriate for wine lovers, it becomes “jour de pinot noir”.

The reason behind this is that the grape clusters resemble pinecones in shape. Noir refers to its quite dark pigmentation, even though it is genetically closely related to pinot grigio.

This ancient grape was probably producing wines in the Burgundy region of France and thriving when the Romans arrived so long ago. It can exhibit delicious cherry and strawberry, raspberry, and mushroom, but also represent what I call the animal side of life, as it ages. Terms like leather, sweat and barnyard aromas; the last often referred to by the French with a word that this fine newspaper would probably “bleep out” if I chose to use it. Let us stick with barnyard.

It is the ultimate challenge for winemakers for quite a few reasons. It prefers cool climates, and it is not only humans that tend to suffer more from disease when the weather is cold. It is packed tightly in its bunches, and getting healthy air and sunshine is problematic. It is very thin skinned and so lacks the protection that skin offers. And now for the real cruncher. If you are planting cabernet sauvignon you have about 12 clones to choose from. There are about 800 pinot noir clones in France alone. To put it mildly, this vine is extremely genetically unstable! Probably only a few dozen are used in winemaking and an average bottle may contain three to five. If you want to impress friends just casually say, “personally I prefer Dijon clone 777”. It is one of my favourites.

South America gives us two that are priced to use on a regular basis. Before the vines are mature enough and complex enough to display the Argentine family name of Catena, they are nurtured with the same care and bottled under the Alamos label. The 2019 Alamos Seleccion Pinot Noir shows a rich ruby colour with an aromatic bouquet of ripe red fruits with notes of toast and spice. The ripe, raspberry, strawberry and cherry flavours are mixed with touches of vanilla and toast from light oak ageing. The wine presents a soft, silky texture and finishes with ripe, sweet tannins. $19.90 (Stock #7114).

Now over the majestic Andes and into the Casablanca Valley of Chile for a bottle of 2018 Ritual Pinot Noir. It gives us remarkable floral, cherry, and raspberry aromas. Critic James Suckling awards it 93/100, which is exceptional for a wine that costs you $24.90. He writes, “nuanced fragrance, full of racy raspberries, mossy berries, forest floor and spices. Elegant, but deep. Smooth, round, and subtle on the palate. So much poise, showcasing fine, pinot character. From organically grown grapes”. (Stock #6190).

Now onto the Russian River Valley in California that takes its name from the fact that Russian fur traders frequented it in the 1800s. Cool climate equals fine animal pelts for warmth, and cool climate equals great pinot noir. The 2018 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir hails back to one of the very first people to plant here. In 1959 Rodney Strong gave up the song and dance routine in New York City with his wife and headed west. He was the first to designate single vineyard sites in this state. Pop the cork and experience a soft and silky texture, dark cherry, cranberry and baking spices, and a hint of toasty vanilla. $31.55. (Stock #6501).

And now for three rides on the chilly 45th parallel – north and south. It will take us through Central Otago in New Zealand, then through Oregon, and end up in Burgundy. The 2018 Pyramid Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir is a boutique producer that focuses on creating premium biodynamic wines. Critic Sam Kim writes, “elegant, fragrant, and complex, this splendid expression shows spiced cherry, smoked game, thyme and dark mushroom notes on the nose, followed by a finely textured palette that’s richly textured and lingering. The wine displays lovely flow, backed by fine, grainy tannins, making it a wonderful food partner. At its best: 2020 to 2028. 95/100”. $44.90. (Stock #6920).

The 2021 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir is discussed this way by their winemaker. “Fruit from each vineyard block is fermented separately in small, temperature-controlled steel tanks, hand-punched down twice daily, and barrelled in French oak. After ten months of ageing, the wine we choose for our Willamette Valley pinot noir is carefully blended to produce the most approachable, well-balanced pinot noir we make. Bright cherry and raspberry aromas complement notes of cinnamon and delicate violet, while the palate strikes a balance between juicy plum and boysenberry and complex, earthy cola and leather, finishing with chalky tannins and hints of crème brûlée.” And just in case you have not been there please remember this Oregon advice that they will give you. “It is pronounced “Will-am-it damn it”. $41 (Stock #8395).

And now we are in historic Burgundy, a land of wine legends. I hope that I will not offend if I offer a description of what I have heard about some of their legendary wines. It goes like this. “It is like Baby Jesus in velvet trousers going down the throat”. Well OK.

We are in the village of Pommard, with a population of only a few hundred residents. Their pinot noir is known for producing quite powerful versions of this grape. The 2019 Joseph Drouhin Pommard is what we call a village wine as grapes come from various vineyards in the appellation. This one has an intense, bright colour, a powerful nose with hints of black cherry and spice evolving towards aromas of young leather. The 2019 holds promise of a very good year and the wines are charming, silky, and full of delicacy. Parker’s Wine Advocate wrote, “Drouhin continues to demonstrate what a class act they have become. This is their luscious, silky Pommard from a thrilling year for pinot noir”. $66 (Stock #8180). After writing this I have a feeling that it will be pinot noir with dinner tonight!

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. 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 18, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated August 30, 2023 at 12:32 pm)

Winemakers’ holy grail

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