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Celebrate wines made from historic pinot noir

Last week I wrote of pinot noir and how August 18 is set aside each year to celebrate the wines made from this historic, cool-climate-loving grape.

We ended with Drouhin Cuvée Laurène Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley and I mentioned that this week we would move on to Burgundy in France and Central Otago in South Island, New Zealand.

When I have conducted pinot noir tastings I have often explained that I have produced a map of our world showing some of the finest appellations for these vineyards and I take a tennis ball from my pocket and hold it for everyone to clearly see. They observe a black line that represents the equator. Equidistant north and south are two more earth-girding lines and I tell the tasters that the northern one cuts through Willamette Valley at about 45 degrees and if you follow it around the globe you will see that it goes right through Burgundy in France.

Now we look at the line that is 45 degrees south of the equator and it goes smack through Central Otago. With the exception of a few high altitude and also special microclimate spots, these distances from the equator represent the zones where much of the fine pinot noir thrives.

Let's kick off in Central Otago with a wine that I am always an enormous fan of and I refer to Mt Difficulty Bannockburn 2016 Pinot Noir. As I mentioned last week, much of the genius of pinot noir production is selecting from the vast range of clones available for the vineyard owner. This pinot noir is blended from a range of Bannockburn vineyards, with the majority of grapes coming from earlier plantings which are predominantly clones 5, 6 and 10/5. More recent plantings are a mix of Dijon clones: 113, 115, 667 and 777. That is how complicated it gets as you find the best clone partners for various soils and microclimates.

This vintage has produced a pinot noir displaying ripe, rich aromatics. Perfumed black fruits of the forest dominate the aroma and these are underpinned by lovely clove, anise and other brown spice notes. The wine displays lovely elegance and flows with striking precision and clarity.

On the palate it kicks off with a supple dark berry entry, moving into a beautifully textured plush mid-palate, after which fine elegant textural tannins frame fruit and acidity on a lengthy finish. Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Noir will improve for seven to ten years given optimal vintage and cellaring conditions. Stock #8641; $39.90.

I do not think many would dispute that the village of Vosne Romanée tops the list in Burgundy and the name is derived from the fact that Emperor Caesar awarded soldiers who served in his army for 20 years a small plot of this precious earth. I would like to tell you about our Joseph Drouhin Vosne Romanée 2011 that exhibits elegance and a beautiful colour, with intense and bright reflections.

The diversity of the aromas is striking: wild cherry, nutmeg, camphor wood, fine leather. Later on, the wine takes on a subtle aroma of truffle, producing the most varied palette. With its perfect balance between tannin and acidity, it has a fleshy, sturdy body and a powerful, long aftertaste. A wealth of harmonious sensations characterises this well-aged burgundy. This wine sells for $78.60 (stock #8197) but some of the single vineyard wines from this village count themselves among the world's most expensive. For instance, I just checked the international price of a magnum of one from this 2011 vintage and they are asking $15,000.

I think it fair to say that the Drouhin family consider their share of the Clos des Mouches vineyard in Beaune among their most valuable possessions.

They farm it biodynamically and here is what master of wine Tim Atkin has to say about Drouhin Clos des Mouches Rouge 2016: “95 points. People forget that Clos des Mouches produced its first red wine in 1921 — seven years before Drouhin made a white there — but the quality of the two is often of equal stature.

If anything, I slightly prefer the red version in the 2016, which combines a touch of whole bunch spice with refined oak and silky red berry fruit. Drink 2020 to 2028.”

This highly allocated wine is such a perfect example of what the rare, sacred soils and microclimates of Burgundy can offer. Although the word mouche today means a pesky fly, centuries ago it meant honeybee and there were hives there. Clos means enclosed by a wall and this was to prevent theft (they became popular during the great plague in the 1300s). Stock #8194; $120.65.

I will end by taking you to the Santa Lucia Highlands wine-growing region in western Monterey County situated in California.

This small appellation is home to multi-generation farmers and revered winemakers who craft award-winning wines.

I will always remember the story that Gary Pisoni told us at a tasting in New York City: “I told my dad that I wanted to plant pinot noir on our family farm, but he insisted that we were vegetable farmers and should keep to this. I asked him how many people he knew who would put on a tuxedo and pay $150 to attend a lettuce tasting? I got my wish.”

Critic Jed Dunnock writes this: “The 2017 Pisoni Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands is a gem of a wine that's unquestionably at the same level as the single vineyard releases. Mulberries, black raspberries, spring flowers and forest floor notes all emerge from this medium to full-bodied, elegant Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir that leads with its fruit. It will keep for seven to eight years. 94/100.” Stock #6124. $60.45.

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), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm

Smart move: Gary Pisoni convinced his father to make the switch from vegetable farming to wine

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Published August 14, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 14, 2020 at 8:57 am)

Celebrate wines made from historic pinot noir

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