Last week I had a great taste-off between three different Pinot Noirs, two from France and one from New Zealand.
The first wine was from Alsace, a region chiefly known for its outstanding white wines from the designated 'noble' varieties Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. However, the region also grows one red variety amongst all the white, which is Pinot Noir. Now to be honest most of these Pinots are very light in colour and a bit thin in flavour - fine slightly chilled with a simple lunch but nothing to bother sticking in your boot to take home and certainly nothing to challenge Burgundy. However, the quality has been creeping up in recent years and certain producers are now making a newer style of Pinots that are nothing like the traditional light lunchtime quaffers; they are generally fairly full, rich and oak aged, often similar in style to ones across the border in Germany. Some are very good indeed.
The one we tried was most certainly in this new wave; it was a 2006 bottle of Weid, an Alsace Pinot Noir from the excellent producer Lucien Albrecht. It was only just about ready, with quite a lot of new oak, but the oak didn't stick out at all and was well integrated. Both the nose and palette were very fine, with plenty of red fruit flavours and some perfumed complexity all perfectly balanced with the well-judged oak and the fairly high but not astringent tannins. Interestingly, this was a stylistic bridge between a Burgundy and a New World Pinot, with a lot of the immediate appeal of the New World style but also some of the understated elegance characteristic of Burgundy. Very long and appealing it was a great wine for sure. I bought the bottle from the producer a couple of years ago for €16.50 but unfortunately it's not currently available in the UK to the best of my knowledge.
After Alsace we headed to the homeland of Pinot Noir, which is the Côte d'Or in Burgundy. Reds from Pinot Noir and Whites from Chardonnay have been made in this small strip of vines for so long that each vineyard is mapped out and granted a status, which could allow the grapes to be made into village wine (named after the local village) , Première Cru wine (named after the village and the vineyard), or top of the tree (and extremely expensive) Grand Cru wine, which is so prestigious that the name of the village is dropped altogether and the appellation is simply the name of the vineyard.
The example we had was a bottle of 2007 Monthelie 1er Cru Les Vignes Rondes from Pascal Prunier-Bonheur. More subtler altogether this, but with a deceptively strong core of fruit considering its lighter body. This was a real slow burner; subtle and elegant with complexity and length it was a fine wine and very worthy of its Première Cru status.
Finally we looked at an example of premium Pinot Noir from the New World. Regardless of where it's from, top New World Pinot offers a richer, riper, fuller and fruit laden wine, but (hopefully) still with the classic Pinot elegance and complexity. New Zealand is still the New World benchmark for Pinot Noir - other Countries challenge this, notably Oregon and certain parts of California in the US, various cool climate areas of Chile and the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsular in Australia, but New Zealand is probably still (just) top dog. The two best regions in New Zealand for the variety are Martinborough and Central Otago, with a healthy regional competition for top Pinot honours between them.
The wine we looked at was a 2006 Martinborough Pinot Noir from Escarpment, one of the Country's top producers for the variety. It was everything you would imagine it should be; packed full of deep red berry fruit flavours, with fairly high but ripe and smooth tannins. Also a lovely a wine, but in a different way. Whilst the Burgundy was something you could enjoy slowly over a lovely Coq-au-Vin, for example, the Escarpment would be great with fat and bloody steak. Perhaps the Weid, with a foot in each camp, could go either way. All were an excellent showcase of what this most capricious of varieties can achieve in a good location and with skilled hands.
Lucien Albrecht; Alsace Pinot Noir Weid - N/A UK - approximately €20 cellar door
Pascal Prunier-Bonheur; Monthelie 1er Cru Les Vignes Rondes - £21.95 from Seabright and Seabright
Escarpment; Martinborough Pinot Noir - £22 from Majestic