Imagine the smell of fresh red roses, a garden filled with strawberries and raspberries ready for picking, cranberries and cherries tingling the most discerning palate. Pinot Noir, the thin-skinned grape that holds a romantic and glamourised persona in the wine world, is often recognised for its light, elegant and sophisticated finesse.
Pinot Noir considers Burgundy in central-east France its homeland. It is the dominant and primary red grape of the region, and undoubtedly the origin of its best-quality wines. Pinot Noir is also one of the noble grapes produced in Champagne, alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Pinot Noir is now universally adored, achieving cult devotion among wine connoisseurs and sommeliers, and global revival following the popular 2004 movie ‘Sideways’.
Fast forward to 2016, and Pinot Noir can lay claim to being the sole grape used in the production of the most-expensive wine in the world, the sublime Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, from the Cote de Nuits of Burgundy. To save you from falling off your chair, I’ll refrain from telling you the average price for this particular one…. But, at an affordable price point, a bottle of Jean-Claude Regnaudot Maranges Premier Cru from the South of Burgundy at €23 represents phenomenal value.
Pinot Noir also thrives outside of Burgundy. Massive plantings of this cool-climate grape are found in California and Oregon on the West Coast of the US, and in the Marlborough district of New Zealand’s South Island, where an incomparable Pinot ‘GreyWacke’, overseen by the incredibly talented winemaker Kevin Judd, offers incredible value at around €38.
Elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, Bouchard Finlayson, by Peter Finlayson from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley of South Africa, produces a confident Pinot Noir, ‘Galpin Peak’, with a firm and polished profile of flavours, including pepper, spice, blackberry and cherry notes, ending in a harmonious and long earthy finish. A personal favourite of mine.
Pinot Noir is often aged in French oak barrels (barriques) of a 228 litre capacity. This process generally adds a few euros to the price of the bottle. However, these wines with oak influence usually age in depth of quality from two to 18 years.
A younger Pinot Noir, with its high acidity and low tannins, is delectably drinkable with salmon or other fatty fish, while as it ages and is older, can be the perfect compliment to gamey dishes like duck and pigeon.
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.