Wine o’Clock: Is this the world’s greatest grape?
Velvet’s wine columnist Giles Luckett has been in the business for more than 30 years and worked everywhere from Harrods to Laithwaites. This month, he’s celebrating “the finest red wine grape on the planet”. . .
Hello again. This column is a hymn to the finest red wine grape on the planet, Pinot Noir. No other grape elicits such admiration (frustration if you’re a winemaker) or is capable of such mesmerising wines.
Burgundy and Champagne would be lost without it. Billionaires would have to find some other way of spending £20,000+ a bottle on the likes of Romanee Conti (it’s not bad, apparently). And wine lovers like me wouldn’t clog up online forums debating the merits of our latest Pinot ‘finds’.
It’s the queen of grapes, and while historically the best have cost a king’s ransom, as the following show, it’s now available to mortals too.
Proving that good Pinot can be affordable, we have the Pringle Bay Pinot Noir 2021 (Majestic £7.99). This South African offering shows this mercurial grape’s approachable side. Medium-bodied, it offers tones of strawberry, red cherry and raspberry with a dollop of blackberry jam on the finish. This is one of those wines you can see being ‘discovered’ and the price soaring.
When you think of Sancerre you probably think of fresh, flinty whites and Lovejoy. OK, the latter may just be me, but 20% of Sancerre is red, wines that show another incarnation of this fantastic grape. Take the Les Marennes Rouge Sancerre (Waitrose £15.99). This delightful wine is driven by blackberries and raspberry fruit with a limey, mineral character. Give it some time open and it takes on deeper, more complex flavours of plums, green peppers and mint. I’ve had this chilled and at room temperature, and both work brilliantly.
New Zealand’s Pinots have been causing excitement for many years now, and they seem to be getting better and better. My latest encounter with one was the Forrest Pinot Noir 2019 (Adnams £16.99). This is a very European style of Pinot made in one of the most southerly wine regions in the world, Central Otago. Deeply coloured and showing no signs of age, the nose is dominated by brambles, with touches of black cherry and vanilla smoke. Lovely mouthfeel with plenty of glycerine, the dominant tones are blackberry, and boysenberry, with sour cherries and spices coming in at the finish. This is a great Pinot Noir for modest money.
Chile is another land of great Pinot promise and Errazuriz are one of its finest producers. While their Las Pizarras 2021 (Hic! £64 (and worth every penny)) steals the headlines, it’s wines like the Aconcagua Costa 2020 (Ocado £18) that offer the value. Its inviting nose of brambles and vanilla are followed by a silky palate that’s full of fruits of the forest backed by savoury notes of the forest floor. Light-medium-bodied, zesty red berries, brambles, cherries and spices, backed by well-integrated oak that adds a creamy, velvety mouthfeel. Pair this with red meat or pink fish and you’re in for a treat.
I have a special place in my heart for my next choice – and not because my tasting there was accompanied by some of the best homemade pizza I’ve ever eaten. Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is one of the most exciting wine regions on Earth and Moorooduc piqued my excitement more than any other winery. Their wines are simply breathtaking, with a purity of fruit flavour, elegance, and complexity that is a match for the best in the world. The 2018 Moorooduc Pinot Noir (Nicolls & Perks £20.99) shows Burgundian style, with boysenberry, red and black cherries, strawberries and creamy, spicy vanilla. Impressively broad, it’s elegant and precise and a must-try for all Pinot fans.
I couldn’t talk Pinot Noir and not recommend a Burgundy. That would be like listing Tom Waits’ greatest albums and not name-checking Swordfishtrombones. While there are a lot of excellent red Burgundies in the sub-£30 market these days, the Louis Latour Cotes de Beaune Village 2019 (Tesco £20) is outstanding. 2019 was a really lovely year for Burgundy with even wines at the entry-level Bourgogne offering delicious drinking. This is a somewhat more serious wine; one that shows that, while Pinot Noir can flourish around the world, it’s in Burgundy where the magic happens. Classic mid-red colour, the nose seamlessly blends black and red berry fruits with earthy tones and flowers.In the mouth, it’s generous with plump strawberries and savoury raspberries backed by cherries, almonds, and spices. As you get to the finish there’s beetroot and a hint of mint, before minerals and smoked vanilla seep in. Good now, this will age well for another five-10 years.
Right, well enough theory, I’m off to take the practical – that Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa won’t finish itself. Next time out I’ll be getting festive.
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