The many faces and tastes of Pinot

Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. - Credit: Flagship Wines

It’s still the ‘go to’ wine in a pub or bar so asking for a glass of ‘Pinot’ has become almost synonymous with Pinot Grigio. This is a shame as it almost overshadows the delicious wines made from Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes that make some of the best quality wines available especially from Burgundy the home of the latter. 

Taking Pinot Gris first, it is thought to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir and the fruit often has a bluish skin tone. The Pinot Gris grape variety is grown around the world with the spicy full-bodied Alsatian wines and the lighter more acidic Italian styles at either end of the spectrum being the most widely recognized.

In Alsace the cool climate and volcanic soils are suited to Pinot Gris and in the warm autumn temperatures the fruit is often picked late often resulting in some wines with complex powerful flavours. Prior to 2007 these wines were often labelled Tokay d’Alsace as the variety was introduced to Burgundy by the Hungarians and spread.

EU wine laws stipulated that Alsace producers had to phase out the removal of the word Tokay from their labels after Hungary joined the EU. Wines worth looking out for include wines labelled Vendange Tardive or Selection des Grains Nobles. 

New World wine producers successfully grow Pinot Gris in New Zealand, California, Australia etc make wines that are more akin to the Alsace style though with more ripe fruit notes but with lighter more minerally flavours.

A very successful Pinot grower in New Zealand is Larry McKenna aka ‘Larry McPinot’ in Martinborough where he has gained a great reputation for the wines he makes from both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Grown on the alluvial gravel soils of the Martinborough Terrace a warm dry summer allowed fruit to ripen wonderfully producing opulent fruit flavours combing beautifully with barrel fermentation to create Burgundian inspired Pinot Gris. It is dry and has flavours reminiscent of ripe pears and white stone fruit with delightful soft texture and a lingering finish, others are off dry.  

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The red wines he also makes so successfully from the Pinot Noir grape is an exceptional Pinot Noir inspired by classic Burgundy wines. It shows ripe fruit and an appealing texture that is elegant and balanced by soft tannins. A normal warm dry summer followed creating the distinctive Escarpment style showing complexity, attractive texture and the perfect mix of black, red and green fruit flavours for which Pinot Noir is celebrated. 

Pinot Noir is synonymous with classic red Burgundy wines and good Burgundies even at the more generic level are more expensive than their New Zealand counterparts. They are very elegant with silky light vegetal berry fruit notes and soft tannins. It is a complex region because of the fragmented vineyard ownership that has evolved due to French inheritance laws. To find good wines it is essential to know the good producers.   

Until recently Chilean producers seemed to miss the spot in terms of producing quality wines from Pinot Noir with green fruit notes and an overwhelming burnt rubber syndrome affecting many of them. Now wineries such as Ventisquero and Montes amongst others are producing wines with varietal character supported with a peppery spice.  

Like Central Otago on South Island New Zealand, Tasmania is building a reputation on very high quality wines made from Pinot Noir and though never cheap they offer value – try Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks wines form Central Otago and Dalrymple Pinots from Tasmania… 

The varied styles of Pinots, both white and red offer great food matching opportunities too – worth a go!