*This post was originally published on Wine Whiskers – 12 March 2013*
A confession. Until recently, I have never really known Pinot Noir. I knew it as a cultivar. I knew it was quite a light, red wine. I knew it was popular in other parts of the world. Yet I had never truly known it to be popular here. I must have encountered it in tastings over the years, but none so memorable as to stand out or encourage me to pursue this slightly unusual varietal.
I have, I fear, been missing out.
A chance discussion with friends brought up the topic of this underrated cultivar, with one friend in particular waxing lyrical, calling it a ‘seductive mistress’. I was intrigued. My affections have moved, as they do, from cultivar to cultivar over the years. Merlot was my first love, whereafter Shiraz ripped me away for a whirlwind but short-lived relationship. Cabernet is the patient, trustworthy lover always ready to take me back. And I have ongoing romances with complex Sauvignon Blancs and rich, decadent Chardonnays, often interrupted by exotic dalliances with Malbec, Grenache and Mourvédre.
But Pinot Noir. She seemed so…unremarkable.
Cue last week, when I rounded up 5 bottles and an equal number of friends, convinced to delve deeper into this mysterious wine that has been off my radar for so long. I did some research, considered my budgetary constraints and picked a selection that would hopefully cover a range of different styles and tastes. I used my friends to crowd-source some opinions and the “score” out of 5 indicates how many of us would choose to purchase this wine in future.
Note: I won’t bore your with technical details about Pinot Noir as a cultivar. If you are totally unfamiliar with it, all you need to know is that the berries are quite small and have a very thin skin, making a very light-coloured wine, usually with very little tannins. The hue and clarity is near that of a rosé, perhaps slightly darker, and even more so when wooded. In South Africa, the best Pinot Noirs generally come from the Hemel-and-Aarde Valley as well as Elgin, with the cooler climates suiting the cultivar down to the ground.
First up was the Haute Cabriére Unwooded Pinot Noir 2011 (R91). Remarkably light, only slightly darker in colour than an average rosé. Fresh red berries all over the place, like biting into a ripe cherry, thought the fruity fragrances don’t quite translate to the tongue. Gloriously light. A wine for summer days. Served chilled with salads, pastas and even a light braai. 4/6
We moved on to the Felicité from Newton Johnson Family 2012 (R87). Sweet, sweet nose with more fruity red berries. More complex than the Haute Cabriére, this wine could work well with pairings. 14% alcohol seems high but is masked very well by the innate complexity in the wine. Consensus was that it might be even better if left to age for 2 years. 2/6
Arguably the favourite for the day turned out to be Mr. P from Iona 2012. A description from the table was “it’s like it has an under-wire, it gives it support and shape”. Deep cherry both on the nose and the tongue, with a hint of spice. Perfectly rounded from ageing in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill barrels. An unequivocal 6/6
After breaking for lunch, we approached the slightly more serious candidates. The David Finlayson 2012: Small Batch Series (R125) showed bursts of strawberry, with a touch of vanilla (almost caramel) flavours. Perfectly quaffable now, but this one should age incredibly well. 4/6
We ended off with the Waterford Pinot Noir 2011. This one fell a bit flat. Darker fruits and berries emanate from the glass, but the high tannins cause it to fall flat on the palate. Possibly ageing will curb the effect and soften it up a bit. Not a bad wine, but definitely more for pairings than general consumption. 1/6
The wines explored here seem to be a good way to introduce oneself to this marvelous cultivar. Tastes, as always, differ greatly. And the variety of Pinot Noir available is as extensive as it is diverse. She’s not everyone’s cup of vino. But if she is, you’ll never shake her. I can testify to that.
If you want to continue your own Pinot Noir education, I would recommend the following wines:
• Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir (R297)
• Creation Pinot Noir 2012 (R189)
• Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010 (R317)
• Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 (R255)
• Paradyskloof (Vriesenhof) Pinot Noir 2011 (R122)
• Vriesenhof Pinot Noir 2010 (R254)