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Monday, 27 April 2009

Pinot Noir tasting at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Sensitive, hedonistic and elusive - the Pinot
Noir grape growing in Burgundy
A Pinot Noir tasting I went to at the weekend really appealed to the bargain hunter in me. And it was not because the wines were cheap - far from it, you wouldn’t get much change from a tenner for even the "basic" Pinot Noirs we tried, and prices quickly rose into the mid-teens (and beyond for an excellent Burgundy !).

Pinot Noir is never actually cheap - or if it is, like the £5 supermarket own-label Burgundy a colleague turned up with a while ago, it is hardly worth even using in the cooking. A low-yielding, thin-skinned grape, prone to mutation and notoriously difficult to grow, it demands cool climate conditions where it becomes susceptible to late frosts and disease. Its spiritual home is Burgundy, but increasingly it is being grown in areas that are cool due to latitude (central Otago, Oregon), maritime influences (parts of California and Marlborough) or altitude (Chile and Argentina, where the vineyards are up to 1,500m above sea level).

However, when it does grow well, it produces a wine like no other with flavours of red berry fruit, hedonistically decadent aromas of truffles, game and farmyard and a gloriously smooth texture. Elusive, moody and yet capable of a unique greatness, Pinot Noir is said to be the wine of poets, visionaries and romantics - albeit ones with deep pockets.

I have had more disappointing Pinot Noirs than great ones and none has been cheap (except for the £5 one I mentioned above), so the prospect of trying eight Pinots, for less than the price of a single mid-range bottle, selected by someone who knows their stuff, struck me as too much of a bargain to be missed.

For, even though good Pinot Noir is never cheap, great Pinot Noir can be a relative bargain – depending on how many different wines you have to try before you hit on something that blows your socks off.

The wines we tried are listed below – the “value wine” of the evening was the Tabali Reserva from Chile, whilst the overall favourite was the red Burgundy, priced more for special occasions that everyday quaffing.

1) Alamos, Seleccion 2008, Mendoza, Argentina (£8.39, Noel Young)
2) Tabali, Reserva Especial, 2007, Limari Valley, Chile (£8.99, Bacchanalia)
3) Au Bon Climat, Santa Maria Valley, 2006, California, USA (£17.65 Noel Young)
4) Peregrine, 2006, Central Otago, New Zealand (£16.99 Bacchanalia)
5) Craggy Range, Te Muna Road, 2006, Martinborough, New Zealand (£17.99 Waitrose)
6) Stonier, Mornington Peninsula, 2006, Victoria, Australia (£13.95)
7) Bergstrom, Willamette Valley, 2006, Oregon, USA (£19.99)
8) Virgile Linier, Vielles Vignes, Chambolle-Musigny, 2003 Burgundy, France (£30.95, Noel Young)