The Rise and Rise of Pinot Noir

Felton Road
There has been a revolution going on in peoples’ mouths of late. Fifteen years ago it took a 15% alcohol blockbuster to get the tastebuds going and the party started.

These days, professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike are searching for wines that no longer rely on richness and power to set the tastebuds on fire. Instead, they are seeking out wines that are more about elegance, mouthfeel, delicacy and poise. Wines that can charm rather than tire the palate. Wines that can make even the most simple of dishes come alive. Wines that enchant and beguile the senses.

And there is no more beguiling grape variety around that the often misunderstood, the often disappointing, the often confusing and the often brilliant pinot noir (pee-no-nwa to some!). From its spiritual homeland in Burgundy in France, to far flung corners of the vinous map like Chile and New Zealand, pinot noir has slowly but surely crept into the consciousness of most wine drinkers the world over. Long the preserve of those only in the know, pinot has taken the wine world by storm of late and continues paradoxically to entice, to captivate and to confuse many wine consumers.

But what is it about this most fickle of grape varieties that has set the wine world on fire? Top-quality pinot often tends to cost a good bit more to purchase than other popular varieties, and bad pinot noir is more common than the winter cold. And the best examples of Pinot in the world, mostly coming from Burgundy, are so scare that only the super-rich can afford to source, buy and drink them! Yet still people love this little scoundrel of a grape variety.

Good pinot is haunting. It is enchanting. It is ethereal. It is sensual. Good pinot caresses the palate. It fills the mouth yet glides across the tongue like a velvet glove. Good pinot makes you stop in your tracks. Once you’ve been bitten by the pinot bug it’s difficult to not try searching out that next bottle of wine utopia.

Pinot Noir abroad

For those of us without the deepest of pockets required to procure top quality Burgundy, thankfully, Burgundy is no longer the sole source of exciting and enticing pinot. As the wine world has grown and the vinous map has evolved, so too has our access to great quality pinot. In New Zealand, pinot noir has established itself in Otago, Waipara, Nelson, Marlborough and Martinborough, with world class examples being released year in, year out by a host of forward-thinking, progressive and talented winegrowers. Seek out wines from Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Peregrine, Nanny Goat and Ata Rangi. These are all producers who are doing incredible things with pinot noir, and many from vineyards that are not much older than 20 years (and some vineyards that are considerably younger). It’s an exciting future for New Zealand Pinot Noir and one that is worth getting in on early.

Australian made Pinot

Back at home, Victoria is spoilt when it comes to cool climate regions that are suitable for producing top quality pinot noir. The Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Macedon Ranges and Yarra Valley all shine and when it comes to producing pinot of great class and elegance. From Mornington, check out Ocean 8, Kooyong, Ten Minutes by Tractor and Yabby Lake. Up in Macedon, Curly Flat continue to be a shining light in what must be one of the state’s coldest wine producing regions. The Geelong region produces some of the country’s most distinct pinot noir with the teams at Bannockburn and By Farr leading the way. The Yarra Valley has long been the forerunner in terms of cool climate viticulture in Australia, and to this day remains a bastion of top quality pinot with De Bortoli, Coldstream Hills, Giant Steps and Oakridge continually releasing wines that are fit to grace any wine glass anywhere in the world. Venturing out of Victoria, Tasmania and the Adelaide Hill are gradually making their way into the superstar pinot category with Stefano Lubiana and Glaetzer Dixon leading the pack in Tassie, and Ashton Hills hitting the heights in the Adelaide Hills.

What next?

The New World Pinot revolution is one that is only going to continue as vineyards get older and producers begin to fully understand the sites, clones and soils that they are working with. Once producers have the intimate understanding of their land in the same way the great domains of Burgundy understand their vineyards then there is only one way for top quality Pinot - and I for one can’t wait to be part of it. Vive le Pee-No-Nwa!

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