I am not going to get emotional. Pinot Noir is a cerebral wine. Or so I often read.
Being muscular and powerful is not its strength. Pinot Noir transcends through elegance and often is a master of understatement. A delicate variety.
It tends to bud early in the vineyard, spring frosts can be a threat. It is also prone to mildew. And viruses. In short, it is a fickle variety that needs more attention in the vineyard than most other grape varieties. It demands a moderately cool climate where it can ripen slowly, without rush. To master the grape's eccentricity is a challenge for many and often it proves to be quite a difficult one.
Pinot Noir has its home in Burgundy, but there are other regions where the vine finds the right conditions to grow and the wines are able to carry a sense of its place. In France Pinot Noir is also grown in Champagne, Loire and Alsace while in the USA the region best known for Pinot Noir is Oregon. In New Zealand the grape is grown on 15% of the country's vineyard area and thus second only to Sauvignon Blanc. In Germany the small region of Ahr, the country's most northerly wine region, has always been the home of the Spätburgunder grape, as Pinot Noir is called there, but other German regions like Rheinhessen, Baden and Franken are producing increasingly good wine from it, as a tasting in London last year demonstrated (see the article German Pinot Noir comes of age by Tim Atkin).
Many different clones are grown of Pinot Noir, each with a decidedly different character. Some have thicker skins. Or the size of the berries may vary depending on the clone. Even the time of maturation and the expected yield can differ significantly depending on which clone is planted. It is therefore not surprising that the resulting wines can taste very different indeed.
Over the last few weeks I tasted 9 Pinot Noirs from 3 countries. The quality was good overall and I learned that, with Pinot Noir just like with any other wine, a higher price doesn't necessarily mean a better wine. The uncomplicated but very balanced Pinot Noir from Oregon for $21 was at least as pleasing as the slightly more complex yet because of its greenish tannins somewhat awkward tasting Pinot Noir from Burgundy for $34. Not all of the wines I tasted are available in the U.S.
Kreuzberg 2008 Spätburgunder Devonschiefer Reserve QbA
Very nice earthy nose. Medium intensity of lush red fruit and berry aromas with a hearty smell of fresh mushrooms. Dry on the palate, medium alcohol. Medium amount of ripe tannins. Soft, pleasant mouthfeel, well balanced. Ripe raspberry flavor with a touch of licorice and a peppery finish. Medium length. Incredibly well-balanced Pinot Noir from organically grown grapes with a beautiful earthy character. Very good.
Michel Magnien 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin "Les Seuvrées" Vieilles Vignes
Medium ruby color. Fruity nose, aroma of crushed berries with light herbal scent, quite beautiful. Dry, medium amount of ripe tannins, medium alcohol. Medium(+) intensity of black cherry and plum flavors with a generous amount of black pepper. Medium(+) length. Bold Pinot Noir with great balance. $40. Very good.
Altenkirch 1983 Lorcher Bodenthal-Steinberg Spätburgunder Auslese
Elegant nose, both sweet and earthy. Medium intensity of strawberry and port-like aromas. Medium sweet on the palate, medium(+) acidity. Low alcohol. Medium intensity of ripe strawberry flavor and mild spices. Medium(+) length. Extremely elegant and well-balanced Pinot Noir, which has softened nicely over the years without losing its earthy character. Very good.
Heron Hill 2008 Ingle Vineyard Pinot Noir
Medium intensity of cherry fruit, black pepper and herbs. It is dry on the palate, has medium acidity and a medium amount of ripe and soft tannins. Medium alcohol. The light color is a bit deceptive as the flavors of cherry, blood orange and herbs are well-structured and quite vivid. The length is medium and has a floral and spicy finish. Nicely structured Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes with a fresh fruit and earthy herbal character. $20. Very good.
Adeneuer 2009 Walporzheimer Kräuterberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs
Floral nose. Aromas of strawberry, marzipan and coconut. Dry on the palate. Soft tannins. Medium intensity of lush strawberry fruit with hints of vanilla, herbs and pepper. Slightly hot finish (the alcohol became more noticeable after the wine had been opened for about an hour). Good - very good.
Ravines 2008 Pinot Noir
Medium(-) intensity of ruby color. Medium intensity of cherry aroma with a distinct country scent - barnyard, forest undergrowth. Dry on the palate with a medium fruit intensity. Very similar to the aroma the flavor spectrum is bipolar - on the one side delicate fruit, on the other side subtle earthy notes and dashes of black pepper. The tannins are of medium intensity, very ripe and soft and the alcohol level is very agreeable. Medium length with a licorice finish. Perfectly balanced, delicate Pinot Noir. $22. Good - very good.
McCall 2009 Pinot Noir
Medium ruby color. Medium intensity of red cherry, champignons and black pepper. Slightly floral. Dry on the palate, medium alcohol and body. Medium intensity of ripe tannins. Medium intensity of cherry and forest undergrowth. Overall very fruity, subtle vanilla flavor and slightly bitter on the finish. Medium length. $22. Good.
A to Z Wineworks 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir
Medium ruby color. Medium(+) intensity of cherry and herbal aromas. Dry, medium(+) acidity, medium amount of ripe tannins. Medium alcohol and body. Medium intensity of cherry and raspberry flavors with a touch of oak. Slightly herbal finish. Medium length. An uncomplicated Pinot Noir with a good balance and ready to drink now. $21. Good.
Domaine Michel Lafarge 2009 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Medium ruby color. Medium intensity of red berry aromas, slightly greenish overtone. Dry, medium(+) acidity. The alcohol (12.5%) is well integrated. Medium body. Medium intensity of slightly green tannins. Red berry fruit with a touch of licorice. Medium length. Good structure, but the greenish tannins unbalance this wine a bit. At this price a bit underwhelming. $34. Good.