David 6 March 2017
What is it that makes Pinot Noir so special? The protagonist in the film Sideways, is asked the same question.
Many wine drinkers have a fascination with Pinot Noir - and with good reason. When good, it manages to capture the seemingly contradictory combination of finesse and power. Ethereal is a word often used by devotees, as are smooth, silky and sensual. Its fragrance, elegance and delicacy in no way diminish its ability to be bold, structured and assertive though. It can be complex, deep and intense without relying on weight. It really is the iron fist in a velvet glove.
In terms of actual flavour, Pinot Noir is characterised by “slightly sweet, freshly crushed, soft summer fruits: a fragrant, silky, multi-faceted and delicately elegant combination of raspberries, strawberries, cherries, mulberries and currants of different types.” Clive Coates, MW.
The home of Pinot is of course Burgundy, a region centred around the town of Beaune in eastern France. Wine has been made here for a long time - the region's reputation was established by monks in the 10th and 11th century. Since that time there have been limits, both formal and informal, on how, what, and most importantly, where grapes may be grown. This, combined with increasing demand for the region's wine, has ensured the price of vineyards in Burgundy has risen steadily over the years. Recently this rise has become meteoric. According to France's rural land agency SAFER, the average price of Grand Cru vineyards (the top appellation) in 2014 was 4.35 million euros per hectare. Holy Moley!
There's no doubting the quality of good red Burgundy, but at the prices you have to pay, they're not just out of reach, they're not good value.