Pinot Noir can be a very frustrating, but extremely rewarding grape variety. I have heard anecdotal stories of grape growers pulling their hair out of their heads and then pulling their Pinot out of the vineyard. Whether true or not, it does illustrate how difficult this variety is to grow. This prima donna grape demands conditions to be just right- it’s picky about the location of the vineyard, it demands a cool (but not too cool) climate, the vine needs constant pruning and attention. And then even if it does grow for you, its thin skin and tight grape clusters make it susceptible to disease and rot! If you can get it as far as the bottle, it remains a bit of a diva- ageing in an unpredictable and often disastrous fashion! So, at this point, you are probably asking why someone would bother growing it. Firstly, it grows in regions too cool for other red grapes to fully ripen- New Zealand, Germany (where it’s called Spätburgunder), Canada, Oregon etc. But more importantly, when conditions are just right, Pinot Noir can create some of the greatest silky smooth, alluring, feminine wines in the world. It is the principal red grape variety in both Burgundy and Champagne, propelling these areas amongst the most eagerly sought-after (not to mention expensive) wines in the world.
So, let me get to the point here. Pinot is hard to grow, doesn’t grow in many regions and is in high demand, making it generally more expensive than wines made from many other grape varieties. So, as I mentioned in Sunday’s post, I decided to pick up these two Pinots in Tesco’s recent 25% Off Wine Sale. They were both reduced from €15 to €10, with a further 25% off in the sale. They would have to be pretty poor wines to not deserve a punt at €7.50!
The first one I tried was the Wave Series 2013 from the Leyda Valley in Chile. Made by Carmen, this wine has been heavily promoted through the Summer- some of you may have seen their old VW camper at some of this year’s festivals. Many in the wine industry have been enthusiastic about the potential for Chilean Pinot Noir for quite a while now, with Leyda Valley deemed as one of the areas to watch. I’m desperately trying to find an affordable example, so this wine, usually priced at €15, had to be good value for €7.50, right? Wrong. Very Wrong.
The nose was nice- full of brambly black fruit, cherry, white pepper and meaty notes. But in the mouth there was nothing other than a wave of burning alcohol. It felt like I rubbed Vick’s on the back of my throat, hiding any fruit or spiciness that I got on the nose. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like throwing back a few shots, but if I wanted that burning sensation I would have had some of the Absynthe I bought in Poland last month!
This is a perfect example of how a wine can be terribly out of balance. The alcohol on the label stated 13.5% alcohol, which is a lot less than many modern New World wines, but because there was not enough fruit, and tannin (the mouth drying effect of a wine), the alcohol was very noticeable. In good wines, the alcohol will be balanced by the other components of the wine (fruit, tannin and acidity), lessening that unpleasant burning sensation.
Rating: POOR 1.5/5 (and maybe even generous at that!)
The other Pinot I bought in the wine sale, Oyster Bay’s 2012, was on the exact same promotion- €15 to €10 with the additional 25% reduction making it €7.50. This wine is produced in Marlborough, a region on the northern tip of New Zealand’s south island. Better known for its world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough seems to turn any grape it grows to gold right now and has excellent conditions for growing Pinot Noir- a cool climate, suitable soil and plenty of sunshine. Although this is not one of the best examples from New Zealand I have tried, it is infinitely better than the Chilean attempt above, and at €7.50 was a steal. Even at the €10 promotional price you would struggle to find a better Pinot Noir than this one.
The nose is lovely and fruity with red cherry and plum over a little hint of vanilla coming from the oak in which the wine was aged. In the mouth, this wine is everything the Chilean above is not- a lovely balance of red fruit with light silky tannin and only the slightest hint of alcohol, despite only having 0.5% abv less. The let down is the finish, which is disappointingly brief.
This wine would pair beautifully with pork or lamb. Or why not try it with a nice meaty piece of Swordfish.
Rating: GOOD 3.5/5
In conclusion, although both of these producers are huge conglomerates, Oyster Bay puts absolute emphasis on the quality of their wine to drive the brand. Wave Series, on the other hand, could do away with the marketing campaign around their VW camper van and pay more attention in the winery. Hopefully you guys will vote with your pocket. I know I will- as long as the New Zealand wine stays on promotion it is my new go-to Weekday Pinot.
Happy Drinking, HB.