The world of Pinot Noir stretches way beyond Burgundy – though each new world version is compared to the French mother lode. Known the world over as a finicky grape, Pinot Noir is difficult to maintain since it ripens so early and is prone to rot due to its thin skin. Genetically unstable, many different clones exist and can have marked differences. In this wine class at SFWC, Master Sommelier Gillian Ballance described Pinot Noir as “charming – exhibiting grace as well as power.” She took us through a varied flight of Pinot Noir from places like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, in addition to Burgundy, Oregon and California.
First, a well-aged Pinot from Central Coast: Calera Mt Harlan Jensen Vineyard 1999, grown on one of the few limestone vineyards in California, which was planted in 1974. It was very much alive, with balsamic, stewed fruit and good tannin. Further north in Willamette Valley, Oregon, J.K. Carriere held the crowd favorite with the 2005 Shea Vineyard – a little funky on the nose but very Burgundian, with nice spice and good acidity.
Over on the other side of the world, South African Pinot from Hamilton Russell showed its funky side with some rubber, pine and earthiness that was quite interesting and unique. Gillian explained that South Africa's wine areas lack certain minerals in the soil, so the addition of these minerals contributes to their "rubbery" quality.
Finally, we went down under to Australia’s Yarra Yarra valley in the Victoria district, a cooler area on the southern coast of the country. This wine is beautiful with pomegranate, cranberry and great acidity. It brought me back to a trip I took to this area in 2009, when I sampled my first Aussie Pinot and took a $25 bottle back home with me, halfway around the world to New York, where I lived at the time. This 2004 from Labyrinth is a steal at $20! Then, from neighboring New Zealand, a 2009 Marlborough Pinot from Seresin also showed really well, with pretty fruit, leather, good acidity and a long finish. While I’m partial to Burgundy, I found these two wines to be the most exciting of the night (and the most affordable).
But speaking of Burgundy, a 2008 Premier Cru from Patrice Rion Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes in Cote de Nuits showed refined fruit, floral and herbal qualities with elegant structure and a long finish. I can’t help it – Burgundy is always my favorite.