The comforting qualities of Pinot Noir

The comforting qualities of Pinot Noir

To the average wine consumer, selecting a red wine from a bottle shop shelf or a restaurant wine list can be a daunting experience. After all, it can be an expensive treat, but get it wrong and you’ll feel as though you’ve just put a lighter to a $50 or even $100 note! Some reds are too tannic, others too sweet or too dry, while a few will just fail to enthuse simply because of fruit, structure or weight. And for those who have found themselves deliberating, ruminating or contemplating over the choice of a bottle of red, there’s a pretty simple golden rule; if in doubt, go with the pinot!

Pinot noir, or Burgundy as the French would call it, is a light red wine that is the oenological equivalent of a childhood hug. Its comforting qualities make it an ideal option for almost every occasion. With its elegant and delicate nature, it offers a unique sensory experience balancing complex flavours and a velvety texture. It really is the grape embrace. I suspect that even Goldilocks would say it was “just right”!

Pinot Noir can be a challenging grape for viticulturalists. It has a relatively thin skin and grows in tightly clustered bunches that can be prone to disease. It demands a lot more attention in the vineyard and requires careful management, which probably accounts for it tending to be a bit pricey.

But Australians generally don’t appreciate just how lucky they are when it comes to the Pinot Noir varietal. Not only do we have access to wines of exceptional quality, but we are able to buy them at price points that would make our European friends green with envy. Sure, pinot is usually priced higher than other reds, but pound for pound, the Australasian examples are available at much lower prices than the French would have to pay for a similar quality wine.

Late last year, a Tasmanian pinot noir won the famed “Jimmy Watson” trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. Winning this prestigious gong is the dream of just about every young up-and-coming winemaker that graduates from Roseworthy. And for the Lowestoft La Maison 2021 to take out top honours says much of the appeal of modern examples of the varietal. The Lowestoft might look costly at $130 a bottle, but the same quality from a Burgundian Chateau would likely cost thousands!

While the Tassie pinots are undeniably good, a recent visit to Central Otago reminded me just how good their pinot noir can be. I’m tempted to say that they’re probably the best thing to ever come out of New Zealand – though Lord of the Rings fans might want to argue about that!

The Central Otago wine district is in its relative infancy. Considering that the commercial plantings didn’t really start until the 1980s, it’s quite remarkable that there are now over 130 wineries and about 2,000 hectares under vine. Local winemakers are now making a range of wines including riesling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and even chardonnay, but if you ask me, the whites are a pretty average bunch which only serves to amplify the standing of the region’s pinot!

While there are plenty of great Otago pinot to exemplify, the Chard Farm Wines are worthy of mention. Their range of pinot are as stunning as their instafamous Gibbston home block, perched cliff-top on the banks of the Kawarau River. The top end of the range sells at $85 at the cellar door, and the 2021 “Eliza” Pinot Noir is probably the “hero wine” of the family. But it was a wine at the lower end of the range that I thought represented the best value for money.

The 2021 Chard Farm “Finla Mor” Pinot Noir sells for about $40 a bottle and is not far off the quality of its more-lauded siblings. While there are ample dark red fruits on the nose, indulgent ripe cherries, black splendour plums and hints of mocha gracefully appear across the palate before gentle spices find equilibrium with a mild herbaceousness through a velvet lined conclusion. Pure, silky, harmonious and alluring, there’s plenty to love about the Finla Mor quite apart from the wallet-friendly price tag.

The balance, charm and unchallenging nature of pinot noir makes it homely, versatile and enchanting. So, when wine-list indecision strikes, give yourself an oenological hug and order a bottle of pinot noir!


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