Pinot Noir can turn you mad. Like the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey, whose irresistible song lured sailors to their death, it sings to you with its alluring perfume and beguiling fruit. But if you do succumb, if you allow yourself to be seduced by this most seductive of wine grapes, then you are surely lost, and will be crushed upon the rocks of your obsession. Condemned to a life dominated by the pursuit of the perfect Pinot, you will be haunted by memories of Pinots past, frittering away your money on fine Burgundy, only to be, mostly, sorely disappointed – and considerably poorer.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you have not yet given in to the temptations of Pinot Noir flesh, then the safest option is to follow the example of Odysseus and to strap yourself, metaphorically, to the mast of your ship, allowing you to pass by and to continue your life’s voyage untouched.
It’s too late for me now, but you may be able to save yourselves. If you haven’t yet been bewitched by the siren song of Pinot Noir, stop reading now. If, however, you are one of the fallen, then wallow in what follows; sustenance to your obsession.
My personal quest for the perfect Pinot has led me on a vinous pilgrimage around the world. Of course the very finest examples can be found rather closer to home, in
. But, frankly, I’m too poor to be able to buy
the best – and what on earth would be the point in not buying what you know to
be the best? Burgundy
|Crraggy Range's Te Muna Road vineyard|
And what makes this region so special? As always, it’s impossible to point to a single factor, but the combination of cool, positively windy sites, low-ish annual rainfall (very similar to
Southeast England) and relatively
older vines all play their part.
Soil-wise the key element is the Martinborough Terrace, whose 30,000
year old soils are made up of decomposed volcanic ash. Most of the best vineyards snake along this
terrace, which is now pretty much completely planted. Old vines are often pointed to as a key to
really fine wine and is a land of young vines – but the
leaps in quality with each vintage show the growing contribution of vine age,
combined with the skill of the winemakers. New
In terms of total
wine production, Martinborough is
small, representing just 1.6% of the total.
Pinot Noir is the 60-odd producers’ speciality, representing 55% of
plantings. The ubiquitous Sauvignon
Blanc is the next biggest, then come Chardonnay and a range of other white
Wines to feed your Pinot passion
Ata Rangi Pinot Noir - £34-40 from The Vineyard Dorking, The Guildford Wine Company, The Wine Reserve Cobham and slurp.co.uk
Ata Rangi is where it all began in Martinborough: vines were planted here in 1980, at the dawn of the modern era of wine-making in
. Their estate wine is the definition of Martinborough
Pinot Noir. New Zealand
One look at the price of this will tell you that a serious Pinot habit is an expensive one – don’t say you weren’t warned.
If you can get hold of an older vintage, it’s definitely worth it. The 2008 is smooth and harmonious and still full of lively, youthful cranberry and raspberry fruit, with hints of pencil shavings. The 2006, at six years old is just beginning to show some of the maturing aromas that are like catnip for fans of Pinot Noir: deep rose, clove and cinnamon spice in a fine, lively wine.
If the best part of 40 quid is too much (and it is for me), then Ata Rangi’s Crimson Pinot Noir, available for £16-20, gives you some of the class and excitement of its big brother, without the same staying power and ageing ability.
Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 - £17.95 from slurp.co.uk
Look for the interplay of juicy fruit and spice, with tannins providing a sandy feel. Over time this will develop a lovely silky-smooth texture. Escarpment’s Kupe single vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, £19.99 from The Vineyard, Dorking, gives you a sense of the evolution of a wine that still has plenty of life in it.
Steve Smith MW of Craggy Range makes wines from the entire length of
New Zealand’s wine growing areas, from Hawke’s
Bay in the North Island,
down to Central Otago, deep in the South Island. All are top quality, but there’s something
special about this Martinborough Pinot.
The fruit has a lovely ripeness and there is great density of flavour,
but also fine tannins, elegance and, ultimately, refreshment. Again, older vintages will show more – the
2008 is still a baby.