Hot Climate Pinots in the Post-Sideways Era
It has now been eight years since the movie Sideways launched the Pinot Noir craze into the stratosphere. Not that Pinot wasn’t already a much-lauded grape, but it seems that Sideways turned everybody into a Pinot Noir drinker. People you thought were staunch Cabernet and Shiraz drinkers suddenly turned to Pinot Noir just to see what the hype was all about. The same went for winemakers. Every time a grape gets popular, more and more producers jump on the bandwagon in the hopes of cashing in on the trend. The problem is that vines are slow to catch up.
If you are a grower of Merlot, and suddenly Pinot Noir is the hot grape, you have two choices: wait till the market comes back to your chosen grape and ride out the “bad” times, or rip out and replant in the hopes you can catch the wave. It’s a big gamble; in the first instance you’re making an “unpopular” wine (yet even post-Sideways, Merlot sales weren’t as bad as reported, and are up substantially now). In the second scenario you need to wait three years before you can even pick those new grapes to make wine, and in the case of a red, another two years before it is ready for market (after barrelling, bottle aging, etc.). So you hope that the “in grape” stays in, or you’ll end up on the losing end of your gamble.
Case in point: in Ontario, when the Australians turned Shiraz into the hip wine, many producers in the province figured it should be done here. Um, no. We have enough trouble ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot is well suited for places like Ontario, New Zealand, Oregon, Northern California, and Burgundy (its traditional home), since it likes the cooler temperatures. But what about those places that jumped on the bandwagon on a wing and a prayer, knowing in the back of their minds that Pinot Noir had no business growing there? Places like Chile, Argentina, and Australia – hot climates the lot – do well with heat-seeking grapes like Cabernet, Shiraz, Mourvedre, Grenache, Malbec and Carmenere, but theoretically have no business looking at Riesling or Pinot Noir, let alone trying to grow them. Well, in our post-Sideways world these countries decided to give it a whirl, and there were some phenomenal failures. Overripe fruit, jammy, nowhere near the finesse we have all come to expect from the delicate Pinot Noir grape — they were making Cabernet-style Pinot Noirs.
But now, eight years later, the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, and the focus is back on making quality wine and not just pushing out something with Pinot Noir on the label. This has opened the door for some really good stuff from some very interesting places. Lately I have been impressed with some of the Pinots I have tasted from some not-so-obvious places. Countries that are considered hot climate and not ones you would immediately think of as producing good quality Pinot Noir. You owe it to yourself to give these a try — and in many cases the values are incredible.
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Pinot Noir 2010, Limarí Valley, Chile ($19.95)
The newest entry into the Marques line is made from relatively young vines, planted in 2006, and has 25% new French oak involved in its 14-month aging process. A welcome addition to the line, as it bridges the gap between the Californian juiciness and the Burgundian earthy minerality of Pinot. Cranberry, cherry and strawberry combine with some coffee notes to give this one some focus in both aroma and flavour, along with excellent length on the finish.
Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)
Another top dog from Chile that shows a seductive side to the grape: dark fruited, a touch leathery with some exotic spices.
Errazuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($19.95)
Learn to love wild ferment wines, because they have such interesting characteristics not found in other wines. This Chilean Pinot is light coloured in the glass and even lighter on the nose, but there’s good flavour here with sour cherry and loads of spice.
Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2010, Tasmania, Australia ($26.95)
Pinot Noir from Australia is mostly a jammy affair, but the Chromy wines have true cool climate character, due to their Tasmanian roots. Lovely strawberry with an earthy quality, and just the right amount of spice and acidity on the finish.
Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2009, Tasmania, Australia ($27.95)
I really enjoy Tasmanian Pinot Noir, especially when Chromy’s name is on it. This one has raspberry and cherry fruit with spice and slightly woody nuances; the fruit really lingers on in the whole mouth.
Vina Leyda Las Brisas Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Leyda Valley, Chile ($16.95)
Pinot from Chile by all rights should be a jammy affair, but if you find the right one you can hit a sweet spot between the juicy and the earthy and have yourself a real good experience. Nice sour-fruitiness here: sour black cherry, cranberry cocktail and a touch of spice to bring it all together. There’s also a fresh earth aroma and taste that really grounds the wine (ha ha).
Cono Sur Vision Pinot Noir 2008, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($16.95)
With a production of 15,000 cases, this wine is made using the first planting of Pinot Noir in Chile (from 1968) and represents fruit from a single vineyard. The nose has lots of raspberry, while the flavours are sweet cherry and raspberry. Nice acidity balances that fruit with a little spice on the finish — there’s also a nice mineral component to this wine that adds so much to the tasting profile.
Loredona Pinot Noir 2009, Monterey, California ($16.95)
Not exactly one that fits on this list, but it really deserves a plug for value. From the Monterey area of California, where Pinot and Chardonnay rule the roost, this wine is an all-star. Floral and cherry on the nose leads to raspberry, cranberry and cherry on the palate, with a little earthy spice on the finish. With a sumptuous juiciness through the palate, this wine is a real winner.
Cono Sur Bicycle Series Pinot Noir 2010, Valle Central, Chile ($10.95)
For those not willing to pay an arm and a leg for Pinot but still want great Pinot taste, in something they can recognize as Pinot Noir, this really is the answer. Year after year I taste it and think the previous year was a fluke, and year after year I learn it wasn’t.
Pike Lenswood Hills Pinot Noir 2010, Adelaide Hills, Australia ($17.35)
This one entered the Ontario market a few years ago and I consistently go back to it to prove that done right, you can make great, stylistic, and varietally correct Pinot in the heart of Australia, even if it does touch the 14% alcohol mark.
Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir 2009, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($59.95)
The Sur has one of the best values on the market, but they show here they can also go high-end, with great results. This Pinot is amazingly interesting both on the nose and palate-wise: lovely raspberry notes with plenty of spice. But the standout here is that great spiced finish.
Yabby Lake Pinot Noir 2007, Mornington Peninsula, Australia ($49.95)
Earthy with sweet cranberry and hints of cherry; nice tannins and spice on the finish.