Burgundy, California?

Published on March 25, 2021

Many of us confess to a love of red Burgundy, however, for most of us, it is a conditional love. There are too many occasions when an expensive bottle is opened with high expectations and the first taste brings a feeling of well, disappointment.  The wine often feels insubstantial, thin and acidic.  At the best of times though, a bottle can be unmatchable.  It can bring immense pleasure with wonderful concentration and intense red and black fruit flavours, balanced with savoury forest floor, game and mushrooms notes.  Deeply uplifting.  You really don’t know which way it will go though, and so buying a bottle of red Burgundy in a restaurant or wine shop, that you haven’t tasted before, is a high-risk game.

And it is so complicated and expensive! Pinot Noir has been grown for so long on the famous Côte d’Or of Burgundy that the land has been subdivided into hundreds of distinct vineyards and plots designated into four levels of quality.  Each of these is typically worked by tens of winemakers who all produce differently labelled wines varying in quality each year.  Recently acclaim for the wines produced in the most famous vineyards has swollen prices to unprecedented levels.  £13 000 for a bottle of the 2017 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti Grand Cru anyone?

Therefore, navigating across this Burgundy landscape to find a bottle that suits both our palate and our pocket is a minefield.  If we are prepared to look for alternative sources we might all save ourselves a lot of money and become unconditional lovers of Pinot Noir rather than red Burgundy.

So where else in the world should we look for the best red Pinot Noir?

Think cool.  Pinot Noir is the red wine grape for cool climates.  It is grown in the wine-producing region closest to the north pole (Germany’s Ahr Valley) and to the south pole (New Zealand’s Central Otago).  Those fresh red fruit flavours become too jammy in warm climates.  Here is the list of cool-climate fine Pinot Noir regions to look out for outside Burgundy:

  • USA: The west coast sites which have the cooling influence of the Pacific produces a number of styles from fresh and saline in the northern regions of Oregon and the California Sonoma Coast to richer and fuller in Santa Barbara.  Beautiful examples to try on the Winecroft Club list are the 2016 De Loach Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California and the 2017 Division Winemaking Co Pinot Noir ‘Un’ Willamette Valley from Oregon.
  • Australia: There’s a trend here towards pure, pale, red fruit styles from the cool climate regions of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley and also Tasmania. Try the 2019 Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir and the 2016 Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir from Tasmania.
  • South Africa: On Africa’s southern tip with its cool Antarctic influence, the Walker Bay and Elgin regions produce wonderful Pinot Noirs. Try the 2018 Catherine Marshall Wines Pinot Noir Clay Soils.  Also, try the 2016 Cape Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve from the warmer Franschhoek Valley if you like a fuller fruitier style.
  • Chile: The Limari Valley, in northern Chile but cooled by the cold marine air from the Pacific Ocean produces fine, mineral styles of pinot.
  • Argentina: Patagonia, at the southerly tip, where Antarctic influences keep temperatures low, wonderfully bright, characterful pinots with lower alcohol are produced.  Watch out for a great new Patagonian pinot coming next month to the Wincroft club list.
  • Elsewhere in France: Alsace is more northerly and cooler than Burgundy and in the past had problems ripening the Pinot grapes.  However due to climate change, grapes now ripen well and with the use of old oak barrels, lovely rich wines are produced.
  • Germany: Here Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder. Baden is the region to look out for and has also profited from climate change with great fuller-bodied black fruit-driven Pinots being produced.
  • Italy: Most regions are too hot but high in the Dolomites in Trentino-Alto Adige, fine, delicate Pinot Neros are available. A top example on the Winecroft Club list is the 2016 Franz Haas Pinot Nero
  • New Zealand: Here pinot divides in two: red-fruited and savoury styles from coastal Martinborough and Malborough or Central Otago’s fuller bodies and dark-fruited.  Both are equally delicious.

Now if your relationship with red Burgundy is monogamous and you are not willing to stray, try the 2018 Domaine Justin Girardin Bourgogne from the Winecroft club list.  It’s a delicious red Burgundy offering great value.  And you don’t see these words together in the same sentence very often these days!

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