A finicky nature, susceptibility to disease yet irresistible charm has earned pinot noir its nickname ‘the heartbreak grape’. But while it is one of the most frustrating varieties to cultivate, it is one of the most gratifying and pleasurable to drink. Pinot noir treats us mean but keeps us keen as one of the most terroir-specific varieties in the world – able to display its terroir with pinpoint accuracy.
Because of this, it has won the heart of many a wine professional and enthusiast alike, including our own buying team. Below, four of our buyers detail what it is about pinot they adore so much, along with a few suggestions to inspire further discovery.
Toby Morrhall, buyer for Burgundy
‘What I find extraordinary about red Burgundy is how a wine with a relatively light colour and structure can have the most sensual, complex and intense aromas of all wines; and how the palate, which is apparently delicate and often propelled more by acidity than tannin, can have such length, persistence and beauty. It has more of the sinewy physique of the marathon runner than the bulging muscularity of the sprinter. It goes the distance. Burgundy requires a different type of appreciation, where one prefers elegance and finesse over power. Less is more.
‘Because of this, I came relatively late to pinot noir, which I think is a common experience, as the pleasures of pinot noir are relatively subtle. I experienced a great revelation of its beauty when I realised that one should enjoy it at 15°-16°C and that it should not be decanted.
‘While chardonnays from outside Europe are getting close to some white Burgundies, I still think red Burgundy is a different animal. Its more structured, drier, more savoury than many styles from outside France. Below £25, red Burgundy often possesses more fruit than structure and can be austere and lean. But take a lovely Gevrey premier cru at 10 to 15 years of age – here, the fruit and structure are in sync, the aromas are intense and complex, and the palate is silky and beguiling.
‘Another great revelation for myself was the importance of the grower in Burgundy: how one producer’s style and quality can vary so much and therefore can be a greater influence on the wine than the appellation. This interplay results in a certain complexity which can turn some people off. But if you get the bug, it lends a great fascination to the region which is, in my experience, as intriguing as any.’
Domaine Caroline Bellavoine, Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2021
Fresh and fruity pinot noir from two hillsides. One produces a light and fragrant wine, the other a wine with more structure. Drink now to 2026. 13%
Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Aloxe-Corton 2017
Made in a dark, serious style, the 2017 is quite firm and dense, yet without hardness and an attractive freshness, too. 30 to 40% new oak. Drink now to 2031. 13%
Joanna Locke MW, buyer for Alsace
‘Pinot noir is revered by winemakers everywhere. In the right conditions, it can make light, fruit-driven and charming wines, but it only achieves greatness in discreet quantities, in the right spot, and in the right, usually experienced, hands. Purity, fragrance, silkiness and freshness are the characteristics that appeal to me. Many years ago, it was tasting a premier cru Volnay of great beauty that helped me to understand pinot’s true potential, and I was charmed by tasting a Hamilton Russell pinot with the late Tim Hamilton Russell in South Africa, proving to me that it could achieve greatness outside its Côte d’Or homeland.
‘If you do not yet enjoy pinot noir, you probably just haven’t found the right one. Quality has improved beyond measure in Alsace, as it has across the world, and I’d say if winemakers have persevered with it, we should, too.’
Alsace Pinot Noir Réserve, Joseph Cattin 2022
A simple pleasure from Alsace, this charming pinot noir offers the plump ripe fruit of this generous vintage. Drink now to 2025. 13.5%
Pinot Noir 'Vignoble de Trovium', Domaine Frédéric Mochel
A blend of different terroirs and two different vintages, 2019 and 2021, this is a complete and balanced Alsace wine, with lovely pinot development on the nose, underpinned by good palate structure. 14%
Marcel Orford-Williams, buyer for Germany
‘Ask anyone outside Bordeaux for their desert-island red and most will say pinot noir from Burgundy. It is certainly one of mine – I have quite a few in my own cellar. It is a fickle grape that strongly reacts to terroir and climate, so in a poor vintage it can seem green and ungracious, but in a good year it can seem ethereal and of unimaginable beauty. It is a fascination that has spanned my career: my first great pinot was probably a rosé Champagne from Louis Roederer and one of my life experiences was tasting young Burgundies from cask – the 1990 Richebourg from Jayer stands out in my mind especially.
‘While chardonnay adapts to (almost) every conceivable environment, pinot is more complicated and more demanding. It sits on the edge and it's an endless fascination to watch it in the context of climate change. Certainly, marginal areas in Germany and the Auvergne, to name but two, show huge promise for this grape that was so highly regarded by, among others, the long line of Dukes of Burgundy.’
Spätburgunder Burkheimer, Bercher 2019
Light in colour pinot noir and with a flavour recalling cherry and cherry kernels. Ripe fruit flavours with just a hint of bitterness that helps give freshness. Drink now to 2027. 13%
Sarah Knowles MW, buyer for the USA
‘I do love the consistency of especially great Australian, Kiwi and American pinot. There are myriad examples, but I find the super sweet spot is at £20-£50, where the quality of wine you can get is extraordinary. Names that spring to mind are Kooyong, Trinity Hills, Prophet’s Rock, Schug, Cattleya, Fess Parker, Au Bon Climat and Eyrie Vineyards.
‘Pinot is often a subtle wine – the tannins, fruit weight, colour, sweetness, acid aren’t screaming for attention. Instead, when enjoying great pinot, they are genuinely well balanced to a point that the wine can feel deceptively simple. That is, until the perfume really builds, as great scent is what sets world-class pinot from average pinot.
‘What I love about American pinot is the wide variety of terroir available to the producers, and the vast range of styles it yields, from redwood-surrounded vineyards that the French are flocking to in Oregon to the fog-laden vineyards of surfer's paradise Santa Barbara.’
The Society's Exhibition Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2022
Showing all the vibrancy and bright red-berry fruit you'd expect from the fog-cooled yet sunny Sonoma Coast. This has great finesse and a long, perfumed finish. Drink now to 2027. 14%
Lemelson Thea's Selection Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2019
This elegant and complex Oregon pinot has the grape’s signature perfume of redcurrant, raspberry and spice with some darker berry fruits developing on the palate. Drink now to 2026. 13.5%
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