Cool climate vs Cool climate

I’m a big fan of pinot noir. The elegance, complexity, classiness that this single grape can produce is simply enchanting. Many wine amateurs rave about pinot noir, and I am not an exception. A practical thing I like about pinot noir is that many can be drunk relatively young, and the entry-level wines even upon release. Not having a cellar where I can tuck away a few hundred bottles for the next 10 to 20 years, that helps! Of course I’m not talking about Grand Crus from Burgundy or top pinot noirs from other wine regions, which do need extensive cellaring. But you get the gist…
Being based in Belgium, Burgundy is an obvious reference for pinot noir. Matter of fact, I think the whole world still looks at Burgundy as the reference for pinot noir. Which, sadly, also explains why prices of Burgundy are skyrocketing… But every problem is an opportunity. That’s what I think, and that’s probably what many wine makers around the world must have thought. The market is obviously in demand, so if the soil and the climate permit, why not produce pinot noir in other parts of the world?!
But what exactly is good climate for pinot noir? You will often hear that pinot noir is a cool climate grape. And I entirely agree. You will find pinot noir also in the South of France, as a Vin de Pays d’Oc for example. But I have never come across such a pinot noir that can express what this grape is capable of. Too jammy, too hot, too much alcohol, and too little freshness and elegance. I’m not saying that pinot noir in such regions cannot produce drinkworthy wines, but once it starts tasting like syrah or even a Languedoc, I might as well buy syrah or Languedoc, and it’s most likely going to be cheaper…
So, cool climate it is. The case for Burgundy doesn’t have to be made. Rare are the years when there are no hail storms that can destroy entire vineyards, or a late frost that damages the bursting buds. Cool climate seen from a New World perspective, however, can be an entirely different thing… Take the case of Sonoma Coast, California. Forbes reporter Katy Kelly Bell made the case in an article in 2015 for elegant, vivid pinot noirs from Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley and Santa Barbara. She also argued that they are still cheaper than world-class Burgundies of similar caliber. So take out your purse and spend that money! Well, you might not entirely get what’s promised. Let’s just have a look at the average August temperatures in Burgundy and Sonoma. Burgundy : 20°C vs Sonoma : a whopping 30,2°C… Those are general averages in which micro-climates completely disappear. But still, an average difference of 10°C will have a impact on the wine that you get in your glass.
I was once convinced by a shopowner to buy a pinot noir from Monterey, also a region that is claimed to be a good area for pinot noir because of the proximity of the ocean and therefore the cooler climate. It was the 667 (named after a Dijon clone of pinot noir) of Noble Vines. The sales pitch was as follows : this bottle costs 16€, you will pay twice as much for the same quality in Burgundy. Right… What I got was a wine that was very, very ripe, concentrated and quite tannic. Which made me think that that sales guy urgently needs to drink more Burgundy before he starts comparing! And that’s the issue that I have with this kind of marketing talk. What is considered cool climate by some, is still not the same cool climate as in the center of France.
Can good pinot noir then not be made in “warmer” cool climate (this is getting confusing…) ? Of course that’s possible. But it’s a different style altogether, and the comparison with Burgundy is a bit irrelevant to me. I think it’s better to appreciate different styles of pinot noir in function of their origins. Although some pinot noirs can actually come close to a Burgundian style. It’s the entry-level pinot noir 2015 of Ninth Island, Tasmania, that makes me say that. This was not a complex wine, but an easy drinking pinot noir which made me think of a good generic Burgundy.
That’s why I was quite excited recently when I saw a Tasmanian pinot noir at Marks and Spencer’s. IMG_0843The Pure South 2015 Pinot Noir is produced by Joseph Chromy Wines for Marks and Spencer. This wine could hardly have been more different than the Pinot Noir of Ninth Island. It was a medium if not full bodied wine, with lots of fruit, herbs, nice acidity. Nothing that reminded me of the sometimes fragile pinot noirs from Burgundy. And still, I liked it! It actually made me think of a good, juicy Crozes-Hermitage. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who expect a typical pinot noir, but in itself this was an enjoyable wine. Only minus here, though, was the price : at 18€ there is better value to be found.
In about one month’s time, by the way, I will be in Burgundy. Yippee! I will post my impressions then. Before I leave, however, I will post another hidden gem, this time from Italy. So see you soon!

3 thoughts on “Cool climate vs Cool climate

  1. Have you tried any from New Zealand? Martinborough and especially Central Otago are proper cool climate and give you the freshness and elegance of Burgundy – at least of village level quality – for rather less money. Really enjoyed reading your blog, especially the Faux Gras and Jurancon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ian, thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I also enjoy your posts. One actually inspired me to buy the Ben Rye Passito that you recommended. Haven’t tried it though…
      You’re right about New-Zealand pinot noir. I really enjoy the elegance of these wines. And indeed at very good prices! Even the commonly available Stoneleigh pinot noir gives surprisingly good value under 10€. Almost impossible to find that quality in Burgundy at that price level…
      I’m still curious, however, about what are now the elements that really define the profile of New-Zealand pinot noir. The winemaker’s style, or the terroir? There’s probably cases of both. But I wonder because I remember having drunk two Central Otago pinot noirs that were quite different. The Ra Nui was very transparent, almost like a bordeaux clairet, and with a very elegant profile, while the Mud House was much more concentrated, very fruit-driven.
      Very intriguing and great stuff for wine lovers to ponder about 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s