John Ducker writes:-

This month is a ‘compare and contrast’ featuring a couple of Pinot Noir wines grown and vinified thousands of miles apart, both of which are informed by cooler climates, though their vineyard conditions are dissimilar. Setting qualitative judgement aside – the temptation to suggest that one might have greater virtues than the other – I simply thought it might be instructive to compare different styles while acknowledging their separate contexts.

Pinot Noir, that most capricious grape in the vineyard, presents a challenge for winemakers the world over, and yet its finest expressions result in some of the subtlest wines imaginable.   I am starting in Alsace, a region one automatically associates with white wines to the extent that no concession is made to the bottle shape for the far smaller percentage of red wines produced there. They all come in the traditional slim-line Alsace ‘flutes.’

Pinot noir is actually the oldest recorded grape variety grown in the region – predating Riesling in Alsace by many centuries. The accepted regional tradition of white grape growing is beginning to get a bit of a makeover: the vine-friendly shelter of the Vosges mountains together with increasing global warming is prompting an increasing number of Alsace growers to focus more enthusiastically on classic red vine varieties alongside their mainstay of whites.   After all, there are soil types to suit all comers in Alsace, this part of northeastern France having suffered a prehistoric ‘collapse’ to form a complex rift valley, offering many different exposures.

‘Les 7’ Pinot Noir Réserve, 2013 comes from Maison Trimbach, a distinguished Alsace property established as long ago as 1626, based at Ribeauvillé, north-west of Colmar.  Although the overall crop levels of the 2013 vintage in Alsace were greatly diminished, some really fine, concentrated wines were produced following the year’s exceptionally slow start both to bud-break and flowering in the vines.

So how does my first choice perform in the glass in front of me?     An attractive translucent mid-cherry-red colour, with fresh clean hints of ripe cherry and raspberry rising from the glass, to be followed by an elegant and supple palate perfectly poised between a light fresh acidity and a well-rounded ripeness….with a true pinot noir flavour developing once the wine has opened a little in the glass.   One can almost detect the cooler climate in this attractively balanced mid-weight wine – delightful now in its youth but maybe with five years drinking ahead of it.     Tradition dictates that huge wooden foudre barrels are used to mature this wine, but there is no detectable wood influence on the palate – across their years of use the barrel interiors become coated with tartrate crystals, preventing the wine’s contact with the wooden shell itself.

Country of Origin: France (Alsace)
Name of Wine: ‘Les 7’ Pinot Noir Réserve, 2013
Producer: F E Trimbach
Alcohol: 13% Vol.
Retailer: The Wine Society
Price: £ 16.50

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Fans of New World styles of pinot noir will not be disappointed by the 2014 vintage of ‘The Edge’ from one of New Zealand’s top pinot noir specialists, Larry McKenna, at Escarpment Wines in Martinborough. This single-vineyard wine naturally takes its name from its situation on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the Huarangarua River in the cool-climate area of Martinborough at the southern tip of North Island NZ, where exceptionally free-draining alluvial soils amply covered with beds of gravel permit deep rooting of the vines.   Cool growing conditions are necessary for fine pinot noir, and the Martinborough Terraces, perhaps equally with Central Otago at the southern tip of South Island have a notable reputation for distinctive NZ pinot noir styles.   2014 proved to be a very dry growing season in Martinborough with plenty of concentrated fruit and a sunny ripeness to be captured in bottle. By the same token there’s generous alcohol, too, although the lively freshness of my tasting example belies that fact on the palate.   I’m tasting it just as the British cherry season is coming into full swing, the wine’s colour in the glass matching exactly the dark glossy red hue of the cherries in the bowl in front of me as I write. Perhaps a little deeper than a classic Burgundian pinot noir colour, this, but then my example hails from another hemisphere, and in any case this grape variety has more clonal variations worldwide than you can shake a vine stick at.   As New Zealand pinot noir specialists like Larry McKenna say – “who needs Burgundy anyway?”

(Well that’s one point of view!)

Approachable now in its youth The Edge 2014 has an immediate and attractive appeal. Admittedly the wine’s degree more of alcohol compared to that of the Alsace example is noticeable both on the nose and in the finish.   Whereas the ‘old-world’ wine is more subtle and restrained, a touch cooler in tenor and therefore more suited to tasting just by itself, there’s the faintest suspicion of smoky oak in the background of this New Zealand wine: an added ‘up-frontness’ of firmness and length, all of which may suit it better to accompany a wide range of well-flavoured dishes at table.

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Country of Origin: New Zealand (Martinborough
Name of Wine: ‘The Edge’ Pinot Noir, 2014
Producer: Escarpment Wines
Alcohol: 14.2% Vol.
Retailer: Waitrose
Price: £ 14.99