There’s this saying that’s called the “modern winemaking style”. By this people simply mean that the wine is produced so that it can be drunk young. So you walk into a shop, buy it off the shelf, take it home, and tuck straight in. That’s how a lot of wineries are doing it these days, because end of the day that’s what the mass market wants. How many people do you know that have a wine cellar to lay some bottles down for a few years? Not many, right?
Pinot Noir is an international grape variety. It’s grown all the way around the world, despite the fact it’s a fussy bugger of a grape. It thrives best in places that don’t really do temperature extremes. In New Zealand for example, or Chile, or the US, you get some great wines that show Pinot Noir in all its glory. And for the most part producers make it in the modern way.
For Pinot Noir the modern way gives medium bodied, fruity wines. The fruit is invariably red, i.e. it’ll smell and taste something along the lines of cherry, or strawberries, or raspberries. A lot of the variation comes from the temperature from where it’s grown. If the place is a bit too hot, the fruit can be a bit jammy (not necessarily a bad thing), or if it’s a bit too cold then the grapes won’t ripen enough and it’ll be a bit more bitter in the taste (which is usually a bad thing). That’s the modern style of Pinot Noir.
Burgundy, however, is the classical heartland of Pinot Noir. You may not know it though, given that the words “Pinot” and “Noir” will nearly never appear on the bottle. French winemakers, as we’ve said before, assume you know what grape is grown in that area, so think it’s irrelevant information. But now you know; think red burgundy, think Pinot Noir!
The label on a bottle of Pinot Noir from Burgundy usually just has the name of the town, and the name and standard of the vineyard. Remember in Burgundy, it’s the vineyard plots that are rated Premier or Grand Cru. These vineyard plots are thought so famous that it’s this name that’s stuck on the label. Not really helpful if you’re just starting out.
Just to be doubly annoying, local councils, a few years back, started renaming the villages. They basically stuck on the the name of the most prestigious vineyard onto the end of the village’s name so that ordinary village winemakers could market their stuff more easily. So Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin (after the Grand Cru plot of Charmes-Chambertin) and Nuits became Nuits-Saint-Georges (after the plots of Les Saint Georges).
Burgundy is where the classic style of Pinot Noir was developed. It’s more earthy, and usually made to be left in the bottle for a little bit of time to develop away from the fruit flavours and into something, well, at the risk of sounding like a dick here, “gamey”. There it is, I said it. Gamey. I don’t mean that it likes a kick about down the park, I mean it becomes something that smells, tastes, and pairs amazingly well with game meat. Anything from pheasant and guinea fowl, to venison. It’s awesome stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not exactly everyone’s usual dinner. But just think about what you have in your area in terms of game meat. If you don’t know, head down your local butchers and ask (btw, support your local butcher!). It’s worth it just so you can fully love a bottle of old school Pinot Noir.