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Playing around with Pinots

Cat Johnson downs a load of wine and comes up trumps – and giggling

Published on July 1st 2010.

Playing around with Pinots

There are areas of your life when it is perfectly okay to be predictable.

Wine for example; there are some types of which I just never tire. I do however curse myself at times, if when perusing a wine list looking for a Pinot Noir, my eyes inevitably drift to the Cote-d'Or. That’s old world French.

I tell myself that New Zealand are producing some award winning examples; sometimes I try to 'go crazy' and give California a whirl, but despite these rather distracting (and frankly, loopy conversations with myself) I still can't pull myself away from the prospect of a good Burgundy. So it was with great interest and the hope that my horizons would be broadened a little, that I sat down to try out a Harvey Nichols’ 'Playing Around With Pinots' evening. Six wines were being shown, demonstrating the various guises and mutations that this fabulous grape has to offer.

Here's the science bit.

Pinot Noir is a tricky little bugger to grow. It's sensitive to light and has thinner skin than other grape varieties which makes it susceptible to bunch rot and other fungal diseases. Grown in the right terroir though, and with a relatively cool climate, it can produce miraculous results which stand up to good ageing. Small wonder then that the great wine master Andre Tchelistcheff once said ''God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir''

Frankly, that comment makes me love it all the more. Pinot Noir may be devilish, but there's a glamour in that - No?

First up was a Pinot Grigio, Specogna, Venezi Giulia, 2008 (£17.25). Not a lover of Pinot Grigio traditionally: I winced when I noted it on the list, but happily this is an interesting example. It has a peachy coloured hue (not unlike a rose), a subtle floral nose and a good balance of fruit and acidity which doesn't produce an overly dry finish like some Pinot Grigio. Summer in a glass is my summary.

Next was a 'Pinot Blanc 'Barriques', Domaine Ostertag', 2008 (£15.00). If the nose on the last wine was floral, this one is all about the fruit - green apples and delicate citrus to be specific. Softer on the palate and with a longer, more elegant finish that the earlier white, it represents far greater value for money.

New Zealand then delivered a Pinot Gris, Staete Landt, Marlborough, 2008 (£17.50). An appealing, lemony hue and a pleasantly peachy nose promise much, but rather disappointingly the taste is astringent and harboured a particularly aggressive aftertaste.

Now over to the red corner and we kicked off with a H.N Bourgogne Rouge, Cote de Beaune, 2006 (£13.50). This for me proved the real find of the evening. Yes it's a Burgundy, therefore French again and yes I’m being predictable, but at its price point this is astonishingly good quality. In looks this wine has a deep, ruby colour hinting at greater body and development than its age elicits. The nose is fruits of the forest, overlaid with a cherry bubblegum aroma that pleasantly lingers long after you've put the glass down.

What makes this wine such good value though is the balance between the fruit and acidity, producing a well rounded and elegant finish. You wouldn't be ashamed to whip this out at a dinner party, but my preference would be to savour the lot over a long Sunday lunch. Perhaps, with a salt marsh lamb rump and dauphinoise?

New Zealand again, with a Pinot Noir, Chard Farm, Central Otago, 2006 (£19.75). The area has yielded some serious awards in recent years for its Pinot. This may be in no small part due to its steady and predictable climate as opposed to the random weather in Northern Europe during the last few years. It's unsurprising then, that they have come to such prominence. On this particular example you get an aroma of stewed soft fruits and the mid-palate feel is polished with no harsh or tannic impression. Sharing some characteristics with the earlier Burgundy, it's certainly a match in quality, but with a price point £6.25 higher is it worth it?

Finally, we ended with a showstopper of a wine from South Africa. 'Steytler Pinotage, Kaapzicht Estate, Stellenbosch, 2007 (£24) and boy does this wine pack a punch. Its deep cassis, almost opaque appearance hints at a big bold flavour and the aroma and flavour don't disappoint. The bouquet has a lot going on with strong fruit flavours and translates to a deliciously jammy flavour in which the fruit doesn't taste blousy or overdone. Something about the warmth and personality of this wine gives the essence of sunshine; it really is a delight. In character it actually drinks more like a Syrah than a Pinot and would complement a nice big chargrilled steak on a summer BBQ perfectly.

The event the certainly broadened my horizons. Based on the final showstopper I shall be eying The Cape with a deal of interest over the coming years to assess their progress. The Pinot Grigio also gave me a new outlook on a type of wine I previously felt at best indifferent about. What an event like this is really good for though, is the opportunity to learn just enough about particular types of wine to get real value for money in your choices.

It encourages you to really evaluate your personal taste which in turn equips you to make more informed and considered choices. For some it will also provide a point of reference and highlight wines which are punching above their weight in price.

Just as importantly this was all tremendously good fun. Harvey Nichols provided a professionally organised evening and even threw in a platter of nibbles from their Delicatessen. So not just educational and fun, but filling too.

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Jolly JillyJuly 1st 2010.

I agree with Cat, it is difficult to beat the French wines. Do HN have these on a regular basis?

dpJuly 2nd 2010.

french wine and italian clothes, you just can't beat it !!!!

Angelina JolieJuly 2nd 2010.

I went to a Harvey Nichols wine tasting last yera. They are good, but the icing was copping off with my now boyfriend.

BradPittJuly 2nd 2010.

I wasnt there Angelina my love, i was in Primark pickin oop the 99p tee-shirts.

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