By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 25 April 2020
Red Burgundy fans needing to tighten their belts and look for alternative Pinot Noirs, have plenty to choose from. The best examples in our tasting under £20 came from Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and California – with the best value from Chile and Romania.
Pinot Noir can be a tricky varietal to grow and nurture – and so often cheap Pinot Noirs can be mean, thin and disappointing or overly sweet, jammy over-extracted. We have picked a dozen from round the world which represent good benchmark affordable Pinot Noirs to try:
California: ANGELINE PINOT NOIR 2018 (13.8%) ***STAR BUY***
£14.75 St Andrews Wine Co
Californian Pinot Noir can be very pricey, so I was delighted to find this new arrival produced by US vintner Courtney Benham. Surprisingly good value for money for California, such a pretty juicy Pinot Noir with bright cranberry and plum fruits and fresh acidity, without the sweet over-ripe over-oaked style often found in cheap Californian Pinots. This also has well-integrated subtle toasty oak notes (one third was matured in new French oak). Benham is based in Sonoma, but also buys grapes from growers in Mendocino and Santa Barbara.
Chile: ECHEVERRIA GRAN RESERVA PINOT NOIR 2017 (13.5%)
£10.60 Exel Wines, Perth; £10.29 Strictly Wine; Corking Wines
From the charming Echeverria family, based in Curico in southern Chile, but who buy in grapes from across the country. This slick polished Pinot is made from grapes grown in Chile’s cooler Casablanca Valley. A very classy Pinot for the price with plummy fruits, milk chocolate and tobacco spice notes – finishing with toasty oak notes; 75% of the wine was matured in oak for 6 months to enhance complexity.
South Africa: CATHERINE MARSHALL PINOT NOIR ON SANDSTONE 2018 (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£15.95 Field & Fawcett; £16.50 Great Grog
Specialist Pinot Noir winemaker Catherine Marshall offers a range of beautifully pure natural Pinot Noirs from different soils. This sandstone version (in comparison to her clay version) comes from light soils which enhances the perfume and elegance of this four-clone Pinot Noir cuvee from three cool sites in high altitude Elgin region. Uplifted strawberry fruit nose, mouthfilling black cherry fruit flavours – so lush and elegant with very subtle oak notes from 5% new oak.
Germany: MARTIN WASSMER SPATBURGUNDER 2017 (13%)
£14.50 The Wine Society
For those who love Pinot Noir, Germany has plenty to offer – as the third largest producer of the grape in the world after France and US. The ripest German Spatburgunders (as Pinot Noir is called in Germany) hail from sunny southern Baden in southern Germany. Wassmer is based in sheltered Markgraflerland zone, between the Black Forest and the Rhine, making deliciously sweet fruited Pinot with velvet smooth soft tannins.
Chile: EL VIEJO DEL VALLE PINOT NOIR 2017 (13%)
£9.90 L’Art du Vin
With its zany eye-catching label highlighting 1950s Chilean street graffiti and its slick polished red fruit flavours and soft voluptuous texture, this great value Pinot Noir stands out in a crowd. Grapes are grown under the shadow of the menacing El Descabezado volcano, in a vineyard discovered and nurtured by Burgundian Eric Monnin. The oak is deftly subtle from maturing in new French demi-muid oak casks.
Romania: CRAMELE RECAS SOLEVARI RESERVA PINOT NOIR 2018 (13.5%)
£8.67 Fine Wine Musselburgh
Soft juicy and cheap is how I used to remember Romanian Pinot Noir as a student. Today it is still not as elegant and sophisticated as red Burgundy, but there are some brilliant value for money examples. Cramele Recas, run by Englishman Philip Cox in Romania, has created a brilliant premium range of Pinot Noirs called Solevari made from lower yielding vines. Soft textured with seductively juicy cherry fruit flavours.
New Zealand: ESCARPMENT THE EDGE PINOT NOIR 2018 (14%) ***STAR BUY***
£14 Great Grog; £14.99 Waitrose
Larry McKenna sold his Escarpment winery, but has stayed on as winemaker. He is arguably the most experienced Pinot Noir producer in North Island – and in the whole of New Zealand - based on Martinborough’s alluvial gravel terraces where high summer temperatures ripen Pinot Noir well to ripe cherry and liquorice flavours. This is his entry-level Pinot Noir (his single vineyard wines are highly rated); a soft juicy, stylishly sleek Kiwi example.
Bulgaria: EDOARDO MIROGLIO SOLI PINOT NOIR 2016 (13.5%)
£11.75 L’Art du Vin; The Wine Society
Very elegant pretty Pinot from Italian Edoardo Miroglio who first came to Bulgaria to sell cloth. He has invested heavily in his Bulgarian winery, complete with hotel and tasting room for visitors, in the beautiful southern Thracian valley. Loved its morello cherry fruits, dash of liquorice and coffee and hint of French oak.
Chile: UNDURRAGA SIBARIS GRAN RESERVA PINOT NOIR 2017 (14%)
£11.79 Strictly Wine; Simply Wines Direct
From grapes grown in coastal maritime Leyda valley just 13 kilometres from the Pacific – this was the most minerally herby plummy robust Pinot in our tasting with medium bodied flavours and soft gentle tannins. I have written about historic Undurraga winery several times, in particular for their stunning Terroir Hunter range (particularly their Syrah, Carignan and Carmenere)
Argentina: SAURUS SELECT PINOT NOIR 2017 Familia Schroeder (14%)
£15.99 Cheers Winemerchants; Viader Wines; Exel Wines, Perth
Schroeder make stunning Argentinian Malbec at the same price, but I was very impressed by the progress they have made with the tricky Pinot Noir grape in cool climate semi-desert Neuquen in Patagonia, well south of Mendoza. This area is clearly well suited to Pinot Noir; this has bright floral aromas, light strawberry fruits, minerally undertones and fine tannins.
Germany: OLIVER ZETER SPATBURGUNDER 2016 (13%)
£14.25 reduced from £16.99 De Burgh Wines
From sunny Pfalz region, brothers Christian and Oliver Zeter show how good German Pinot Noir can be. A young enterprising winery, Oliver Zeter trained in Italy and South Africa. A pale savoury Pinot Noir from sandy clay soils with very gentle tannins and wild strawberry notes.
New Zealand: MOUNT DIFFICULTY ROARING MEG PINOT NOIR 2017 (14%)
£12.99/£16.99 New Zealand House of Wine; £17.30 Exel Wines; £18.99 Majestic Wine
Central Otago Pinot Noir gives intense red and blackberry fruit Pinot Noirs, vivid acidity, pure bright flavours, sweet ripe black cherry fruit flavours with fine rounded tannins. This is the second label Pinot from Mount Difficulty winery in Bannockburn renowned for their easy-drinking fruit-driven wines.
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