Pinot Noir: Why this classy grape should be your christmas wine
There is something special about Pinot Noir. Beloved the world over, it has been referred to as “the heart break grape” due to its exacting demands on those growing it.
It was immortalised in the film Sideways by the lead character’s impassioned speech: “Pinot needs constant care and attention, you know? And in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential, can then coax it into its fullest expression”.
The same film rather lambasted Merlot, which led to an unfair dip in real life sales, while Pinot received only praise. It is fair to say that Pinot Noir is the world’s most popular light-bodied red and a gift for food pairing, even for those who may usually opt for a white.
This is because of the grape’s low tannins. Tannins typically create that drying sensation in the mouth often found in more powerful, structured reds, but in a Pinot the wine is silky and soft with ripe red fruits and delicate nuances of violet and rose petals and clove and vanilla spice. My palate is not your palate, so what we taste, and experience will be slightly different but for me, Pinot Noir makes me think of roses drying in a cedarwood box.
If I were to select one wine to tide myself and my loved ones over this Christmas it would be a Pinot Noir, the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Fine wine lovers will already be solid fans of the grape thanks to Burgundy, while those who crave a bargain will be bowled over by the quality of Pinot coming out of regions like Romania and Chile.
Unlike some fuller reds, Pinot Noir can be lightly chilled to go with seafood starters and fish dishes. But thanks to its supple red fruits and notes of light spice, it can also handle roast turkey, goose or ham and all the accompaniments of the table from your bread sauce to your sprouts.
It is also my go-to wine for vegetarian and vegan dishes, being one of the few reds that truly sing with this style of cooking, from mushroom risotto to vegetable kebabs. In my last column I recommended white wine over red for the cheeseboard, but a light vibrant Pinot Noir can also pair with a variety of cheeses, particularly the semi-soft styles of Gruyère, Gouda and Comté.
Of course, there will be those of you who would prefer a white with your poultry, and if this is the case I urge you to look at Chardonnay’s seductive cousin, Viognier. A wine with similar weight and texture, it offers a range of versatility.
Look for oaked versions if you prefer your white wines with a luscious depth of flavour and creaminess, which can also compensate for any dryness in your turkey. Younger, unoaked bottles will be fresher, with whispers of summer gardens thanks to the floral notes of the wine.
But if you’re on the fence for the big day, my vote goes to the Pinot Noir.