Elgin Vintners | Pinot Noir Masterclass

Pinot Noir is sometimes referred to as ‘the heartbreak grape’ or the naughty child in the cellar. No other variety is so difficult to grow successfully and nurtured into a phenomenal wine.

It’s a black grape variety with a thin skin and is prone to rot and disease. Very temperamental. It requires a cool to moderate climate to produce good quality grapes. When done right, it produces wines of elegance, complexity and longevity.

The name comes from the French words for “pine” and “black,” a reference to the pine-cone shape of its clusters on the vine and the colour of the grapes. It is usually pale to medium in colour. On the palate it is high in acidity with low to medium tannins with red fruit flavours that can range from fresh to cooked depending on the ripeness of the grapes. The best Pinot Noirs often have subtle oak-derived aromas with outstanding examples of some that can develop complex flavours of forest floor and mushroom showcasing their full potential when done right.

Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir but some other wine regions are also known for excellent Pinot Noirs. In Burgundy tiny changes in the vineyard environment influence the quality of the wines. The most celebrated vineyards are located in a specific part of the region called the Côte d’Or which is then divided into two halves – Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaunne.

Pinot Noir is all about terroir and cannot be planted just anywhere in the world. It’s an early ripener. If it’s planted in warmer areas, ripening will be too quickly and the end result will be flavourless. It’s normally seen as a wine that doesn’t age very well due to the thin skins because it doesn’t producing a lot of tannins. But it’s the high natural acidity that preserves the wine and that makes a Pinot Noir develop in wonderful flavours.

We recently attended their first Pinot Noir Masterclass Tasting at Elgin Vintners presented by Winemaker Marinda Kruger-Claassen in celebration of Elgin #CoolWineLtd.

Marinda started off by quoting a scene from the movie “Sideways”, how the character, Miles Raymond, describes Pinot Noir as his favourite wine to drink.

Maya: So why are you so into Pinots? They’re like a thing with you.
Miles: “It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. 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, 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.”

Rocchioli Estate 2002 – Russian River Valley, USA

The Rochioli Vineyard is situated in a very diverse part of the Russian River Valley promoting diversity in the soil types, proximity to the ocean, as well as the contours of the valley, allowing for morning fog and cool evening breezes.

The 2002 vintage was seen as a Legendary vintage. Perfect dry condition with 14.5% alcohol. This wine is elegant yet still fresh with ripe cherry flavours. Very delicious!

Ridgelands 2007 – Elgin Orchards, Elgin

This was the very first Pinot Noir made on this farm before Elgin Vintners and is therefore still under the Ridgelands label. This one is a bit more extracted than the first one with a bit more savoriness. Very smooth and very well balanced.

Elgin Vintners 2012 – Elgin

Very fresh and well balanced. Fruit forward, generous red cherries and a touch of meatiness follows on the palate. Well-rounded mouthfeel and a smooth elegant finish.

Chateau de Chamirey Mercurey 2016 – Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy

The 2016 vintage was see as Legendary vintage world wide. They had lots of frost, rain and mildew all in one year. Overall, the harvest was extremely small – for some it was the tiniest on record – but the grapes that survived the frosts and rot were generally of exceptionally high quality. Many accounts proclaim Burgundy 2016 to be a very classic vintage, one renowned for its balance and poise.

The wine is not fruit-forward, very savoury and classical style. Smooth and light with an 12,5% alcohol content. One can easily enjoy this wine with a delicious charcuterie platter!

HãHã 2016 – Marlborough, New Zealand

In Maori Hãhã means savoury and luscious, tasty and delicious. The 2016 vintage was extremely good, especially for the wines of Otago. The growing season was notable for its intensely hot summer and high rainfall, creating humid conditions, particularly in Marlborough. Layers of decomposed granite, shale and sandstone soils – very well-drained and textbook soils. On the first sip it tends to be a a bit chalky and dustiness but once it has time to breathe it opens up in beautiful flavours.

Elgin Vintners 2016 – Elgin

2016 was dry with drought having a major impact on the crops and was a challenging, difficult vintage for many producers. Despite the harvest being earlier than normal, conditions had cooled enough to allow later-ripening grapes a chance to catch up. This 2016 is more full-bodied compared to the other 2 from Burgundy and New Zealand from the same vintage.

Elgin Vintners 2019 & 2020 – Elgin

Fruit forward, generous red cherries that follows on the palate. Both very young wines. For the 2019, 30% whole bunch was used whereas 25% was used for the 2020 vintage. The tannins and stalks ripen completely, resulting in a beautifully refined tannin structure. To add more complexity to the wine natural fermentation is done in open fermenters. Both de stemmed and went into stainless steel tanks. 2019 vintage spent 12 months in barrel compared to the 2020 vintage that only spend 9 month in barrel. 2019 placed in the top five of the inaugural Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir competition.

Elgin Vintners 2010 – Elgin

This was an extra added bonus and to end off a great Masterclass with a 2010 vintage. Red cherries combined with aromas of earthiness and subtle hints of baking spice. The silky tannins are balanced by a bright, juicy acidity.

For me Pinot Noir is a wine with charisma – attractive with an aura. And it lures me everytime. The main reason being that it that it does not appear as masculine as many other red wines, but elegant with a definite strong character.” – Marinda Kruger-Claasen.

Pinot Noir is a versatile and catch-all food pairing wine. Pinot Noir is light enough for salmon but complex enough to hold up to some richer meat including duck. When everyone orders different dishes at a restaurant, you can usually win by picking Pinot Noir – it will make everyone happy.

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