Pinot Noir was put on this earth to frustrate winemakers and excite oenophiles. In the best years and from the best sites, aficionados of the grape expect (but don’t always get) an exquisite marriage of heavenly perfume and a silky, come-hither fruit quality. There is an unspoken contract between the buyer and bottle: the experienced collector understands that Pinot Noir can disappoint as much as it delights.

Yet wealthy fans continue to spend astronomical sums regardless of the risks involved. Indeed, auction houses do very well out of the incredible popularity of red Burgundy – mainly if the label advertises “Domaine de la Romanee-Conti” (DRC). Rare cases of venerable wines like La Tache often sell for an excess of US$50,000 on the secondary market, despite the well-publicized instances of fraud and faulty bottles. The demand for the best bottles of Burgundian Pinot Noir is insatiable.

best-pinot-noir

Meanwhile, the poor grower struggles to cultivate one of the most ‘fussy’ and sensitive varieties ever to grace France’s vineyards. Pinot Noir is minded to produce utterly nondescript wine in torrid years, or anemic, herbaceous dross in wet vintages. The grape has fewer coloring pigments than other dark-skinned varieties and oxidizes at an alarmingly fast rate if not judiciously protected. It is the antithesis of Cabernet Sauvignon; boasting less flavoring substances and fewer tannins, Pinot Noir needs to be cropped at very low yields. The difficult decisions, however, don’t stop in the vineyard. No grape makes the choices open to a winemaker more critical than Pinot Noir. All that is required is one wrong move, one clumsy input, and that delicate perfume and ethereal flavor will be eviscerated.

So is cultivating this precocious grape more trouble than it’s worth? That is certainly open to debate, but the number of hectares under vine has been rising for over a decade, this is partly because of the immense popularity of the grape among the sommelier community, and also because it can provide the richest rewards to winegrowers. Since the turn of the 21st century, there have been profound changes affecting the growing and making of Pinot Noir across the globe. It used to be said that only a few New World regions like Oregon showed glimpses of Pinot’s inherent greatness; today, Burgundians will concede that majestic Pinot Noir can be made across the world. This has in no way affected the status of the best Burgundies, nor do collectors swoon over New Zealand or South African examples with the same relish. The top crus of Chambertin and Musigny have maintained their pole position, at least in the auction circuit.

But equally, few would deny that the Cote d’Or has lost its monopoly on excellent Pinot Noir. Better site selection, massive investment, and refinement of vinification techniques have led to a revolution in the quality of New World Pinot. Moreover, regions such as Alsace and even the Languedoc are proving that greatness can be coaxed out of this mercurial variety in several different climates and terroirs within France. Higher altitude zones across Spain’s Catalunya also continue to impress.

However, Chile’s Casablanca, Australia’s Yarra Valley, and France’s Limoux region aren’t considered (by Burgundy enthusiasts) to be equals – or peers – of the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune. But in quality terms, these flourishing regions come damn close. In recognition of the wonderful ‘multiculturalism’ of modern-day Pinot Noir, Cellar Tours has compiled a list of our ten global favorites.

FRANCE

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet – Le Chambertin

This is a domaine that consistently outperforms its more famous competitors. Created by marriage between Jacques Rossignol of Volnay and Mado Trapet, the firm has embraced modernity by converting to biodynamic farming since 2004. The results have been spectacular: a range of Pinot Noirs with incredible purity, depth, and elegance. Their top wine from the Grand Cru’ Le Chambertin’, is one of Burgundy’s most exquisite. Even in weak years, Rossignol-Trapet produces an excellent example of Pinot Noir – bottles from the greatest vintages can last a lifetime. Noted UK author and critic Hugh Johnson believes that Chambertin is “the region’s most imperious wine; dense, sumptuous and long-lived.” Here we have a domaine that does the terroir full justice. Astoundingly complex, structurally refined, and seductively scented, Pinot Noir reaches an apogee in this part of Burgundy.

website: www.domainerossignol.fr

region: Burgundy Wine Region

related tour: Burgundy Wine Tours


Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon – Solaire Pinot Noir

Laurent Delaunay is a Burgundian with a keen eye for a good investment. In recent years, the owner of Badet Clement has invested in the Languedoc region, convinced that the cooler-climate terroirs of Limoux could do Pinot Noir full justice. Planting a few hectares on a higher altitude site, Delaunay’s first vintage silenced the naysayers. Today he cultivates over 25 hectares on limestone calcareous soils, grown using organic methods and hand-harvested at low yields. Tasted blind, the Solaire Pinot Noir is often mistaken for Volnay – expect richly textured red-fruit, impeccable freshness, balance, and poise. It merges the best elements of Burgundy’s refinement with the fruit-driven pleasure that so smoothly flows from the Languedoc. Reasonably priced and faultlessly made, Solaire is not to be missed.

website: www.abbottsetdelaunay.com

region: Languedoc Wine Region

related tour: Languedoc Wine Tours


Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve

How can a region – and indeed family – resolutely committed to growing Riesling to perfection, make such stunning Pinot Noir? Very easily, as it turns out. Family Trimbach cultivates several red and white varieties in Alsace to perfection, but our money is on their beautiful Pinot Noir. It speaks of the Cote de Beaune, rather than the might and structure of the Cote de Nuits; soft and gentle on the palate, Trimbach’s Pinot Noir is wonderfully delicate and ethereal. The inviting red fruit, silky texture, and racy acidity ensure that each vintage sells out quickly on release. A monument to Alsatian Pinot Noir, Trimbach has proven that the grape will travel within France if given adequate care and attention.

website: www.trimbach.fr

region: Alsace Wine Region

related tour: Alsace Wine Tours


SPAIN

Torres Mas Borras Pinot Noir

At first glance, the very idea is ridiculous. Spain’s Penedes region boasts a warm Mediterranean climate; surely, the antithesis of what Burgundy’s sacred red grape requires? Yet Spanish giant Torres has managed to pull it off. Judicious site selection at higher altitudes, merged with expert winemaking, has resulted in a seductive, richly textured Pinot Noir. It is undeniably ripe and expressive compared to a cooler vintage from the Cote d’Or, but this is only to the wine’s advantage. Damson, plum, raspberry, and mint all vie for your attention. But crucially, the wine never veers into jammy territory and remains fresh and balanced throughout.

website: www.torres.es

region: Penedès Wine Region

related tour: Penedes Wine Tour


ITALY

Conte Vistarino – Pernice

Lombardy is possibly Europe’s most underrated region when it comes to cultivating superlative Pinot Noir. The best wines from leading producer Conte Vistarino are refined and racy in a manner rarely seen outside of Burgundy. Winery director Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino believes that it is the combination of a cool climate, calcareous soils, and the marked diurnal temperature variation, which enables such delicate and ethereal Pinot Noir to be made in this part of northern Italy. Or perhaps it is merely the excellent winemaking or historical knowhow. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that Conte Vistarino’s Pernice is arguably a contender for Italy’s finest example of Pinot Nero. Planted in the province of Pavia, south of the river Po, tiny yields and exceptional terroir give rise to an extraordinary wine. It boasts the structure of a good example from the Cote de Beaune, with an inimitable flavor profile that is Lombardy’s own. Autumnal notes, black truffle, and rosemary provide a stunning backdrop to the array of red fruit flavors. Sublime.

website: www.contevistarino.it

region: Lombardy Wine Region

related tour: Franciacorta Wine Tours


CHILE

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir

Chilean Pinot Noir just keeps getting better and better. After a shaky start, regions such as Aconcagua Valley are proving that excellent Pinot Noir can be grown in cooler parts of Chile if the conditions are right. This coastal region is ideal for cultivating varieties that cannot tolerate excessive heat, benefiting from the moderating influences of the Pacific. Many companies have rushed to invest in the region over the past 15 years, but Montes remains one of the finest producers of Pinot Noir in Chile. Aged for ten months in approximately 50% new French oak, the wine is both powerful and refined. Densely textured and very expressively scented, it is a New World wine that, while happy to express its origins, has not forgotten its roots; the natural freshness so common to good Burgundy has not been subjugated.

website: www.monteswines.com

related tour: Chile Wine Tours


Dos Almas Gran Reserva Pinot Noir

Dos Almas is a very different proposition to Montes Alpha. Fruit grown in the Casablanca region is harvested at relatively early times in the season, to preserve acidity and poise. The winemaking team prioritizes finesse over-extraction, and it shows: Dos Almas is typically a lighter, elegant style of Chilean Pinot Noir. Vibrant summer fruits dominate the palate, underpinned by racy acidity and an enticing structure. Dos Almas can be enjoyed without embellishments, but the wine shines without food. Roast duck would be ideal. Or lightly seasoned lamb chops – chuletas in Spanish.

website: dosalmas.cl

related tour:


Argentina

Domaine Nico – Le Paradis

Domaine Nico is a very special project, initiated by the legendary Catena family. They chose vineyards located at spectacular altitudes – planted at between 1100 meters to 1500 meters; Catena has brought new meaning to the phrase ‘high altitude winegrowing’. Small parcels have been planted across the sub-regions of Mendoza, including Le Paradis vineyard in Tupungato. Le Paradis is one of the most exciting Pinot Noirs to emerge from South America in recent times, produced from almost commercially unviable low yields. It is a chameleon – ripe and lushly textured and yet delicate and profound at the same time. It pulls off the remarkable trick of appealing to both Burgundy nuts and aficionados of fruit-forward, exotic New World Pinot Noir. Once again, the Catena family has proven that they have few peers, both in winemaking and terroir selection.

website: www.catenazapata.com

related tour: Argentina Wine Tours


South Africa

Newton Johnson Family Pinot Noir

Newton Johnson set the standard for South African Pinot Noir. Planted on a mosaic of soil types and mesoclimates, the family produces a range of styles to suit every palate, from dainty elegance to densely textured and powerfully structured wines. They are never lean or inexpressive – every bottle tasted during our last visit reeked of summer fruits, damson jam, and forest floor—a brilliant range of wines offered at accessible price points.

website: www.newtonjohnson.com

related tour: South Africa Wine Tours


Hamilton Russel Vineyards Pinot Noir

Owner Anthony Hamilton Russel said it best. “As a variety, Pinot Noir is, in my opinion, the most articulate communicator of the personality of site and soil. It unlocks all the ancient mysteries of a particular site with uncompromising honesty.” And as it happens, the Hamilton Russel Pinot Noir is routinely considered to be South Africa’s best – with good reason. Here we have a wine which never compromises on flavor, structure, perfume, and complexity. Here we have a wine which, tasted blind, suggests the mega-expensive end of the Burgundy market. This is partly due to the exceptional terroir and partly the result of Anthony Hamilton Russel’s constant drive to push winemaking boundaries. His team has experimented with alternative vessels for the wine’s maturation, including stoneware and terracotta amphoras. But in the end, it’s not the endless tinkering, which makes this Pinot Noir so exquisite and profound. It’s the soil.

website: www.hamiltonrussellvineyards.com

 

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Cellar Tours is a Luxury Travel Specialist, operating since 2003 and offering exclusive Mercedes chauffeured Gourmet Vacations in Chile, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain. We specialize in luxurious custom designed vacations, events and incentives related to food and wine. We are proud members of Slow Food, UNAV (Travel Agency Association in Spain), and the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals).

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