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Pinot noir – pining for a glass?

Hereby introducing a new column for our region’s many fine-wine lovers and discussers. We’re lucky to have met Corinna Baird, associated with Wamboin’s newly re-opened winery/cafe Contentious Character (nee Lambert Vineyards). She will bring us more wine news and discussion in the coming months. We start with that international favourite Pinot Noir and why it finds perfect conditions right here in the capital region.

One of the wonderful things about wine is their evocative French names. Pinot is a variant of pineau, which means these grapes are tightly packed like a pine cone and noir, of course, describes their black-blue berries.

Cool climate growing

The most famous Pinot Noirs come from Burgundy in east-central France. Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, because too much heat makes the grapes ripen too quickly and lose their full flavour and aroma.

You may be surprised to know that parts of the capital region provide the perfect cool climate for these tantalising grapes. (Madeline Triffon once called Pinot Noir “sex in a glass”.)

This area has a continental climate where there is a big difference between the coldest and hottest months. Like Burgundy, the region has high temperatures in midsummer and plenty of sunshine, while the autumns are long and cool. Even cold snaps in February or March help give these grapes an enviable balance of acid and sugar and plenty of time to develop their delightful flavours.

You may have enjoyed Pinot Noir from other cool regions of Australia. Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, Gippsland and Bellarine Peninsula (home to the By Farr label) are a few. New Zealand also has the terroir or “sense of place” for Pinot Noir – that magic blend of climate, soil, aspect and ‘je ne sais quoi’. Across the ocean, northern Italians, cooler Californians, Chileans and Argentines also play host to the blushing blue pinot.

How will I know?

What are the special characteristics of a Pinot Noir?

  • look for a pale, translucent colour
  • taste cranberry, cherry and raspberry with others like mushroom, wet leaves or caramel
  • place in French oak barrels
  • age for 2 to 18 years, depending on style
  • serve cool to touch.

Many people ask if they can cellar their favourite wines. In fact, many wines that can be aged come from lofty vineyards and cool climates like ours. Pinot Noir ages well and develops game, truffle and earthy characters (a bit like us).

Should you wish to buy the most expensive version, you can spend $15,000 for a 30-year-old from Burgundy, the 1985 Richebourg Brand Cru. If your needs are a tad more humble, you could choose a Te Wahi Pinot Noir, Central Otago, 2014 for $65.

Luckily for you, Contentious Character has a Pinot Noir, Canberra cool climate vintages from 2006 to 2016 from $33 a bottle. You may want to enjoy it with a whole salmon or a richer meat, like venison or duck. Or you could just put it away for a day when you’re pining.

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