Pinot noir is on my mind, I'm pleased to say. In the past few weeks, I've tasted German pinot noir against the rest of the world, fine red Burgundy at a pre-sale tasting by the American auction house, Acker Merrall & Condit, Australian pinot noir against New Zealand, and, most recently, an 'emerging classics' tasting of Chilean pinot noir. That's quite a lot of pinot noir even if you love the thrill of great red Burgundy and its vinous acolytes, which fortunately I do.
The red grape of Burgundy has become the official darling of the red wine world. It's ousting Bordeaux in the Far East as the new hot wine to stick in your cellar in place of over-hyped Bordeaux. In Australia, it's producing seductive wines to rival New Zealand's outstanding examples. It raises its pretty head in Oregon and California, where the two American regions came first (2009 Anticaterra Pinot Noir) and second (2008 Au Bon Climat Isabelle) in the 'taste-off' with Germany.
The two most interesting results were the tastings from Germany and Chile. The former because, in a pre-selection of top German pinot by Tim Atkin MW and Hamish Anderson of the Tate, it was almost Deutschland über alles with seven spätburgunders, as the grape is known in Germany, taking seven of the 10 top places. Top was Rudolf Fürst's 2009 Bürgstadter Centgräfenberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs from Franconia.
The second result was interesting, too, because in Chile pinot noir is still more emerging work-in-progress than classic. In a disappointing tasting, most Chilean pinots were just too clunky, being either over-alcoholic or over-oaked.
There are few bargains in pinot noir, a high-maintenance grape demanding the extra attention and care that only a dedicated grower can lavish on it. Occasionally, someone gets it right and affordable, like the de Bortoli family, whose 2010 Windy Peak Pinot Noir, £7.99, down from £10.99, Majestic, punches above its weight for its spicy, cherry- and strawberry-fruit quality. The same goes for Villa Maria, one of the few capable of producing quality pinot in quantity, to wit its seductively red berry-fruited 2009 Cellar Selection, £13.49-£14.99, Majestic, Sainsbury's.
Of all countries, I still think New Zealand delivers most on value per sip ratio, and you'll find this in the delightful fragrance and textured raspberry and rhubarb fruit of the 2010 Blind River Pinot Noir, Marlborough, £18.99, buy 2 = £14.99, Majestic or the spicy, peppery, loganberryish richness of the 2009 Mount Koinga Pinot Noir, Central Otago, £17.50, The Wine Society. California is making strides, especially with the voluptuously cherryish and spicy fruit qualities of the 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, £19.99, buy 2 = £17.99, Majestic.
When red Burgundy is good, it's unbeatable, from the lower slopes of the 2009 Chorey-lès-Beaune, £17.99, Marks & Spencer, with its cherry-raspberry fragrance and savoury acidity and Domaine François Lumpp's bright, raspberryish 2008 Givry à Vigne Rouge, £23.75, Lea & Sandeman (leaandsandeman.co.uk), to the grandeur of Domaine Antonin Guyon's 2009 Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru, £50, Marks & Spencer, all mulberry fruit concentration and bite beautifully defined by silky tannins and mineral finesse, or the gloriously perfumed, focused, spicy cherry and mulberry-intense 2009 Domaine des Varoilles, La Romanée, Monopole, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, £45.19, Corney & Barrow (corney-barrow.co.uk). It's red Burgundy worth all the fuss.