I realise this may provoke a lot of eye-rolling, but the other day I went to a Domaine Romanée-Conti (DRC) tasting (for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with it, this is one of the world’s most famous – and most expensive – wines). Obviously, there’s an element of frustration involved in that: unless I won the lottery, I’d never be able to afford a bottle, and I’m not even sure I’d want to – it’s delicious, of course, but at about £21,000 a pop, is DRC really 400 or 500 times better than the amount you’d pay for a less-feted burgundy?
I have to admit, though, that once you’ve tasted a really good pinot – and it doesn’t have to cost a fraction as much – it’s there gnawing away at you, making you long to sip something similar. It’s not just the fruit – a 2019 DRC I tried at that tasting was like an utterly perfect raspberry – but also the silky texture, once described, as only the French can, as “le petit Jésus en culotte de velours” (little Jesus in velvet breeches). Um, whatever, but it does slip down the throat a real treat.
A lot of new-world wine makers are a bit in love with burgundy styles, too. You’ll find some of the best in New Zealand, especially Martinborough and Central Otago, which incidentally make very different styles (it would be worth setting up a tasting to compare). California, Oregon, South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde valley and Australia’s Mornington Peninsula are also fertile hunting grounds.
Does that mean that pinot that doesn’t reach these dizzy heights isn’t worth drinking? Not at all. What a lot of cheaper pinot offers – particularly younger pinots from warmer climates – is the most delectable, sweet, summer-puddingy fruit. Under the £10 mark, Chile is your best bet, while Romania has a distinctive but still delicious dark-fruited style.
Two other more unexpected sources that any pinotphile should explore are Germany, where it’s known as spätburgunder, and England (yes, of all places). If you’re snapping up the Dealuri pinot noir from Aldi in today’s panel, pick up a bottle of the same store’s delicate, pretty Specially Selected Pinot Noir Early (£10.99, 11.5%) from the excellent 2018 vintage, which is made by Sixteen Ridges in Herefordshire. I can’t say I like the “Bowler & Brolly” branding, but the wine is charming.
If you want to show off your pinot at a meal, by the way, the best ingredient is duck, followed closely by rare roast lamb or a mushroom risotto. But steer clear of stinky cheeses.
Pinot noir for all budgets
Dealuri Romanian Pinot Noir £4.99 in store , £5.99 online, Aldi, 12.5%. Typical of the darker, plum and mulberry style you get from Romania, and delicious. This pinot is more suited to lamb or mushrooms than to duck.
Adnams Pinot Noir Valle Central 2021 £7.99, 13%. Fresh, light, pretty – and remarkably good value. Could easily drink with fish.
Nautilus Southern Valleys Pinot Noir 2017 £19 The Wine Society, 13.5%. A sumptuous summer pudding of a wine with the added benefit of a couple of years’ maturity.
Karl Johner Kaiserstuhl Pinot Noir 2017 £19.79 (on offer) DBM Wines, 13.5%. German pinot noir is one of the wine world’s best-kept secrets. A really elegant wine that you could easily mistake for a top burgundy.
Domaine Laurent Mouton Givry 1er Cru Clos Jus 2019 £32 Tanners, 14%. Expensive, sure, but it would be even more with a better-known appellation. Opulent and heady with that elusive Burgundian silkiness.