Sweeping the pinot noir minefield

Sweeping the pinot noir minefield

Every article I have ever read about pinot noir has noted that this is a grape that disappoints as often as it thrills—that it is necessary to be an adventurer, to be forgiving and able to get back in the saddle after forking out a substantial sum and finding the wine tart, mean or downright funky (especially when dealing with burgundy of lesser provenance) The red flag goes up again on March 1, when Vintages releases several burgundies from producers rarely seen here. There are a couple of winners, but overall the selection leaves me to ponder whether anyone is critically tasting these wines before they buy them. There is also a smattering from elsewhere, including Niagara, Oregon, California and B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, again with mixed results. As your minesweeper—and from the vantage point of pinot being my favourite variety—here is a review of every pinot I have tasted on this release, from best to worst:

Frederic Magnien 2005 Vieilles Vignes Chambolle-Musigny, Burgundy($55.95, 93 points, 66480)Exquisite is a word I rarely use, but it sprung to mind when I tasted this very fine, elegant and poised pinot noir from the limestone soils of a small appellation on the Cote d’Or. Fine new oak adds coffee, cream and cedar to the floral cherry-blueberry fruit. Has silk and suppleness, fine tannin and excellent length. Best 2009 to 2014.

Domaine Vincent Sauvestre 2005 Corton-Marechaudes, Burgundy Grand Cru($57.95, 92 points, 66472)A grand cru at this price is almost unheard of, so I was prepared for disappointment. Lo and behold, this is a decent representative of its station as a grand cru. In a style opposite to the sleek Chambolle above, the Corton-Marechaudes has an intense bouquet of earth, moss, smoke, cinnamon and sour cherry-cranberry fruit. Medium weight with intense, sourish acidity and fine tannin. Excellent, penetrating length. Now to 2012.

Le Clos Jordanne 2005 Pinot Noir Village Reserve, Niagara Peninsula($25, 89 points, 33894)Best value on the release. I have tasted this wine four times since it was first released in November 2007, and I have upped the score a bit by being continually impressed by the intensity, complexity and almost rustic pinot character: smoke, cran-raspberry, beetroot and some green mint and dill-like sourness, all wrapped in smoky, chocolaty oak. Not the most finesse you’ll ever experience, but the tight, grippy palate will slice and dice with food. Excellent length and complexity for the money. Best 2010 to 2013.

Domaine Doudet 2005 les Guerets 1er Cru Aloxe-Corton, Burgundy($44.95, 89 points, 66530)The deep colour and heftiness of this pinot noir suggests over-extraction—that is, going for power over finesse—but there is appealing ripe cherry (almost New World) fruit here, along with smoke, tar and a spicy complexity. Though a bit chunky and clunky now, it has good proportion and acid-tannin structure. Very good to excellent length. One for the cellar. Best 2011 to 2017.

Chanson 2005 le Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Burgundy($19.80, 88 points, 50575)I’ve tasted this one several times since it joined the Vintages Essentials list last summer, but my most recent sip—last week—revealed some maturity settling in and less fruit bloom. The Chanson 2005 is a classic, earth-driven pinot with raspberry-currant, lessening oak vanillin and dried herbs. Mid-weight and firm, with brittle tannin and very good length, it bridges new and traditional styles. Good price. Now to 2011.

MacMurray Ranch 2006 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California($21.95, 88 points, 48207)The country retreat of the late actor Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons) is an idyllic spot that happens to be in California’s big new pinot region. Not too complex or profound, this wine is very appealing, with lovely floral, ripe raspberry fruit instantly mindful of New Zealand. Well dressed in toasty oak, it’s mid-weight, easygoing and a touch sweet, with some acid tension on the finish. Very good to excellent length. Now to 2011.

Mission Hill 2005 Pinot Noir Reserve, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia($29.95, 88 points, 545012)Ready to drink, this pinot noir is immediately appealing, but perhaps lacking some mystery and restraint. It possesses a generous, soft, sweet aroma of raspberry-strawberry, with cocoa, dried herbs and light smokiness. Mid-weight, tender and a touch sweet, with some finesse and excellent length. Now to 2011.

Antonin Guyon 2005 Chorey-les-Beaune, Burgundy($29.95, 87 points, 66431)This appellation on the outskirts of Beaune never makes big wines, so one looks for charm above all. This one catches the spirit with a mild but pretty nose of raspberry, red licorice and gentle spice. Light to medium bodied, it is fresh and simple with good acidity and fine tannin. Good length. Best now to 2010.

Adamas 2005 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy($44.95, 86 points, 66605)This bottle looks promising: a nice, clean label; a prestigious address; and some anticipation from the unknown. But it’s quite light for Nuits-Saint-Georges, with fairly lifted floral, cranberry, cinnamon and green, stemmy notes. Medium bodied, tight and tannic. Very good length, but lacking some substance. Best now to 2011.

Moillard 2006 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Tradition, Burgundy($15.95, 84 points, 66399)With its very pale garnet colour, this pinot has a soft, sweet nose of red licorice, strawberry-rhubarb fruit, and a touch of smoky oak. Very light, gentle and a bit sweet. No tannin or real structure, but tasty enough (and cheap). Now to 2010.

Gray Monk 2006 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia($17.95, 84 points, 60491)In a different league and style from most pinots on this list. Very pale colour, leafy, with cran-raspberry jam on the nose. Quite sweet with a cran-pomegranate finish. Simple sipping pinot; chill lightly and enjoy on the deck in summer.

Louis Max 2005 les Azerottes Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy($63.95, 82 points, 66589)Spend your cash elsewhere. Not only is this light, dry and bitter, but there is also an oddly soapy note marring the otherwise floral, cherry and vanilla fragrance. Not undrinkable, but surely disappointing.

Wine by Joe 2006 Really Good Pinot Noir, Oregon($22.95, 80 points, 60467)It’s not “really good” at all—in fact, it’s just passable. This pinot noir is over-oaked, confected, hot and abrasive, with stemmy and synthetic character. Has some cherry-rhubarb fruit mindful of pinot and, yes, it has seen wood, but it is overpriced by about $10. Who is Joe and why is Vintages buying his wine?

The following were not tasted: Oyster Bay 2006 Pinot Noir from New Zealand; Meerlust 2003 Pinot Noir from South Africa; Château Philippe-le-Hardi 2005 Mercurey from Burgundy; and Domaine Charles Allexant 2004 Vosne-Romanee from Burgundy.