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10 outstanding Pinot Noirs from £10-50

Following last month’s big tasting of Pinot Noirs from every corner of the wine-producing world – The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2019 – we pick out 10 outstanding samples from a range of price points.

In contrast to other globally-planted varieties that trip from any wine-lover’s tongue, Pinot Noir is rarely used to make inexpensive plonk. Why? Because creating an appealing Pinot Noir on a tight budget is notoriously tricky. Employ the techniques of high-volume viticulture and winemaking to this grape, and the results tend to be dire. Such pernickety behaviour may frustrate the producer, but it has helped Pinot’s positioning – today, it is deemed the ultimate in sophistication when it comes to top-end drinking.

But, because Pinot is so hard to perfect, it is relatively rare to unearth a wine where the combination of talent, climate and soil have come together to yield something magnificent, and particularly at an accessible price point.

Having said that, this year’s Pinot Masters taught us two things. Firstly, there is good Pinot now available for those without deep pockets, as more producers master the grape’s particular requirements in the field and the cellar.

Secondly, there is a broader sweep of places where Pinot can reach impressive heights. And these are primarily in cooler-climate New World locations, usually near the sea.

For now, if I were to name a single part of the wine world that reliably delivers plenty of Pinot punch for not too much cash, then I would single out Sonoma County. While good Pinots will rarely be found for less than £20 in the UK market from this part of California, one doesn’t have to go much beyond £30 to find something delicious. Move further up the west coast of the US, to Oregon, and one can also fine great Pinot, but the entry-point is higher.

Elsewhere, considering the results from this years’s Pinot Masters, it is apparent that parts of Chile are emerging as sources of lovely Pinot, particularly the Leyda Valley, along with Limarí, while New Zealand’s Marlborough is also becoming a go-to for keenly-priced mid-weight Pinot, and the Adelaide Hills appears to be in the ascendancy regarding this grape. It was also good to taste a lovely, reasonably-priced example from Italy’s Oltrepò Pavese, where Pinot Nero is the flagship variety.

You can see the results in full in the April edition of the drinks business, but for now, I have picked out a top 10 selection from the Pinot Masters. These have been chosen to encompass a range of price points and styles, and, importantly, all of them have been judged blind by Masters of Wine.

10. £30-£50: Sparkling: Champagne Philipponnat, Blanc de Noirs, 2012

This pure Pinot Noir fizz proves Champagne without Chardonnay can be great. Hailing from a rising star brand in the heart of Champagne’s top communes for Pinot – Aÿ, Mareuil and Avenay – Phlipponnat’s Blanc de Noirs is about as good as Blanc de Noirs can get under £50, particularly when made from the fruits of the outstanding 2012 vintage.

9. £10-£15: Rosé: Nepenthe Altitude Pinot Noir Rosé, Adelaide Hills, 2018

Australia came up with the best expression of Pinot Noir rosé. Nepenthe has managed to craft this pale and delicate pink with notes of fresh red cherry and a touch of cream. It’s a fruitier take on Sancerre rosé, which may be the European benchmark for pink Pinot, but is often rather pricy.

8. Under £10: Trapiche Oak Cask Pinot Noir, Mendoza, Argentina, 2018

Under £10 there are a few examples of lovely Pinot. One of these is the UK’s best-selling Pinot, Cono Sur – a berry-scented pale red from Chile – but this year we made a new find, from Argentina. We tasted two samples from Mendoza’s Trapiche. Both its Broquel and Oak Cask Pinots were awarded 91 points by the judges, even though the wines retail for just under £10.

7. £10-£15: SeaGlass Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California, USA, 2016

This year’s star wine under £15 hailed from the US, which is perhaps a surprise for those in Europe who associate this country with expensive reds, priced upwards by a thirsty domestic market. But this wine from SeaGlass in Santa Barbara wowed the judges with its beautifully ripe, soft red-berry fruit and touch of vanilla-sweet oak, along with a lightness of feel, and that important crisp finish, ensuring it delivered all the elegant appeal of Pinot without the high price.

6. £10-£15: Viña Maycas Del Limarí, Reserva Especial, 2017

The quality of Pinot Noir from Chile is on the rise, partly as producers get better acquainted with the particular demands of this grape, but also as the vines age in superior Pinot terroirs. And one of the rising star sites for the grape is the Limari Valley – as shown by this sample, which combines masses of Morello cherry fruit, and smoky toasty aromas from ageing in high-class barriques.

5. £15-£20: Agit Optima, Claudio Giorgi, Pinot Nero, Oltrepò Pavese Riserva DOC, Lombardia, 2016

Among the examples priced from £15 to £20 from South America, Calfornia and New Zealand, we found out we had given an award to this wine from Italy. Sourced from Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy, it comes from the Med’s answer to Burgundy, with this part of Italy famous for still reds made from Pinot. Showing plenty of ripe red fruit, and a touch of chocolate from barrel-ageing, the wine has a firm tannic edge, as well as a fresh acid finish.

4. £20-£30: Viña Leyda, Leyda Lot 21, Leyda Valley, 2016

Among those in the know about Chile’s fast-emerging fine Pinot scene, Leyda is the place to watch. So it was good to find out that the highest-scoring Pinot under £30 in this year’s Masters came from this valley, where the coastal influence is marked. Rich in dark cherry fruit, with a touch of toasty oak, this is a bold, slightly tannic grown-up style of Pinot that is delicious now, but could be even more enjoyable decanted, or after a few years.

3. £30-£50: Patz & Hall, Chenoweth Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, Calfiornia, USA, 2015

Integral to Pinot’s appeal is the soft, juicy, red-berry sensation that it can deliver when it’s grown in a relatively warm clime. And Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley manages to consistently deliver such Pinot characters in spades, making wines that are sweetly ripe, and, as a result, so seductive.

2. £20-£30: Gérard Bertrand, Aigle Royal, Languedoc Roussillon, 2017

Hailing from France, this Pinot was made by Languedoc star producer Gérard Bertrand, and comes from a site in the northernmost part of the Haute Vallée de l’Aude winemaking region. Here, a vineyard at 500 metres above sea level combines cool nights from high altitude conditions with Pinot’s favoured soil type: clay and limestone. The result is an intense Pinot with plenty of juicy red berry fruit.

1. £50+: Gran Moraine Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, 2015

Using fruit from a prized vineyard that was bought by the Jackson Family in 2013, Gran Moraine was born in 2014. Made by brilliant winemaker Eugenia Keegan – partner of Oregon pioneer David Adelsheim – this is a stunning example of darkly coloured intense Pinot, with black cherry fruit, along with vanilla notes from new barriques. While lovely to drink now, it has the potential to develop even greater complexity over time.

About the Global Wine Masters

The judges (top row, left to right): Patrick Schmitt MW; Andrea Briccarello; Matthieu Longuere MS; Simon Field MW; David Round MW; (front row, l-r) Antony Moss MW; Beverly Tabbron MW; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW; Jonathan Pedley MW

The Pinot Noir Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of our successful Masters series a range of grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, as well as regions from Rioja to Champagne.

The competition is exclusively for Pinot Noir, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top Pinot Noirs were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Pinot Noir Master. The wines were tasted on 12 March at Onima in Mayfair, London.

Click here for more information on The Global Wine Masters.

About the tasting process

All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.

Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.

Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.

The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.

Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.

Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.

Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.

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