WINE O’CLOCK: This old devil makes a hell of a wine
Pinot Noir is an old variety of grape. It is difficult to grow and gave rise to the famous verdict of one vineyard owner that “god made Cabernet Sauvignon but the devil made Pinot Noir”.
However, most growers agree that Pinot Noir is worth the effort for the excellent wine it produces. It turns up in many blends, including some Champagne, but we know it best for the light, bright reds that go under the same name as the grape.
They are mainly associated with the Burgundy region of France but also produced in California, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and several other countries.
Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are strains of the grape, used in the production of white wine. Pinot Grigio is its Italian cousin.
At one stage these wines must have been identical but different production methods have driven them apart.
In Alsace, where most of the French Pinot Gris is made, the harvest is late, producing a rich, slightly sweet, white wine which goes well with fish or chicken.
Across the border, Italian Pinot Grigio is lighter than Gris, and the good stuff is sharp with citrus flavours. It also works well with fish but is very nice as an apéritif, or to sip by itself.
Pinot Grigio became very popular a few years back and this, unfortunately, led to over-production and a lowering of standards. It has been working its way back to respectability but some of it can still be very bland.
Here are four wines which give an idea of the range of the grape. I have priced them from Le Caveau in Kilkenny but they are available from many good wine shops and off licences.
Meyer-Fonne Alsace Pinot Gris (€23.95). A complex coalition of flavours here: spice, dark fruit, fig maybe. Good with chicken and also with spicy foods.
Meyer-Fonne Alsace Pinot Blanc (€19.50). In texture it is a little lighter than the Gris with flavours that lean towards apricot and pear. a nice partner for a white fish dish.
La Boussole Pinot Noir ‘Les Grandes Côtes’ Pays d’Oc (€14.45). Almost as light as the whites, with a scent of strawberry and a taste of light summer fruit. A lovely, sunny drink, best served slightly chilled.
Philipponnat Reserve Royale Brut NV champagne (€43.31). Pinot Noir is the main grape in this blend which also includes Chardonnay .
There is a distinctive touch of red fruit and citrus and, although I generally think of Champagne as a stand-alone drink, this one goes very well with shellfish or a green salad.