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    Wine expert Maggie Beale's guide to wine types

Maggie Beale
2005-09-02 06:26

The most fashionable wine of the moment is Pinot Noir. A thin-skinned grape, which is difficult to grow, it has only small amounts of red pigment making it lighter in colour than other reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon. It grows better in coolish wine producing regions as the grapes tend to develop mildew in warmer zones.

Originally produced in France, in particular in Burgundy, some of the truly great wines are made from Pinot Noir. They can age very well in good years, developing soft, majestic, mouth-filling floral flavours and often reaching their peak after 15 or 20 years. Usually produced in tiny (very expensive) quantities, it is best to avoid cheaper varieties at all costs.

In recent years, successful production of Pinot Noir has spread to, among other places, Willamette Valley Oregon, Russian River Valley in California, and Okanagan Valley Canada. In New Zealand, Martinborough, Marlborough, and Canterbury regions consistently produce excellent Pinot Noir - the most deep scented coming from Martinborough Vineyards. Also most notable for quality are wines from Hawkes Bay - including Esk Valley winery (Wine n Things) and the famous Kim Crawford in New Zealand (Ponti Wine Shops).

Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2003 is moderate red in colour with bright crimson robe (edge). The aroma of this vintage is so typical of the grape that you can easily use it as a benchmark: intense fruit, especially raspberry and medium-ripe cherry with a hint of sweet oak. There's an interesting beefy note appearing - almost like Bovril! Full bodied, powerful, and elegant, it surely heads the list of outstanding Pinot Noir from Marlborough. Great with pasta, Singapore noodles, beef carpaccio (raw) and oily fish such as herring - NOT marinated in vinegar. Personally, I like it with any of these dishes and chilled down to 17 degrees on a hot summer evening.

At Cloudy Bay in Marlborough, the Pinot Noir wines are very concentrated, silky, with a good long finish, and red fruit character.

As part of a blend it is used in Champagne production, often for celebrated Blanc de Blanc champagnes. In South Africa, Pinot Noir has been spliced with the Cinsaut (Cinsault) grape to make the unique variety - Pinotage.

High scorers with Pinot Noir in California are Dehlinger Russian Valley Reserve usually with pronounced flavours of vivid black cherry and wild berries. And in the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley wines with sinuous plum, wild berry and ripe cherry flavours. It is rich and elegant.

Pinot Noir is very prone to mutation and the widely used varieties Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, are relatives of Pinot Noir. There are around 50 clones of Pinot Noir used throughout France. Almost double that of the more widely planted Cabernet Sauvignon. In Sancerre, France, it is used to make red and rose wines, much lighter in style that those of Burgundy, refreshing when served chilled. It makes the only red wine produced in Alsace. Called Spatburgunder it is now the most extensively planted red grape in Germany.

In answer to queries from reader S.K. Lam: since Portugal entered the EU, the principal grape (85 per cent) used in Malmsay (Madeira) wine is Malvasia. See next week's article on fortified wines for more information on that. And the story that George, Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV of England, drowned in a Butt of Malmsey in the Tower of London, is probably a "tall tale".

Maggie Beale is an international food and wine critic and judge; and president of Wine Writers Circle. She can be reached at:

(HK Edition 09/02/2005 page4)


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