Planning a romantic evening next Thursday? Fragrant, elegant and smooth, Pinot Noir must be the perfect valentine’s wine. Just look at the tasting descriptors: silky, velvety, even sexy. With a wine like that how can you fail to woo the object of your desire?
More seriously, Pinot Noir ticks a lot of boxes for St Valentine’s Day. If you are eating out à deux, it will go nicely with most dishes, including salmon and tuna as well as white meats, duck and game. It also partners well with lightly spicy Chinese and Indian food. Pinot usually isn’t too alcoholic and certainly won’t have any tannins – perfect even for a drinker of white wine. Happily, most restaurants list a New Zealand Pinot Noir that shouldn’t be too expensive.
Having conquered the world with its signature vibrant, fruit-filled Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is well on the way to establishing itself as the most reliable producer of reasonably priced, good-quality Pinot Noir. Pinot from Chile can be very good but has yet to achieve the same consistency. Burgundy and California both produce superb wines, but there is precious little under €30.
Most supermarkets will have a Marlborough Pinot Noir at €15-€20. As the general standard of winemaking is very high in New Zealand, you are unlikely to be disappointed
Marlborough produces the greatest quantity of Pinot Noir; it is usually light and refreshing, with summer fruits, although some seriously good wines with real depth have appeared in recent years. Just over Cook Strait, on North Island, Martinborough was the first region to establish a reputation for Pinot Noir. Martinborough Pinot is typically more subtle, savoury and less ripe. From way down south, Central Otago Pinot is usually brimming with ripe fruit and more acidity. Waipara and North Canterbury can produce some rich Pinot Noir, full of dark fruits.
Top names that are available here include Ata Rangi and Escarpment, from Martinborough, and Pegasus Bay, from Waipara, as well as Felton Road, Burnt Cottage and Rippon, from Central Otago. From Marlborough, my favourites include Mahi and Greywacke. All of these will set you back €40-€60 a bottle from independent wine shops.
At a more affordable level, most supermarkets will have a Marlborough Pinot Noir at €15-€20. As the general standard of winemaking is very high in New Zealand, you are unlikely to be disappointed. Most are light, with refreshing red-cherry fruits. I tasted a dozen or so and came across only one dud. I enjoyed the Brancott Estate (Tesco €15.45, plus other multiples), as well as the Rapaura Springs (Dunnes Stores, €17) and Coopers Creek (SuperValu, €15-€17.99). Marks & Spencer offers a comprehensive range of New Zealand Pinots, including the very tasty, full, nicely rounded Te Taha (€23.50) and the seductive sultry Earth’s End (€25). As well as the Big Sky below, I also enjoyed the ripe, supple Whitehaven (€19.95 in February) from O’Briens.
Aldi Exquisite Collection Pinot Noir
Marlborough, 13%, €9.99
Light, fresh and juicy, with slightly earthy damson fruits. Perfect budget St Valentine's Day fare. Drink solo, or with salmon or lighter chicken dishes.
Big Sky Pinot Noir 2013
Martinborough, 13%, €28.95
A lovely fresh, juicy Pinot Noir with pure black-cherry fruits and a delicious twist of acidity. Perfect with seared breast of duck.
Framingham Pinot Noir 2016
Marlborough, 13.5%, €28.99
Beguiling, lightly smoky nose with violets and summer fruits. A complex palate with a savoury edge and light tannins to offset the vibrant dark-cherry fruits. Serve with duck or lamb.
From the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; JJ O'Driscoll, Ballinlough, Cork
Craggy Range Pinot Noir 2013
Te Muna Road Vineyard, Martinborough, 13.5%, €39
A richer style of Pinot, with seductive, lush dark-cherry fruits, hints of spice and very good length. This has real depth and concentration. Serve with a rack of lamb or pork chops.
From Searsons, Monkstown, Co Dublin; Sweeneys, Glasnevin, Dublin 11; Eldons, Clonmel, Co Tipperary; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; Gibney's, Malahide, Co Dublin