Friday, 18 July 2014

A kiss of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir (PN) is an extremely difficult, somewhat temperamental varietal to handle.  She (for some reason the feminine seems to fit) is a bit like the incredibly demanding, slightly fragile kid at the back of the classroom, difficult to train and even harder to manage - the teacher's nightmare.  An educator, when presented with one of these testing little creatures, has a choice to make.  Give up and let the child do what it wants until you happily wave them goodbye at the end of the year or try as hard as possible to see their potential (which may be well camouflaged), nurture and encourage it, and watch it become something beautiful.  A lot of retired teachers will look back at their school days and talk about their favourite students, a lot that were initially those absolute nightmares.  This challenge is similar to what a winemaker and viticulturist face when they look out over their PN block. And I think that's why a lot of them love making the stuff.  As they say in the classics, with great risk comes great reward. 

PN, from the French for Pine (because of the varietal's tightly clustered growth) and Black (for fairly self-explanatory reasons), is most famous in Burgundy, and the Champagne region uses it's fair share in their magical bubbles, usually alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  New Zealand's South Island, Oregon and California in the States, Tasmania and the Yarra Valley in Oz and various parts of South Africa have more recently been recognised as potential PN areas, and are now making some fantastic wine. 

It's a varietal that does not have a thick skin (pun intended) and is not only vulnerable to wind and frost but also needs to be very well cared for because of it's tightly clustered bunches.  But it is this sensitivity that makes this particular grape so special.  When well handled and protected it becomes the very embodiment of elegance and has the ability to show off even subtle differences in soil type, making it a wonderful advocate of terroir. 

One must always remember that even though some describe it as being 'sex in a glass' or 'the most romantic of wines', the true essence of PN is that it cannot be tamed.  In my (humble) opinion, drinking a glass of PN is like experiencing a kiss.  Early on in the process, you'll know if it's a good or a bad one, and there will always be that specific one that will be benchmark for all others to come. 

I got to experience my benchmark kiss PN a while back at Newton Johnson (NJ), in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, near Hermanus (in South Africa's Western Cape).  As I mentioned above it's a varietal that expresses itself very differently in various soil types and NJ is a great example of this.  I was luckily enough to taste PN from all of their blocks, some not far apart on the farm (literally only a few meters separating them), but amazingly different in the glass.  Their Family Vineyards PN is their blend of the blocks; giving the particular character and complexity that they (and I) are after.  A while back I mentioned the restaurant at NJ which is an added extra that makes any visit to the estate seriously worthwhile.      


Last night I decided to enjoy a bottle of NJ's Family Vineyards PN and cooked up a little roasted mushroom mix that worked an absolute treat.


Roast mushrooms with sour cream and crushed pecan nuts

  1. 2 punnets of mushrooms, some exotic, some ordinary
  2. a handful of thyme, leaves removed, stalks discarded
  3. a handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  4. 1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
  5. 1 tsp chopped green chilli
  6. a glug of olive oil
  7. a few knobs of butter
  8. a couple of pecan nuts, crushed
  9. sour cream
  10. salt and pepper to taste
  • heat oven to 180 C
  • to a baking dish, add mushrooms, herbs, garlic, chilli, olive oil, butter and a bit of salt and pepper
  • put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until done
  • remove and serve, with a dollop of sour cream and a good sprinkling of nuts
  • I served the mushrooms with some chilli and ginger calamari steaks but they could go with anything
  • they go especially well with the PN 

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