Pinot Noir by price point

If you love Pinot Noir as much as we do, you’ll want a good bottle on hand for just about any occasion, which is why we asked one of Melbourne’s top Pinotphiles, Roscoe Halligan-Rose, wine manager at Prince Wine Store, what bottle to buy for which occasion and at what price point.
Here’s what he had to say…

Few, if any varieties garner the same kind of devotion among consumers and collectors as Pinot Noir. Many people have written about what makes this most noble and fickle of grapes so special and why so many of us spend a small fortune chasing down top examples. There is lots out there about the vagaries, the highs and lows, and stories about the chase for the holy grail – that one perfect Pinot Noir that keeps you coming back for more.

The short and curly of the situation is this.

At its peak, Pinot Noir manages to capture the essence of its vineyard and season and when it is “on song” the complexities and nuances can be sublime.

There are wines out there that make you forget your woes and leave you making some very unseemly noises while you drink down that glass (or bottle), but there is a lot of very average wine to be found as well. Often expensive examples that lack definition or punch and make you wonder why you didn’t just buy a ‘safety wine’ like a solid Shiraz.

Deciphering bad from good, and good from great is often more about the grape than the producer. Pinot Noir is a temperamental thing, susceptible to virtually every problem a winemaker or viticulturist can think of. It is also site sensitive and only shines in a few small regions around the world. Even then, some patches of dirt in those areas are better than others.

Why would you bother? It’s often expensive. You aren’t guaranteed that if you do cough up a decent wad of your hard-earned cash that you’ll get a wine that lives up to the price tag. Even great producers with the best sites are at the mercy of the season and Pinot Noir needs a great vintage to deliver. The answer is simple: nothing in the wine world really gets the engine going like Pinot Noir when it’s good.

The upside to this is we have a bit of time on the clock here in Oz and New Zealand and have started to narrow down the areas and vineyards most suited to producing great examples. Also, the people making the wines have learned a trick or two in how to coax the most out of their sites.

Today you can find plenty to drink, even on a Tuesday night pizza budget – you just need to know where to look and who to look for. The greatest examples are from the home of Pinot Noir, the hallowed slopes of the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy, but to play that game you really need to know what it’s all about and have the bank balance to justify the big spends.

Fear not, there is no shortage on our home shores to keep you satisfied.

I have been asked to give a general idea of what to expect from a few price brackets and a couple of suggestions that would put a smile on the faces of anyone who ripped out a bottle. This doesn’t constitute work for me, Pinot is my jam and I am more than happy to help spread the love, so here is a quick breakdown on what you should get on a ‘Tuesday night budget’, ‘Something fun for the weekend’ and the ‘OMG how much was that price point?’.

TUESDAY NIGHT BUDGET

Pinot, when made well and handled properly, can provide a heap of fun and pleasure at the sub $25 bracket. Don’t expect a wow wine, or something you will talk about with your friends around the office water cooler (I assume people still do that?). What you should get at this price is a medium weight, aromatic, juicy, attractive wines. Something you should drink and wonder if they gave you a smaller bottle because of how fast it seemed to evaporate. Here are a few drops I think fit the bill nicely and really don’t cause too much hip pocket damage along the way.

Punt Road Pinot 2017
This is precisely what I want from a wine in this price range. It’s fragrant, light bodied, juicy and with a nice plump feel to the fruit which is all in that red berry spectrum. Lovely acidity keeps it light on its feet and the inclusion of a little whole bunch adds a bit of extra interest to keep you coming back. Gluggable and delicious. I would annihilate a bottle of this while watching Empire Strikes Back.

Palliser Estate Pencarrow Pinot 2016
This is a flirtatious little number and one of the more consistently excellent inexpensive Pinot coming from NZ. The fruit has a spicier edge to it and something bluer fruited rather than red. Creamy, silken and with a hint of candy to its upfront and charming personality. Really lovely and will make you forget the price point and just enjoy it for what it is, a gorgeous little wine.

Amen Break Pinot 2015
This delivers a goodly whack of Otago fruit without the hefty price tag a deft touch with winemaking means it almost looks like a more serious expression. Here there is a pleasantly darker presence to the fruit that still retains a nice sense of refreshing acidity and it really plumps up in the mouth. I love this for a bottle to open on a Tuesday night and punch down with some dinner in front of the TV, really what more can you ask for from a wine that is sub $30. Great job Harrop boys.

SOMETHING FUN FOR THE WEEKEND

If you are spending that $30 to $70 kind of money you want something that will make you smile, sit back for a bit and appreciate what is in the glass. It needs to have a bit more stuffing, some structure and intensity but also those beguiling Pinot aromatics. You should be able to cellar the wine for a little (if that’s your thing) and it should improve in the bottle. You want a little extra weight and richness. You want to really see where the wine is grown and some site specificity. You want a little seriousness here.

Allies Assemblage Pinot Noir 2017
The Assemblage is that wonderful blend of beautiful aromatics, plenty going on and loads of perfumed nuance, and plushness in the mouth. While there is plenty to love aromatically here the palate really steals the show, it’s strikingly fruitful and sumptuously round with a supportive network of super fine tannins. The fruit is a little darker than the nose would suggest and has a slight creaminess to it giving a subtle impression of sweetness. Overall this is one hell of a Pinot and I guarantee no one will leave a bottle half finished.

Dalrymple Cottage Block Pinot 2014
This really does have that wet mulch, forest floor, pine needle thing going on. Apparently 30% whole bunch but it shows here, adding spice and savoury aromatics, the wood a waft of incense in the background. Darker fruit here than the Coal River and broader of shoulder as well but it certainly has its charm and appeal with its expansive breadth of fruit, smart wood and giving tannins. Lovely wine and should put a smile on a few faces now but probably will look better in another few years.

Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Pinot 2017
On advice from winemaker Tom Carson, this was given a good bit of air as it was recently bottled. Let’s be honest here, Tom is one of this country’s most talented winemakers, especially in the realm of Pinot where he has few rivals. The 2017 delivers on all the promise of a fantastic vintage. Slightly under-ripe cherry notes (in a good way, like they were just picked and have a slight sourness) baking spices, rosehip, red apple skins and redcurrants. So pretty much classic Pinot nose. The palate is juicy, bright as day and super vibrant without losing anything in the way of poise and definition. The package is kept together nicely by some slightly sinewy tannins which add another tactile element. This little beauty is graceful now but I bet it would walk around the table with three years in the bottle. It’s top notch.

OMG HOW MUCH WAS THAT?

It is around this price range that you should expect something that really stops you and gets the wine brain cranking. You can be most disappointed here, not because you will get lesser quality wine but because you are spending so much and the quality difference between this and the next bracket down may not always be apparent. That can be a pretty frustrating place to be and can lead you to drink, it’s a vicious cycle. However, if you do find one of these wow wines and you have it when all the stars align then you are in for a treat but you better be prepared to pay for it. There are a few suggestions but they, unlike the others come with a caveat. Much of the joy here comes with time. They will need to be cellared and the timing will make a huge difference.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2016
I believe Ata Rangi is one of the new world’s greatest producers of Pinot. The 2016 is a bit on the richer, riper and more robust side of things in the context of this estate: a touch broader of shoulder and more powerfully framed. Plenty to offer with abundant, ripe plum, rhubarb, bramble and dark berry notes but there is no hiding from that nuance and detail that you come to love from Ata. It’s like a gentle undercurrent pulling at the senses with suggestions of baking spice and hints of orange peel. For all its enjoyment factor today, it will be even better in five years or so. Bravo.

Perrot Minot Nuits La Richemone Ultra 1er 2015
From vines planted in 1902 and a vineyard which sits right up near the Vosne Romanee side and usually has a more suave and plush profile than you typically associate with Nuits, this is absolutely the case with this profoundly fruited, densely-packed and wonderfully exuberant wine. Aromatically it’s a little reserved but there is plenty of detail there, which slowly opens up with some air. You are greeted with a cool rush of fruit and a fair whack of rocky minerality before the darker, more robust side of the wine comes to the fore. It leaves you with a sense that this wine is going to evolve very slowly. It is almost brooding at the moment and has a rumbling, dark and powerful expression that has a centre of energy and drive. All the components are there to make something quite special but it will need a good bit of time in a dark, cool, quiet place to come together and figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. A tremendous effort and worth every penny.

Littorai Les Larmes Pinot Noir 2016
Ted Lemon is something of a Pinot Jedi in my mind. What he manages to coax out of the sites he works with in Northern California is nothing short of brilliance. The Les Larmes 2016 is supple, full of gorgeously textured and layered red and blue fruits and plenty of gently spicy notes. It slowly unwinds in the glass to give off something more perfumed and alluring that the quite primary essence that you see when you first pour it. There is a generous dollop of sweetness that caresses the palate and tannins purely play a supporting role, never intrusive but linger, making their presence known through fine network of gentle structure. Considering this is ostensibly his entry level this is quite a showing and certainly there is nothing “basic” about this wine. Full disclosure though, we do import this – purely because we absolutely love his wines.

Happy hunting and may the force be with you.

– Roscoe Halligan-Rose