Pivotal Pinots



We are in the middle of the 2006 Burgundy Campaign at the moment but I have not lost sight of Pinot Noir from elsewhere. Decanter Magazine commissioned me to write a piece on the best locations in the New World for Pinot – just published in their February 2008 issue, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

Though New Zealand, Oregon and parts of California are most people’s favourite corners my real conclusion is that it is down in part to the real detail of specific sub-regions and most especially to the drive of ultra-talented vignerons with a passion for this grape.


Just what can be achieved was driven home to me last Tuesday at a Paulée lunch with lots of Burgundian friends when a whole host of fine bottles were brought along by the various guests. I brought amongst other things a bottle of Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat Cuvée Isabelle 1996, made from grapes from various vineyards in the Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande Valleys of California’s Central Coast. Another guest, by chance, brought the 1997 of the same.

Sitting next to me was Marie-Blanche Lamarche  of Domaine François Lamarche in Vosne Romanée, and she had never tasted a Californian Pinot which had impressed her before but on this occasion, unsolicited, she was full of praise for the two Cuvée Isabelle wines which she felt she would certainly have placed in Burgundy if they had been served blind. Intriguingly the vintages conformed more or less to the Burgundian pattern, with a soft ripe and flavoursome 1997 and a more concentrated, fresher 1996.

Many people appreciate the qualities of the best New World Pinots, but how many wines have been, or might be mistaken for Burgundy? I am not trying to push producers down this path but am intrigued when it happens. Please share your thoughts and experiences.