If Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Grapes, then surely Pinot Noir must be Queen, with Syrah perhaps a dark and brooding prince haunting the corridors of a castle in Elsinore.
Pinot Noir is regal. It's ethereal. It's a wine lover's grape, running the gamut of flavours from light and red-berry-fruited, through to the more earthy, savoury, darker fruit spectrum and everything in between. For me, the essence of Pinot Noir is described beautifully by the character of Miles (played by the incredible Paul Giametti) from the 2004 film, Sideways:
"It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention, you know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential, can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then? I mean, it's flavours... they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet."
Despite its temperament and unwillingness to grow (or perhaps because of it), Pinot's ability to communicate and reflect its terroir is undeniable. The lifted and perfumed wines of the Les Amoureuses vineyard, for example, in the village of Chambolle, are distinctly different from the towering and majestic wines of the Le Musigny vineyard, situated right next door.
Another aspect of Pinot Noir that makes it such a peculiarly enigmatic grape is its genetic instability and predilection to mutate. This has given rise to hundreds of clones, many of which are better suited to the environments from which they were created. This means that success with growing and producing Pinot Noir is not just about climate and soil type (although those are critical too), but also getting the right clone for the right site.
But when that magical union between clone and site is achieved, the results can be truly magnificent. Take, for example, the By Farr single vineyard that produces Sangreal in the Geelong region of Victoria. Planted in 1994 to clones 114 and 115, it is now believed to have mutated into an entirely new clone, called simply 'Sangreal clone,' creating a wine that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
So whether caused by Pinot's delicate nature, its clear and precise expression of terroir, or the sheer number of different clones dotted around the world, or perhaps a combination of all three, the flavours that you find in the wines are the most hauntingly complex and ethereal, delivered with elegance and finesse, that you will find in any wine.
All hail the Queen of Grapes. Long may she reign.