The Sideways effect:
“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f*****g Merlot“, Miles pronounces in the film Sideways. If like me, you recall watching it on a DVD player back in 2005, you may remember its main characters eulogise the Pinot Noir grape. Overnight demand went through the canopy, especially in the United States, and became known as the ‘Sideways effect’. 15 years later, the phenomenon is alive and kicking as plantings of the grape multiply across the world. However, the capacity for great wines to be produced is limited, as the grape only produces really interesting wines when conditions are cool and the growing season is long. It is seen by winemakers the world over as the ultimate test, so, luckily for wine drinkers, attempts to create seriously good, multi-layered wines continue. The result is a plethora of extraordinary wines from all corners of the winegrowing world. To paraphrase Maya from Sideways ‘they all taste so f*****g good’.
A brief history before Hollywood let the cat out of the bag:
Pinot Noir is a 2,000 year old variety that has given birth to 21 varieties through spontaneous crosses, including Chardonnay and Gamay. It is a great grandparent to Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and a likely grandparent to Syrah.
During this time it has had plenty of chances to mutate: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir Prècoce all have the same genetic fingerprint. Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are simply colour mutations.
Where it is thriving nowadays:
France has the most Pinot Noir planted with 29,576 ha, but it still only the 7th most planted variety in the country. Its presumed birthplace is Burgundy but just 6,579 ha are planted here. Whilst my focus is on still wines here, most of recent growth has been in Champagne; 12,900 ha represent 39% of all the area.
The United States takes a silver medal with 15,091ha in California. The Sideways movie put one Pinot Noir in particular on the vinous map and that was Hitching Post. The ‘Hometown ‘ Pinot Noir, from Santa Barbara, has juicy flavours of ripe cherry, an earthiness, seductive spice and falls just the right side of brightness for me. The famous restaurant of the same name was the scene for a part of the movie and a major tourist attraction now.
A surprise for many is that Germany takes third spot. It now has 11,800 ha thanks to climate change, young talented winemakers, world class wines, and increasing demand. One producer I have been following for almost 20 years is Ziereisen. The Tschuppen Pinot Noir is blackberry-spiked, has a mineral note as well as a deep, savoury edge and is a delight.
New Zealand’s success is more apparent in the UK market but Argentina is just emerging as a contender. Take the Verum Pinot Noir which is from Rio Negro in Patagonia, as far south as grapes successfully ripen. Raspberries and a touch of earth combine to deliver quite a bit of complexity for its price.
To learn a little more about where else Pinot Noir is successful, how its wines are made and taste 7 examples from around the globe, book a Pinot Noir Perfection Masterclasss, on Thursday 16 May in Chiswick, now. (Kew’s tasting has already sold out!).